People with coeliac disease can’t always trust store-bought food
For people living with coeliac disease, even small amounts of gluten can damage their intestine and cause inflammation – triggering bloating, diarrhoea, fatigue, nausea and vomiting. There’s also an increased risk of certain cancers. You’re born with a genetic variation that makes you more likely to develop coeliac disease, and once diagnosed, you have to stay away from gluten for life. That means no pasta, bread, cereal, beer – most anything that might contain certain grains like wheat or barley. So can you trust what you buy from a store to be gluten-free when it’s billed as such?
In this study, the researchers trekked around to 127 food spots in Melbourne that were advertising different foods as gluten-free. They picked up these foods – things like banana bread, rice paper rolls and chicken risotto – and took them back to the lab where they were tested for gluten content. Of the 158 items of food collected, 14 had gluten – about 10 per cent of all samples. And in at least one case, the food outlet sold a wheat-based food when a gluten-free meal was asked for, which the researchers said reflected the lack of understanding people with coeliac disease report getting when they try to search out food items to suit their diet. Many of the samples containing gluten had amounts of gluten higher than considered safe to consume.
The same researchers did earlier audits of Melbourne businesses and found that rates of compliance had improved but there were some repeat offenders. The study also found that only one in 10 people serving food had an understanding of Australia’s food standards. If the business had no staff training, odds of compliance with food standards went down 75 per cent.
It’s tricky having coeliac disease and even more so when foods advertised as gluten-free turn out not to be. The researchers want better training and awareness of the issues among food businesses to stop this sort of thing from happening. If you are shopping around, maybe it’s best to go to a franchise. In this study, franchise businesses were seven times more likely to comply with gluten guidelines. The researchers put that down to it being more likely a franchised outlet provided staff training and food handling guidelines.
Last Reviewed: 04/12/2018
© Norman Swan Medical Communications.
Halmos, et al. (2018). Gluten in “gluten-free” food from food outlets in Melbourne: a cross-sectional study. MJA doi: 10.5694/mja17.00883.
Coeliac disease is a condition caused by an abnormal immune response, or sensitivity, to a dietary protein known as gluten. Gluten is found in wheat, rye and barley.
Video: Coeliac disease
Coeliac disease is diagnosed when the body's immune system responds inappropriately to gluten, a protein found in wheat. This results in the inner surface of the small intestine becoming inflamed. A life-long gluten free diet is the main treatment.
Video: Gluten sensitivity may exist mostly in the mind
Gluten-free diets are one of the popular dietary trends at the moment. With the clear exception of coeliac disease, growing research is calling into question if a self-diagnosed ‘gluten sensitivity’ is related to gluten at all.
Gluten and gluten-free diet
Find out the importance of a gluten-free diet for people with coeliac disease and discover which foods contain gluten and which do not.
Coeliac disease: tests
There are several tests available in Australia, including blood tests, gene tests and biopsy of the small bowel, that can help diagnose or rule out coeliac disease - a disease that affects the bowel.