Do you know what gluten free pet food is? Understand what glutens are? FDA has released ‘Guidance for Industry’ to label claims for gluten-free foods. Here’s the scoop on gluten free pet foods.
What is a gluten?
FDA states: ” The term “gluten” means the proteins that naturally occur in a gluten-containing grain and that may cause adverse health effects in persons with celiac disease. Examples of such proteins are called “prolamins” and “glutelins.” Gluten containing grains are defined as: ” any one of the following grains or their crossbred hybrids (e.g., triticale, which is a cross between wheat and rye):
- Wheat, including any species belonging to the genus Triticum;
- Rye, including any species belonging to the genus Secale; or
- Barley, including any species belonging to the genus Hordeum.
(I’m not sure why FDA did not include corn in the above list.)
Why is gluten-free important to some pets?
FDA states (in reference to humans):
“Celiac disease is a hereditary, chronic inflammatory disorder of the small intestines triggered by the ingestion of certain storage proteins, referred to as gluten, occurring in wheat, rye, barley, and crossbreeds of these grains. In such individuals, the consumption of gluten stimulates the production of antibodies and inflammatory cells, resulting in an abnormal immune response which damages the tiny, fingerlike protrusions called “villi,” that line the small intestine and function to absorb nutrients from food. Over time, continued dietary exposure to gluten can destroy the intestinal villi of individuals with celiac disease, leading to a lack of absorption of nutrients and a wide variety of other health problems.
Celiac disease has no cure, but individuals who have this disease are advised to avoid all sources of gluten in their diet. Over time, strictly avoiding consumption of gluten can resolve the symptoms, mitigate and possibly reverse the damage, and reduce the associated health risks of celiac disease.”
Irish Setters have been the only breed to have been officially diagnosed with celiac disease, however many veterinarians link gluten containing grains to Irritable Bowel Disease – Leaky Gut Syndrome in cats and dogs. The website DogtorJ.com provides an excellent explanation. Snippits of that are…
In a nutshell, after all of my research into so many of the medical problems and conditions that plague pets and mankind, I decided that the center of our health universe lies in the stretch of small intestine known as your duodenum and jejuneum, the first two segments of bowel after the stomach.
There are three food ingredients that adhere to the villi of the duodenum and induce the change that is characteristic of celiac disease known as villous atrophy. These four substances are gluten (from the grains), casein (from cow milk products), soy protein and corn gluten.
What is it that links these substances together? For one, they are all use as adhesives, either as non-food glues or as binders in the foods we consume. Gluten, casein, soy and even corn are all used in industry as adhesives, some even being waterproof.
Now, imagine these proteins leaving the stomach of a human or their pet. I have always used the illustration of three slices of pizza leaving our stomach. But, for this sake of this article, I will use a wheat, barley, or soy-based pet food to drive the point home. Now that you have an idea of where we are headed, you can imagine the stomach is filled with “glue-containing” food. This “glue” leaves the stomach after it has been worked on as much as possible by that organ. Of course, not being a ruminant like a cow or sheep, these foods are not completely broken down any more than the cellulose that they eat that non-ruminants are unable to digest. As simple-stomached animals, our pets and we are not designed to eat grasses like the ruminants do and all of the grains are in the grass family.
In an attempt to digest these grasses and their “glue” (along with dairy and soy), our stomach adds as much acid as possible to break them down. Heart burn, anyone? (Yes, my two years of acid reflux abated after just one week of being gluten- free. This, again, should be no surprise.) But, the increased acid is inadequate to eliminate the “glue”. It is this sticky substance that adheres to the villi of the small intestine. Whether it be from wheat, cow milk, soy, corn, or the others mentioned, it adheres to these finger-like projections of the intestine- particularly those of the duodenum and jejunum, which are vital for the absorption of nutrients- effectively reducing the amount of those essential ingredients that would be absorbed into the bloodstream.
What are those nutrients? The vital substances are calcium, iron, iodine, all B complex, vitamin C, most water-soluble vitamins, and most of our trace minerals such as zinc, boron, manganese, magnesium and more. In other words, just about everything that is important other than our fat soluble vitamins is absorbed by the duodenum and jejunum. How well can the intestinal tract function when it is coated with “glue”? The important thing to realize here is that this happens to some extent in everyone and every pet that eats these foods.
Once the essential nutrients have been malabsorbed for a long enough time, Pandora’s Box is opened. This may occur very early in life or very late, partly governed by the degree of immune-mediated component. The worst of the worst will experience severe problems by the time they are adolescents while the more resilient will not be affected until late in life. But, as I tell my clients, I believe that with the top three foods…wheat, dairy and soy…it is a matter of when they cause problems, not if. The “glue” will eventually affect everyone and every pet with it’ nutrient-blocking qualities.
The FDA rules.
Pet foods that are gluten free are not required to be labeled as Gluten Free, however if the term is listed on the label the FDA has established some requirements.
“The labeling claim that a food is “gluten-free” means that the food bearing the claim in its labeling does not contain any of the following ingredients:
- An ingredient that is a gluten-containing grain; or
- An ingredient that is made from a gluten-containing grain and that has not been processed to remove gluten. For example, “wheat flour” is an ingredient made from wheat that has not been processed to remove the naturally occurring gluten in wheat. Therefore, wheat flour cannot be used as an ingredient to make a food labeled “gluten-free;” or
- An ingredient that is made from a gluten-containing grain and that has been processed to remove gluten, if the use of that ingredient contains 20 parts per million (ppm) or more gluten. For example, wheat starch is an ingredient made from wheat that has been processed to remove gluten. However, the use of this ingredient must result in under 20 parts per million gluten in the finished food for the food to be labeled “gluten-free.”
A “gluten-free” claim also can appear on the labels of foods that inherently do not contain gluten (e.g. raw carrots and grapefruit juice).
Additionally, any unavoidable presence of gluten in a food bearing a “gluten-free” claim, whether manufactured to be gluten-free or inherently free of gluten, must be below 20 ppm gluten. This means that foods may not use the claim if they contain 20 ppm or more gluten as a result of cross-contact with gluten-containing grains or other gluten-containing ingredients.
Twenty ppm gluten is a concentration level rather than an absolute quantity of gluten in a food. It is equivalent to 20 milligrams of gluten per 1 kilogram (or 1000 grams (g)) of food.”
Pet food and human food manufacturers are not required to test their foods for the presence of glutens, however the FDA states manufactures “are responsible for ensuring that foods bearing a gluten-free claim meet our requirements.” FDA considers a food labeled as “Gluten-Free” to be misbranded if “the food does not meet all of our requirements for a “gluten-free” claim.”
To read the full FDA Guidance on Gluten Free Labeling of Food, Click Here.
Wishing you and your pet(s) the best,
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