08 Oct 2014
Different seasons mean different things to everyone: fall is college football, summer is beach season, and winter is marked by the Holidays (or if you’re a Floridian in Boston, by infinite cold and misery with skiing mixed in). Food used to be the same way. Have you ever noticed that Strawberries are best in the summer, that all of a sudden come September there are about 10 more varieties of apples available in the super market, and that there are tons of fun and weird looking gourds from October through February? Nowadays you can get most fruits and vegetables year round, imported from almost anywhere in the world, but once upon a time different seasons meant different fruits and vegetables, and if you wanted Strawberries in December, you had to can them. Here are a few reasons why the old way was better, why eating seasonal produce, preferably locally grown, is better for both you and the environment.
- Nutritional value – Fruits and vegetables have the most nutritional value (i.e. vitamins and minerals) when they are ripened on the stem and then picked. However, when they come from places far away, they are picked before ripeness and ripen along the way. So while they may gain color and size, they won’t gain nutritional value. This is one reason many people argue that fruits and vegetables don’t have the same nutritional content as they did 50 or 100 years ago.
- Cost – Seasonal produce is often cheaper for two reasons. For one, it grows more naturally in season and so requires less labor intensive care. Second, it often comes from a source closer to home. It’s easy to find USA produced strawberries and cherries in the summer for instance, but in February they all come from Mexico or Chile, which also adds the cost of transportation and gas to your grocery bill.
- Flavor and Taste – Fruits and vegetables taste better when they ripen on the stem versus in the back of a refrigerated truck. Buying seasonal produce means you get the most flavorful and tasty produce.
- Sustainability – This is a big buzz-word lately. But buying local, seasonal produce cuts down on the environmental impact of shipping food several thousand miles. It will also support your local farmer, keeping him in business to continue producing delicious fruit and vegetables.
What’s in Season Now? Right now it’s fall, so that means apples, squash, cherries,
broccoli, endive, cauliflower, garlic, pear, parsnips, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, swiss chard, butter lettuce, grapes, and turnips. Visit the Fruits and Veggies: More Matters website for a complete list of spring, summer, fall, winter, and year round vegetables and fruits.
Find a Farmer’s Market! Nearly every city and town in America now has a farmer’s market. In Boston, there’s one at Copley Square Tuesdays and Fridays, one at South Station on Thursdays, one in Allston Village on Saturdays, SOWA on Sundays in the South End, and one right at the corner of Western and North Harvard ave on Friday afternoons.
Or, you can do a Google search or visit the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Marketing Service Web Page for a searchable directory of farmer’s markets. Just enter your zip code and search! Markets in Boston should be open another few weeks, usually until November 1.
01 Oct 2014
One of the more popular food tips out there these days is “shop the perimeter of the grocery store”. This makes sense on some level – most of the meat, vegetables, and dairy are on the perimeter of the store, while the not so great stuff like Cheez-Its, Oreos, boxed rice, canned soup, and additive riddled salad dressing are all in the aisles. But if you’ve read this blog before, you know nothing irritates me more than a nutrition platitude (like “drink 8 glasses of water a day” or “only eat the most colorful foods”, but I can go into why those are wrong another time), so I’m going to go ahead and debunk this one for two reasons:
1. There’s healthy stuff in the aisles
Now, I realize that the aisles are full of junk, and really the intended benefit of the “shop the perimeter” advice is to help shoppers get what they need without being tempted by what they don’t. But you can get to a lot of good stuff on the inside without walking past 18 flavors of Doritos and 10 different Oreo variations. Why? Well, usually the healthy stuff is down slightly less tempting aisles than the cookie/cracker and chip aisle. For example, coffee, tea, and nut butters are in the cereal aisle. Canned tuna is near the condiments and pickles. Olive oil is in the aisle with pasta and sauce. Beans are with canned vegetables. Usually last minute grab purchases are on the snack aisles (I have never passed a box of Barilla penne, canned string beans, or mayonnaise and thought “OOH that looks delicious I must buy it right now!” as I have done with Stacy’s Pita Chips or Ginger Snaps, or those sneaky chocolate covered everythings at Trader Joe’s). The point is, there is convenient, healthy stuff on the inside if you know where to find it.
2. There’s unhealthy stuff in the perimeter
Now, if you compared all things perimeter to all things aisle you’d probably win. But if I shop the perimeter at my local Star Market (the one in Porter Square), I can still buy:
- Fried chicken
- White baguette
- Tortilla chips
- French onion dip
- Flavored dairy creamer
- Cranberry cheese log
- Caramel dip for fruit
And, if we were in a state that doesn’t have silly laws about selling beer in the grocer store (or frequent Trader Joe’s), you’d also find beer on the perimeter. Now, I don’t remember this always being the case, so my guess is the food industry caught on to this little trend and started trying to tempt you out in the perimeter too. Either way, my point is this: sticking to the perimeter doesn’t remove temptation. And it’s not guaranteed that everything there is better for you.
The hands down BEST way to walk into the grocery store and walk out with bags full of healthy loot is to do the following:
1. Plan ahead – think of what you’d like to eat for the meals and snacks in the days between this and the next grocery shopping day.
2. Make a list of everything you need. Now, it’s fine if you just write “fruit” or “salad greens” and decide which kind at the store. It’s unlikely you’ll be standing in the produce section and find an unhealthy type of salad green. But if you just write “snacks” and wander down the snack aisle…well that’s another story.
3. Start with the stuff that takes deciding. For me this is usually the produce and anything that requires label reading. I find that patience runs low by the end of the grocery trip, and I like to just knock the last row of items off my list quickly without having to read 8 salad dressing labels (before deciding to google a recipe and make my own anyway). If you’re losing patience and have to read a lot of labels, it’s more likely you just pick up the first thing that looks good.
4. When you list is done, don’t think. Go pay the cashier and get out!
What’s your grocery shopping strategy?
24 Sep 2014
It is only the third week of September, and yet so far I have seen the Pumpkin Spice Latte return early, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin beer… you get the idea. And don’t get me wrong, I like pumpkin thinks – pumpkin pie is a classic Thanksgiving staple, pumpkin beer is one of my favorite parts of fall (although if you guys could wait until it was actually a little cool, that would be great -I do not want to drink pumpkin beer in a sundress. End rant), and pumpkin seeds toasted with a little bit of salt and cinnamon are the best fall snack. And pumpkin is pretty good for you, as it is:
- High in key vitamins like vitamin A, C, and B complex
- Low in calories and fat but high in fiber and antioxidants
- Rich in minerals the body needs like copper, calcium, potassium, and phosphorous
- Seeds are a good source of heart healthy fats
- Seeds are also high in zinc (important for wound healing and immune system strength) and iron
Pumpkin Spice V. Pumpkin
The thing about pumpkin is, it’s not all that delicious raw. It usually needs some salt, sage, or other herb, or on the flip side some cinnamon, sugar, and/or pumpkin pie spice, which is made of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice to make all the delicious pumpkin-y things we love. Which is totally fine – I have no problem with pumpkin muffins, pumpkin pie, pumpkin soup, or roasted pumpkin because they actually CONTAIN PUMPKIN.
My philosophical beef is with the pumpkin posers – most importantly the Starbucks “pumpkin spice latte”. The PSL contains espresso, steamed milk, whipped cream, pumpkin pie spices atop that whipped cream, and pumpkin coffee syrup, which contains pure cane sugar, water, natural flavors, citric acid, sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate (to preserve freshness), and caramel color. Of course I don’t know what these “natural flavors” are, other than that natural flavors are generally any product of or derived from spices, herbs, vegetables and other things found in nature. So, the only pumpkin thing about the PSL is the pumpkin pie spice on top of the whipped cream, and maybe some derivative of pumpkin or pumpkin pie spices hiding under that “natural flavors” moniker. The PSL is also 380 calories and 49 grams of sugar for a 16 ounce serving. Ouch.
As for pumpkin beer, that’s somewhat in the gray area. According to Beer Advocate, some brewers hand cut pumpkin and drop it in the mash, or use pureed pumpkin, and most brewers use the pumpkin pie spices. It seems other brewers may opt for flavorings instead of real pumpkin.
Get Your Pumpkin On The Right Way
There are lots of delicious and healthy things to make with pumpkin. I have a pumpkin soup recipe that I love making every year. There is a whole Pinterest thread dedicated to paleo/primal things one can make with pumpkin, and as a bonus, roasting the seeds after you’ve used the rest of the pumpkin makes a very tasty snack (there are too many great recipe variations to link to just one, so Google it yourself). Just remember:
- Make it with a real pumpkin
- Avoid adding too much sugar
What pumpkin-y things do you like to make?
17 Sep 2014
I’m generally a little sad this time of year, as summer and warm weather turns to crisp mornings and changing leaves. But there are enough things about fall that I love to help me get by. Chili is one of those things. I love my mom’s chili as a kid, I loved when she made a whole batch, froze it, and drove it to Gainesville on track meet weekends to put in my freezer. And now I love having a meal that, while a bit laborious, gives me lunches and dinners for days.
A few great thing about home-made chili:
- All those vegetables! My pot of chili has 5 bell peppers of varying colors, 4 hot peppers, 2 onions, as well as a bunch of tomatoes in different forms (sauce, salsa).
- Iron – chili is generally made with red meat (we made ours with grass-fed beef, but you can also use bison, humanely raised sausage, venison, etc). Most red meat has iron, a component of hemoglobin, which is responsible for transportation of oxygen throughout the body.
- It makes your house smell awesome – I don’t think I need to explain this.
- It’s super adaptable – in its normal state, chili is basically paleo. But it’s easy to adapt for vegetarians, vegans, those avoiding red meat (just add turkey), etc.
How do you make your chili?
Patrick and I made chili last night, using his recipe, which I’ve posted on my Wicked Good Nutrition Blog. Lots of vegetable chopping but totally worth it!
How do you make your chili? Post your recipes!
10 Sep 2014
Since half marathon/marathon/spartan race season is upon us, I thought a little post on running and GI issues was in order. I think many habitual, sometimes, and “only if a bear is chasing me” runners alike probably know the feeling of having a perfectly beautiful run (or 5K test, whatever), and then BAM you gotta go. I have even heard the joke that you’re not a real runner until you’ve gone to the bathroom in public. But why does this happen?
More often than not, the source of stomach pain and bathroom breaks on a run is because of food choices, and the biggest culprit is sugar. Many runners use sugary chews, goos, or snacks to stay fueled during the run. This is smart, obviously – readily available carbohydrates at periodic times during an endurance activity will help you maintain the activity longer. So what’s the problem?
Osmosis is the problem. Remember from biology class that osmosis is the movement of water molecules between a semi-permeable barrier to the side with higher solute concentration so as to equalize the concentration on both sides. Your body likes to maintain a particular balance – known as homeostasis – and osmosis helps it do this. So when that high carbohydrate, low everything else fuel item of choice is digested very quickly in the stomach, it moves to the intestine. Now the intestine has a high concentration of “solute” (the sugar. Osmosis kicks in, and water is drawn into the intestine, which makes stool (that’s health professional speak for poop) looser. And I think we all know where this is going.
How Can You Fix It?
There are a few ways you can try to fix this. Of course, everyone is different, so it will likely come down to some self experimentation.
- Avoid corn sugar. According to a blog post on constipation by Dr. Reddy, an Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine at the Western Michigan University School of Medicine, corn syrup – along with apple, pear, and prune juices – is not absorbed very well by the intestine, and have a stool loosening effect.
- Space our your fuel – intend of eating a whole bag of chews (for some, up to 45 grams of sugar) all at once, eat 2-3 chews (or about 10-15 grams of carbs) every half hour. This will result in slower infusion of sugar to the intestine, which will avoid the large osmotic response.
- Don’t over hydrate – it’s good to drink water, of course. But water IN the intestine is kind of the problem. So having a lot of water at once, especially with your fuel, could cause the same issue. Try to sip water throughout the run/race, aiming for about 8 -16 ounce an hour.
03 Sep 2014
I’ve noticed that diet has become quite political these days. Many people feel very strongly about their chosen diet, and love to share news articles and studies supporting their particular view. And boy was everybody tweeting about that low carb v. low fat diet study yesterday.
I hadn’t had time to read the study, but I did get to read Dr. David Katz’s take on it (he’s the Director of the Yale Prevention Research Center, so I guess he’s kind of smart) and I’m glad that was the first thing I read. It highlights how important it is for us (well, our journalists should be doing this but they sadly rarely bother) to read these studies. Nutrition science is still new and there are still a lot of challenges, but we don’t need to muck it up further by conducting and publishing truly crappy studies.
Since Dr. Katz essentially wrote everything I would have – and likely better – I’m going to yield the floor to him now. From Dr. Katz on LinkedIn:
Diet Research, Stuck in the Stone Age
You cannot get a good answer to a lousy question.
The current diet study making headlines purportedly asked, and answered this question: which is better for weight loss and improving cardiac risk, a low-fat or a low-carb diet? For starters, that is a truly lousy question, resurrected from something like the Stone Age. I doubt even the Paleo clan find the question attractive, since they like prehistoric food; not prehistoric research questions about food.
Why prehistoric? Because it is long known and well established that dietary fats run the gamut from good to bad to ugly. No good diet should willfully exclude the monounsaturated fats and omega-3s in nuts and seeds and avocados; I’m pretty sure everybody not stuck under a boulder knows that.
There is on-going debate today about specific effects of specific fats, but the wholesale cutting of dietary fat intake was pretty much yesterday’s news yesterday. The relevant concept today would be plant-based eating, which at the extreme of veganism, tends to be low in fat- but as an effect rather than an objective. This was not a study of a vegan diet.
The concept of low-carb is also terribly outdated, and was silly when it was first spawned. Everything from lentils to lollipops is carbohydrate; why on earth would anyone want to treat such a vast expanse of the food supply as if it were just one thing? Sillier still, all plant food is a carbohydrate source. A truly “low carb” diet is, of necessity, low in all plant foods- including vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, beans, and lentils along with whole grains. This is directly at odds with everything we know about diet and health across the lifespan.
PS If you like reading about a common sense approach to health and would like to read about it more often than my once weekly blog, use the link above to follow him on LinkedIn.
27 Aug 2014
Well, that is, if you are drinking milk. A while back I wrote a post on organic produce, the point of which was essentially “Meh, nutritionally organic and conventional produce are very similar”. But that’s not gong to be the point of this article. The point of this article is that if you put dairy products into your body, they better damn well be organic 99% of the time.
How Milk Is Made
Conventional dairy farming can be a nasty business. Cows live in close quarters, are fed corn/grains (not the natural diet of a pastured animal) and receive antibiotics (scary fact: somewhere around 80% of antibiotics produced in the US are given to animals). None of these things is particularly healthy for the cow. And I haven’t even gotten into the pooping – how much, where it goes, and what that does to the environment. I’m not going to either, there’s enough on that circulating the web. (Or, if you’re interested in a comprehensive book on industrial dairy and meat production in the US, check out Animal Factory).
In contrast, the standards for organic livestock include:
- Organic feed
- Access to outdoors
- Ruminants must have access to pasture during growing season (at least 120 days)
- Preventive healthcare plan
- Prohibited use of antibiotics, growth hormones, genetic engineering, or cloning
Source – Extension
Why It Matters
OK there we go. Antibiotic resistance and superbugs are a HUGE HUGE HUGE problem that is continuing to grow. The more antibiotics are used when they shouldn’t be (like for prevention in all of our livestock, or when you have a virus like cold or flu), the more opportunity bacteria have to build resistance. And bacteria we can’t kill leads to disease and death. Can you imagine dying because you cut your foot at work? Before antibiotics, it happened. If you want to read something terrifying about antibiotic resistance, read this article on a post antibiotic era.
Another benefit of organic dairy is the actual nutrition, and there’s some evidence to back it up.
As far as dairy is concerned, several studies demonstrated the superiority of organic dairy compared to conventional. A review conducted in Germany added data from the last three years to an existing pool of data and found that organic dairy products are higher in protein and omega-3 fatty acids and have a higher omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acid ratio than conventional products. Typically, the Western diet is high in omega 6 fats and low in omega 3 fats, but a higher omega 3 to omega 6 ratio is thought to reduce inflammation and risk of heart disease. The authors suspect that these results are due to the differences in the way organic and conventional dairy cows are fed. (Palupi E, Jayanegara A, Ploeger A, Kahl J. Comparison of nutritional quality between conventional and organic dairy products: a meta-analysis. J Sci Food Agric. 2012 Mar 19. doi: 10.1002/jsfa.5639. [Epub ahead of print])
Another study in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture looked at the fatty acid and antioxidant profiles of various input levels of conventional and organic milk found that “highest concentrations of nutritionally beneficial compounds were found in the low-input organic system. Adapted grass-based feeding strategies including pasture offer the potential to produce a distinguishable organic milk product quality.” (Kusche D1, Kuhnt K, Ruebesam K, Rohrer C, Nierop AF, Jahreis G, Baars T. Fatty acid profiles and antioxidants of organic and conventional milk from low- and high-input systems during outdoor period. J Sci Food Agric. 2014 Jun 5. doi: 10.1002/jsfa.6768. [Epub ahead of print]).
How To Choose The Right Dairy
Look for the organic label. Bonus points for grass-fed. And to avoid sugar, stick to plain dairy – no Strawberry milk, fruit on the bottom yogurt, etc. Also remember to look for organic when you are buying cream for coffee, too.
Photo c/o http://www.pinterest.com/hamcohealth/infographics-posters-memes/
Photo 2 c/o Mica Monkey
20 Aug 2014
Sometimes deciding what to blog about is hard, so I love when you guys ask me questions and give me some inspiration! Shout out to Shannon Flahive for emailing me a question on olive oil v. canola oil to get this blog rolling. If you’d like me to answer a nutrition question in the blog, email me at [email protected]
Canola oil has been making headway in the US as a “healthy oil”. Multiple sources cite it as having the following benefits:
- Less saturated fat (only about 6%) than any other oil
- Omega 3 fatty acids
- Higher level of mono-unsaturated fats (observed to be good for cholesterol) than any oil except olive
But what really IS canola oil? There is, after all, no such thing as a “canola” plant. And is it really healthier than other oils, like olive?
No, really. Canola oil comes from the seeds of the rape plant, in the same family as mustard, radishes, and cauliflower. Rapeseed had been used in Asia and Europe as lamp oil, and later cooking oil, and later became useful for lubricating steam engines on large ships. The oil from the rapeseed was not ideal for eating because of high contents of eurcic acid, which has been linked to heart muscle damage, but in the 1960’s and 1970’s Canadian plant breeders used traditional cross-breeding practices to mostly eliminate the eurcic acid (subbing in oleic acid instead) and create an oil fit for human consumption. Canola Oil – an abbreviation for Canadian Oil – replaced rapeseed oil production by the 1980’s and is produced in Canada. Canola oil is most often used for cooking or salad. dressings.
Olive oil is – obviously – produced by pressing tree-ripened olives. Olive oil is produced in a variety of places, and the taste can vary based on origin. There are several types of live oil: extra virgin (the result of the first press of the olive and has less than 1% acid – this is widely considered the best type), virgin olive oil (also first press, but higher acid content of up to 3%), Fino oil (a combination of extra virgin and virgin olive oil), and simply “olive oil” (a combination of fino and virgin or extra virgin oils). In the US, we also have light olive oil, which is simply olive oil refined to create a lighter color and less intense flavor (the calorie and fat numbers are the same as regular olive oils).
Olive oil has a smoke point of 375 degrees F, making it best suited for lower temperature cooking like sautéing. The light olive oil has a smoke point of 468 degrees, making it more suited to frying (or baking, given its light taste). Canola oil’s smoke point at 400 degrees also makes it good for frying. Imagine that – a “healthy” oil ideal for frying.
Many food companies and retailers are using canola oil in their products, likely because it’s supposedly healthier and more versatile given that it is flavorless and has a high smoke point.
Isn’t this the big question? There have been some scares about canola oil circulating the internet, but so far I didn’t find much to be worried about.
Olive – A litany of research has shown olive oil to be beneficial for health, and a Mediterranean diet including olive oil has been associated with lower risk of heart disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes, and lower cholesterol numbers.
Canola – A quick review of PubMed turned up nothing remarkably scary or miraculous. A review from 2013 in the journal Nutrition Reviews found “substantial reductions in total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, as well as other positive actions, including increased tocopherol levels and improved insulin sensitivity, compared with consumption of other dietary fat sources”.
From what I can tell, Canola oil isn’t terrible for you. It may also not be great for you. Just because it is lowest in fat does not make it healthiest. It’s worth pointing out that olive oil has been around since before Jesus was cool, but Canola oil has only been around since ZZ Top was, so olive had a bit of a head start (and a longer proven record) than canola.
If you’re looking for a new oil to cook with, well… why ? Olive oil is fantastic for sautéing and makes everything (in my opinion) more delicious. Coconut oil or grass-fed butter are good for the limited amount of baking you should ideally be doing. And if you need to fry something – I guess Canola oil works. But so does light olive oil.
If you find canola oil in your Whole Foods Hot bar or other prepared or packaged food, it’s fine in moderation. But you’re better off cooking for yourself with an oil that wasn’t derived from what was once engine lubricant
13 Aug 2014
I’ve heard a couple of people over the past few years talk about cutting out carbs and sugar to such an extent that even the usually neutral fruit was eliminated. I’ve heard people reference bananas and grapes as “very high in sugar”, and something to be avoided. Now we all know sugar is the opposite of awesome for you and that cutting back on carbs and sugar can produce weight loss. But do you really need to cut the bananas to achieve or keep a healthy body?
Fruit vs. The Rest Of ‘Em
There is a fundamental difference between the sugar in fruit from the sugar in grains, baked goods, and sweetened beverages: FIBER. Yep, that fiber – the “gluten free” of the 1990’s. The thing is, fiber (along with protein and fat) modulates the rise in blood sugar following the consumption of sugar. (If you don’t recall the glycemic index, this should refresh your memory). Basically ,eating sugar alongside fiber slows the uptake of sugar by the body, thus lessening the insulin required to deal with it all at once. That burst of insulin needed to deal with the flood of sugar is what leads to insulin resistance.
There is also the point that the sugar in fruit is 100% natural and not added in or processed in any way.
The bottom line is, human beings still need carbohydrates to survive (yes, I know some people can function in ketosis. But that’s a lot of work and sounds pretty miserable to me. Right now I am talking to the 99% of people at the gym who want to be healthy without going bananas – pun intended). And whole foods like fruit, starchy vegetables, and the occasional unprocessed whole grain or plain dairy product can be a great source of those needed carbohydrates. Bananas make a pre WOD breakfast, grapes and watermelon are deliciously hydrating after a workout, and I find apple (with a little PB added) to make a satisfying snack. (Side note: I have warned about eating too much fiber before a workout in the past. The beauty of fruit is that while it has some fiber, it doesn’t have as much as green vegetables or fortified cereals or bars, so most people can generally eat some within 30 minutes of a workout and not experience any discomfort). Although, obviously, I wouldn’t recommend eating 10 bananas at the same time.
So basically – keep eating fruit guilt free. It’s almost peach season.
What are your thoughts on fruit?
06 Aug 2014
I have always shared my birthday (August 5th) with Neil Armstrong, and now, I share it with a new friend: the Gluten Free Label. That’s right, as of yesterday, the term “gluten-free” (as well as “without gluten”, “gluten free”, and “free of gluten”) is regulated by the FDA. So, what does this mean for you?
Gluten is the protein found in wheat, rye, barely, and other hybrid grains. Gluten is usually safe for most people, but about 1% of the population has a condition called Celiac Disease, which is a gluten allergy. When these people eat gluten, their body has an autoimmune response that ultimately leads to damage to the lining of the intestines, which then leads to nutrition malabsorption (as well as other symptoms like bloating and frequent illness). The only treatment for Celiac disease is a gluten free diet.
However, gluten free has also become popular among people without any allergy to gluten. People go gluten free for a number of reasons, including weight loss and just trying to feel better. As more people went gluten free, the food industry clamored to meet their demands. However, this was still confusing for people who truly needed to avoid gluten, as “gluten free” had not legitimized, regulated definition.
In August 2013, FDA announced it would begin regulating the term “gluten free”. As of August 5th, 2014, any food labeled “gluten free” must – according to FDA – either be inherently gluten free (like nuts) or does not contain any of the following:
1) a gluten-containing grain (e.g., spelt wheat)
2) derived from a gluten-containing grain that has not been processed to remove gluten (e.g., wheat flour); or
3) derived from a gluten-containing grain that has been processed to remove gluten (e.g., wheat starch), if the use of that ingredient results in the presence of 20 parts per million (ppm) or more gluten in the food.
In addition, any presence of gluten in the food must be less than 20 ppm. The FDA used 20 ppm because there is currently no available technology to allow them to measure levels below that.
This label is voluntary, so for example, Diamond is allowed to label their raw and salted almonds “gluten free”, but they don’t have to.
You can read more on FDA’s website.
What This Means For You
If you have Celiac disease, this means that you may now shop with confidence, knowing that foods labeled “gluten free” or anything similar are in fact, as far as modern technology an detect, free of gluten. This is also helpful for anyone (schools, hospitals, parents, babysitters, dinner party hosts, etc) who may need to feed someone with Celiac disease in the future.
But, for the general population, this doesn’t mean as much. Often times foods like pretzels and bread which would normally have gluten but are processed to have it removed have no added benefit for someone without gluten allergy. These foods are often no healthier than the original and are twice as expensive. Gluten free grain foods are usually made with a mix of potato, tapioca, and rice flour. If you’re trying to eat healthier (or fewer) grains, my advice is to choose 100% whole wheat and cut back on how much you’re eating by adding more vegetables. You can also substitute some grains for vegetables altogether, like spaghetti squash in place of pasta or chopped cauliflower in place of rice.