If you were diagnosed with celiac disease 15 or 20 years ago, you probably remember all too well how difficult it was to find labels on boxes in the grocery store that listed all the ingredients in a product. On the other hand, if you discovered that you have CD recently, you may have seen much clearer labels, which not only list wheat and gluten, but also may be designated gluten-free. Food labeling is by no means perfect, but the big improvements to date came about in no small way due to the work of a group that was originally called the Food Allergy Network. Now known as the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN), it was founded twenty years ago by the mother of an allergic child who could not get the information she needed to find safe foods for her daughter to eat. This was about the same time as the beginning of the Celiac Disease Foundation. Anne Muñoz-Furlong’s daughter was allergic to milk and egg. The group her mother founded gathered information and members, raised money and awareness, and educated legislators, to the point that legislation was passed to improve labeling of food. FAAN now has 250,000 members, including individuals, government agencies, and parts of the food industry. The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Act took effect in 2006. It requires that the eight major foods to which people are allergic must be clearly labeled, in the ingredient list, in plain, understandable language. Wheat is one of these eight ingredients. Unfortunately, rye and barley do not have to be listed. While labeling of gluten is not mandatory, the fact that wheat is clearly stated on many package labels is because of the Act. There is action trying to move forward labeling for celiac disease, just as there was action taken to get allergens listed. FAAN brought awareness of food allergies to people across the United States, and joins with other groups around the world. When someone can understand the idea that a natural food can be dangerous and even deadly for some people, they can also learn to understand celiac disease. While celiac disease is not a food allergy, it has to be handled the same way, by avoidance of specific ingredients. Wheat allergy usually occurs in children and is outgrown in adulthood, while celiac disease is permanent. There is still an overlap in what people with these conditions need to do, and FAAN addresses some of these issues directly on their website. They have very useful information about where wheat can be hidden. FAAN focuses on education, research, drawing attention to what allergic people need, and fundraising. They provide information for parents, teachers and schools, children and teens. They help put out bulletins when hidden allergens are found in food. They partner with schools, institutions, the government, and anyone else who can help make the world safer for the growing number of people with food allergies. Celiac disease, like food allergies, is becoming more common. The work of FAAN has helped people with CD, and also provides an excellent example of how regular people who are motivated can change the way things are done to help people with particular needs. [hr]
Anna Kaplan has been a licensed physician for over 30 years in the area of family medicine. Her personal experience with food sensitives has led to an extensive freelance writing career as well, and we've valued having her as a contributor to our Gluten Free Club for over 8 years now.
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