Be careful! That gluten-free food at your favorite restaurant probably has gluten in it

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Celiac disease is a digestive, immune disorder that impacts the small intestine. Sufferers of the disease account for roughly 1% of the population, though cases have increased four-fold over the last five decades. It is essential that celiacs take special dietary precautions to ensure they receive necessary nutrients, in addition to avoiding specific proteins that exasperate symptoms, namely gluten. Ingestion typically results in intense abdominal pain, bloating and diarrhea.

When the body perceives a substance as a threat, its ability to absorb nutrients is significantly reduced. The most effective method to mitigate complications of Celiac disease is a gluten-free diet. According to a new study, adhering to this regimen might be trickier than you think. New research published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, reports that 32% of restaurant foods are mislabeled as gluten-free.


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The authors of the study explain, “Until now, those wishing to avoid gluten in restaurants had to rely on menu labels, word of mouth, intuition, and restaurant workers’ advice, with a relative dearth of supporting data. We used crowd-sourced data from users of a portable gluten detection device to estimate rates of, and identify risk factors for, gluten contamination of supposed GF restaurant foods.”

The limitations

To conduct the study, the researchers employed the use of a portable, gluten detecting device, called The Nima. The Nima, unable to determine the exact quantity of gluten found in a given food, operates via a yes or no system. The little gadget is very sensitive. A product can legally be labeled as gluten-free if it contains less than 20 ppm (parts per million) of gluten, but the Nima’s sensor will occasion a positive for a product that contains as little as 5 to 10 ppm. Additionally, even if you would not define this as a false positive, the device costs $289, with each one-time-use sensor capsules running $6 each.

Over the course of eighteen months, the researchers analyzed data submitted by 804 users ( 5,624 tests). The reports concluded: “Gluten was detected in 32% of GF labeled foods. Rates of gluten detection differed by meal, with 27.2% at breakfast and 34.0% at dinner. GF labeled pizza and pasta were most likely to test positive for gluten, with gluten detected in 53.2% of pizza and 50.8% of pasta samples. ”

Dr. Benjamin Lerner, who co-wrote the study, sat down with USA Today to encourage individuals with gluten allergies, or conditions that prohibit them from eating gluten-based products, to remain vigilant, without panicking. Because the device is so pricey and sensitive at that, Celiacs have to do much of the investigating on their own when eating out, Dr. Lerner adds, “If you have celiac disease or it’s harmful for you to ingest gluten, you should feel comfortable asking the waiter how things are prepared.”


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