Nontoxic Food Decorations Aren’t Always Edible

I’m making a batch of holiday goodies, and I’m using several kinds of festive decor on the cakes, cookies, and pies. Some of this glitter and sparkly stuff is very pretty, but I’m wondering if it’s really safe to eat.

Photo: Getty Images.

That depends on what the label on its packaging says.

When baking fancy cookies, cakes, cupcakes, or other foods for the holidays—or for any occasion—it’s important that you are aware of which decorations are edible and which ones aren’t.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a consumer alert this week that some glitters and dusts promoted for use in foods might, in fact, contain materials that should not be eaten.

In fact, the FDA says consumers might want to avoid using glitter and dust to decorate cakes, cupcakes, cookies, pies, and other food items unless the products are specifically manufactured to be edible.

While some glitters and dusts are sold online and in craft and bakery supply stores under names such as luster dust, disco dust, twinkle dust, sparkle dust, highlighter, shimmer powder, pearl dust, and petal dust, not all are safe to eat, the FDA says.

Some of the decorations might be labeled nontoxic, but that doesn’t mean they are meant to be eaten.

“Some decorative glitters and dusts promoted for use on foods may, in fact, contain materials that should not be eaten,” the FDA said in a written statement.

So how can you distinguish between glitters and dusts that are safe to eat from those that are unsafe to eat?

Food decorations that are edible must be clearly labeled as such. Companies that make edible glitters and dusts are required by law to include a list of ingredients on the label, per the FDA. If the label simply says “nontoxic” or “for decorative purposes only” and does not include an ingredients list, you should not use the product directly on foods.

Nontoxic glitters and dust, which are typically used to make crafts sparkle, are made out of plastic.

In contrast, some of the most common ingredients used to make edible glitter or edible dust include sugar, acacia (gum arabic), maltodextrin, cornstarch, and color additives specifically approved for food use, including mica-based pearlescent pigments and FD&C colors such as FD&C Blue No. 1.

If you are purchasing a professionally decorated cake or other food item, specifically ask the baker or cook if all ingredients are edible. To ensure that the decorative products are edible, you can also ask to see their labels.

If you do decide to purchase or decorate a food item with decorations that are not edible, you should be sure that you remove the decorations before serving or eating the food. You don’t want anyone who eats your treats to have any adverse reactions to your creations.

Chow Line is a service of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or

Editor: This column was reviewed by Jenny Lobb, educator, family and consumer sciences, OSU Extension.

Special Note: Chow Line is taking a two-week holiday hiatus. Look for fresh perspectives in the New Year on Jan. 11, 2019.

Yogurt: So many choices, lots to like

 There seem to be a lot more kinds of yogurt than there ever used to be. I like it, but is yogurt really that popular?

Yogurt has made big gains over the years. Although it’s leveling off, yogurt consumption has more than doubled over the last 15 years, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service. During that time, Greek yogurt appeared on the market and quickly gained steam, now accounting for about half of all yogurt sales.

What’s the appeal? Yogurt has a lot going for it. It has a good amount of calcium, although the amount can vary. To determine how much calcium is in your favorite yogurt, look for the Percent Daily Value for calcium listed on the Nutrition Facts label, and multiply it by 1,000 mg, which is the Daily Value for calcium. For example, if the label says a serving of your yogurt has 25 percent (0.25) of the Daily Value for calcium, then it has 250 mg. To compare, a cup of milk has about 300 mg.

It’s important to note that the recommended daily amount of calcium for people varies, from 1,300 mg for 9- to 18-year-olds, to 1,200 mg for men 71 and older and women 51 and older, to 1,000 mg for those in between. So, you have to do a little mental math to know if you’re getting enough. Fortunately, when the new Nutrition Facts labels appear on foods in 2018, they’ll list the actual amount of calcium in grams.

Also like milk, yogurt has a good amount of protein. A cup of plain low-fat yogurt has 12 grams of protein, compared with 8 grams in a cup of 2 percent milk. Again, your mileage may vary with the type of yogurt. To verify, check the Nutrition Facts.

Most types of yogurt also contain beneficial bacteria naturally found in the intestinal tract, but which can sometimes use a boost. These live cultures, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, can improve digestive health and strengthen your immune system. Unfortunately, you can’t really tell how much of this bacteria is in the yogurt you eat. Even in yogurt with a “Live and Active Cultures” seal, which verifies the yogurt had at least 100 million cultures per gram (or 10 million for frozen yogurt) at the time it was made, the number of good bacteria can fade over time.

Although yogurt is a highly nutritious food, flavored varieties might contain more added sugar than you’re comfortable with. Flavored regular yogurt often has about 24-30 grams of carbohydrates, some from added sugars and some naturally from the sugars in the yogurt’s milk and fruit. Light varieties, with low- or no-calorie sweeteners, have half as many carbs. When the new Nutrition Facts labels come out, you’ll be able to easily see how much of the carbohydrate is from added sugars.

Or, opt for plain yogurt. It won’t have any added sugars, and you can add your own flavorings, such as vanilla, or top it with fresh or frozen berries yourself.

Plain whole-milk Greek yogurt is also a good substitute for sour cream. Along with some added tang, it provides fewer calories (190 per cup compared to 480 in sour cream), less fat (9 grams compared to 45), more protein (20 grams compared to 5) and more calcium (250 mg compared to 7). So, it’s worth an experiment or two to see how it might work in your recipes.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or

Editor: This column was reviewed by Dan Remley, field specialist in Food, Nutrition and Wellness for Ohio State University Extension.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

What will happen when fiber is no longer fiber

 I understand that the recommendation for fiber intake is going up. When will we see that reflected on Nutrition Facts labels?

The new labels should be on foods by July 2018. And you’re right, the Daily Value — the number on Nutrition Facts labels that indicates the recommended intake for nutrients — is increasing from 25 grams of fiber a day to 28. As with any Daily Value number, this is the recommended level for someone eating a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet. The higher number is based on findings of the Institute of Medicine, which recommends that people consume 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories consumed. Unfortunately, most people don’t get nearly that amount.

Along with Daily Value update, the Food and Drug Administration also actually provided a definition of what counts as fiber for Nutrition Facts labels. And unless the rules are updated before taking effect, some fiber that’s included in many processed foods today won’t meet the new standard.

There are many different types of fiber, and they don’t all act in the body the same way. So, in the new definition, the FDA requires that any fiber included on the Nutrition Facts listing have an established “beneficial physiological effect” — that is, it has to be considered beneficial to human health. Such benefits include reduced blood glucose, cholesterol or blood pressure; increased satiety, which would help people reduce calorie intake; improved laxation or bowel function; and increased absorption of minerals, such as calcium.

The FDA will allow any fiber that’s intrinsic and intact in the food itself — the fiber naturally found in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, for example — to be included in the grams listed under “fiber” on the new labels. But it won’t include everything.

Today, food manufacturers often extract and isolate fiber from foods to add to high-fiber breakfast bars, protein shakes, cereals, breads, yogurts, granolas and even calorie-free sweeteners. They can also chemically synthesize some types of fiber.

These “isolated or synthetic” types of fiber not only provide additional fiber to the processed food, but also often help provide the flavor and texture that the food manufacturer is looking for in the finished product. However, not all types of this kind of fiber have been shown to have the human health benefits the FDA is looking for.

So far, the FDA lists 25 fibers in this category as making the grade, allowing them to be counted as fiber. They include psyllium husk, guar gum, pectin and cellulose. But in its review of the scientific literature, the FDA could not find health benefits of other types of fiber often used in processed foods, including inulin, bamboo fiber, soy fiber, pea fiber and wheat fiber. As it stands now, those ingredients, like all fiber, would have to be included in the amount of carbohydrate in the food but would not be counted in the amount of fiber.

The agency could update the list of what’s allowed to be included in the fiber listing as scientific evidence develops. But as it stands today, many of the “high-fiber” foods you see on grocery store shelves may no longer meet that criteria under the new rules.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043,

Editor: This column was reviewed by Dan Remley, field specialist for Ohio State University Extension in Food, Nutrition and Wellness.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.


How to use the ‘5-20’ rule for healthy choices

I’ve never been a fan of Nutrition Facts labels, but a friend recently mentioned that she reads them all the time, using something called the “520 rule.” What is the 520 rule?

Ah, she was talking about what is known as the ”5-20 rule,” and it applies to the Daily Value percentages that are listed on the label.

Basically, it’s just a quick guideline to use when you look at those percentages to determine how a food might fit into your daily dietary goals.

Any nutrient listed as 5 percent or less of the Daily Value is considered low. Any listed as 20 percent or more of the Daily Value is considered high.

For nutrients you want to limit, such as saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium, try to choose foods with low Daily Value percentages. Foods with 5 percent or less would be great choices, while it would be smart to limit foods with 20 percent or more.

For nutrients you want to get enough of, such as fiber, vitamins A and C, calcium, and iron, look for foods with 20 percent or more of the Daily Value. A food with 5 percent or less of the Daily Value for those nutrients simply isn’t a good source of them.

By now, you are probably wondering, “What the heck is a Daily Value?” Simply put, the Daily Value is a generic nutrient-intake standard based on a 2,000 calorie-a-day diet. For key nutrients, the Nutrition Facts label provides percentages of the Daily Value that a serving of the food contributes toward the daily total.

In reality, daily nutrient recommendations depend on your age and gender. However, it’s not practical to have different food labels for each individual group, so Daily Values are used instead. Still, it could be important for you to know where your needs vary.

For example, the Daily Value for calcium is 1,000 milligrams, so a food with 300 milligrams of calcium in it would have a Daily Value percentage of 30 percent. But teenagers need 1,300 milligrams of calcium a day, and women 51 and older and men 70 and older need 1,200 milligrams a day. So, even if you consume 100 percent of the Daily Value of calcium, you still might not be getting enough.

Sodium is similar. The Daily Value for sodium is 2,400 milligrams, but that might be too much for some people, especially those with hypertension.

Daily Value percentages aren’t listed for everything on the label. For example, you won’t see a percentage for trans fats, because, basically, there is no level of trans fat that’s recommended for consumption. You should keep it as close to zero as possible.

Also, a Daily Value percentage for protein is listed only when a food makes some type of claim for protein, such as a high-protein breakfast bar. In those cases, the percentage is based on a total Daily Value level of 50 grams of protein a day.

Once you start examining the Daily Values, you can find yourself getting lost in a bit of a rabbit hole. But you don’t need to know all the nitty-gritty to make them useful. Just use the percentages — and the 5-20 rule — to make comparisons between foods to help you make the best choices.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or

Editor: This column was reviewed by Irene Hatsu, specialist in Food Security with Ohio State University Extension.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

In 2018, food labels will give more information

Original versus New Label - Side-by-Side ComparisonI heard something on the news about the Nutrition Facts labels changing. What are the details?

The new Nutrition Facts information won’t be on food labels for awhile, but you may like what you see when they do appear.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced the updated design on May 20. Large manufacturers have until July 26, 2018, to start using the new label. Smaller companies will get an extra year. This is the first update to the Nutrition Facts label in 20 years.

One of the most sought-after changes will be the inclusion of “Added Sugars” on the label. Currently, the label just includes “sugars” as a category under carbohydrates, but it’s impossible to tell how much of that is naturally occurring, from fruit- or milk-based ingredients, for example, and how much is added during processing.

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that we limit added sugars to no more than 10 percent of our daily calorie intake. So, if you eat about 2,000 calories a day, you should consume no more than 200 calories, or 50 grams, of added sugars a day. The new labels will list the amount of added sugars in both grams and as a percent of a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet. This will not only help consumers interested in limiting their added sugar intake, it could encourage manufacturers to reduce the amount of added sugars they use in their products.

Other changes in the new label include:

  • Larger and bolder typeface for both calories and serving sizes. These two pieces of information are among the most important to help people make healthy food choices, but they don’t get much prominence on the current label.
  • Some foods will have “dual column” labels to indicate both “per serving” and “per package” calorie and nutrition information. These will be required on products that have multiple servings but could reasonably be consumed all in one sitting, such as a pint of ice cream or a 3-ounce bag of chips. The first column will provide nutrition information if you just consume one serving — 1 ounce of those chips in the 3-ounce bag, for example. The second column will provide the same information if you eat the entire package.
  • Labels will include information on vitamin D and potassium content. Some people are not getting enough of these nutrients, which puts them at higher risk for chronic disease. Labels will no longer be required to list vitamins A and C, because deficiencies in those vitamins are now rare. Calcium and iron will continue to be listed. A bonus: Instead of listing just a percentage, or the “percent Daily Value,” these nutrients will also have the actual amount listed in grams. Daily Values are helpful indicators of how much a food provides towards the daily recommended amount for a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet, but it also can be helpful for consumers to see what that equates to in actual grams.

For more details on the new Nutrition Facts labels, go to

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043,

Editor: This column was reviewed by Irene Hatsu, Food Security specialist with Ohio State University Extension. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Saturate yourself with information about oils

edible oils

I’m confused about fatty acids. I know to avoid saturated and trans fats, and I’ve heard good things about omega-3s and unsaturated fats. But there are also oleic, linoleic and other types of fats. What does all this mean for the type of oil I should be using?

You’re right. If you start digging down into the nitty gritty, information about fatty acids can get very complex very quickly.

First, know that all oils (liquid at room temperature) and fats (solid at room temperature) are really composed of a broad range of fatty acids, including saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. That said, here’s some basic information.

Any fatty acid with the word “omega” in its name — omega-3 or omega-6, for example — is unsaturated. Monounsaturated fat includes oleic acid, an omega-9 fatty acid, and is the primary fatty acid in olive oil. Although many health authorities recommend olive oil as the top heart-healthy option, there’s growing conversation in nutrition circles about the strength of the evidence behind that advice. Still, it remains a good option and deserves a spot in your pantry.

Both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats. Linoleic acid is the primary type of omega-6 fatty acid that we consume and is essential in our diet. Being “essential” means we need to consume linoleic acid because our bodies  cannot synthesize it from other sources. Not too long ago, researchers thought linoleic acid might cause inflammation and damage arteries. But more recently, scientists have found that higher blood levels of linoleic acid are associated with less trunk fat — the abdominal fat linked to heart disease — as well as less inflammation, higher metabolism and a leaner body mass. (See a report about this Ohio State University research at So, the thinking on linoleic acid is evolving.

Vegetable oils have traditionally been a major source of linoleic fatty acids, but in the last five years or so, many processors have changed the composition of vegetable oils, decreasing linoleic acid, or polyunsaturated fats, in favor of omega-9s, or monounsaturated fats. Most corn oil still appears to be a good source of linoleic acid. Grapeseed oil is also a good source, as are some store-brand bottled oils. Check the Nutrition Facts label: Oils higher in polyunsaturated and lower in monounsaturated fat provide more linoleic acid.

Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly long-chain ones that are most closely associated with heart health, are primarily found in cold-water, fatty fish. Most people don’t get enough omega-3s in their diet, and since they are heart-healthy, the American Heart Association recommends eating at least two servings a week of fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines or albacore tuna. Another type of omega-3, called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), is found in some plant-based foods such as chia seeds, flax seeds and flaxseed oil, and to a lesser extent, in canola oil.

The bottom line? Eat more fish and other omega-3s, and try for more omega-6 linoleic acid in your diet. Look for “polyunsaturated” on oil labels.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or

Editor: This column was reviewed by Martha Belury, registered dietitian, scientist with the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, and the Carol S. Kennedy Professor of Nutrition in the College of Education and Human Ecology.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Be sodium smart with soup, processed foods

chow_060515_468139785Does any canned soup contain just a small amount of sodium? Even the types marked as “healthy” seem to have quite a bit. Do I have to resort to making homemade soup?

You’re right — soups, like many other processed foods — can contain a frightful amount of sodium.

How much is too much? The recommendation is to limit sodium to less than 2,300 milligrams a day, or to just 1,500 milligrams if you’re 51 years or older, African-American, or if you have high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease. Americans in those categories account for about half of the U.S. population.

Unfortunately, the average sodium intake for Americans is more than 3,400 milligrams a day. Too much sodium contributes to high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke. Scientists estimate that reducing average sodium consumption by 400 milligrams a day could reduce deaths in the U.S. by 28,000 a year.

It sounds like you’re already reading labels: That is key. Besides looking at Nutrition Facts to find out how many milligrams of sodium there are per serving, also look for these terms and know what they mean:

  • Salt/Sodium-Free: Fewer than 5 milligrams of sodium per serving.
  • Very Low Sodium: 35 milligrams of sodium or less per serving.
  • Low Sodium: 140 milligrams of sodium or less per serving.
  • Reduced Sodium: At least 25 percent less sodium than in the original product. Note that these products often contain more than 140 milligrams of sodium per serving.
  • Light in Sodium or Lightly Salted: At least 50 percent less sodium than the regular product.
  • No-Salt-Added or Unsalted: No salt is added during processing, but these foods are not necessarily sodium-free. Check the Nutrition Facts Label to be sure.

One reason so much salt is added to processed foods is — you guessed it — flavor. Food manufacturers who try to drastically reduce sodium often find that those products don’t sell.

So, what can you do? Here are a few ideas:

  • Try looking in the organic or health food aisles for canned soup. Those products aren’t always low in sodium, but sometimes they are.
  • Do a web search for “no salt added soup” or “low sodium soup.” You might find brands to buy online that aren’t available at your local store.
  • Water down a favorite soup or broth enough so it reduces the sodium to an acceptable level. You can add back flavor and substance with garlic or other herbs and spices, including salt-free spice blends; fresh or frozen vegetables, such as chopped carrots, peppers and tomatoes; extra noodles or cooked chopped meat or poultry; or even a splash of wine or balsamic vinegar.

If you’re ready to try making soup from homemade stock, the American Heart Association offers ideas for boosting flavor. See them at

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road,
Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or

Editor: This column was reviewed by Irene Hatsu, Ohio State University Extension’s food security specialist.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

With flavored water, look at label closely

chow_051515_101531757I switched my beverage of choice from pop to bottled flavored water. I’m enjoying trying a lot of different brands and flavors. Is there anything I should be on the lookout for when choosing which one to try next?

Water is a great alternative to sugary soft drinks. But as you reach for your next flavored bottled water, be sure to take a close look at the label to make sure you’re consuming what you think you are. Some bottled flavored water is actually just that — water with flavorings. In fact, a range of flavors of unsweetened carbonated water is now widely available. But some products labeled “water” contain a lot of sugar and calories, caffeine, artificial sweeteners or other additives that you may prefer to avoid.

First, read the Nutrition Facts label. Look at the calories per serving and the number of servings per container. That will quickly let you know how many calories you’ll be consuming after you twist off the bottle top.

Second, read the ingredients listings carefully. Are you satisfied with what you see? Watch out for sugar, which can be labeled as many different things, including corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), honey, malt syrup, nectars (such as peach nectar or pear nectar) and sucrose.

Note that caffeine doesn’t have to be listed as an ingredient if it is naturally present in one of the other ingredients — tea, for example. But if it’s added on its own, it has to be in the ingredients listing.

Many flavored waters boast they contain vitamins and antioxidants. That’s all well and good, but it can be an expensive way to consume them. Eat a wide variety of produce — five servings a day or more — and you’ll be fine on that score. It’s a similar situation to that of sports drinks — athletes who vigorously exercise for an hour or more may benefit from the carbohydrates and electrolytes that sports drinks contain, but many people who reach for those beverages simply don’t need them, or the calories they contain. If water with vitamins also contains sweeteners, then it probably isn’t a healthy option.

Overall, water is the best choice to quench your thirst. Since you are interested in flavored water, why not make your own? Just fill a glass or pitcher with cold water and make some additions. Here are some ideas to try:

  • Fresh mint leaves
  • Sliced cucumber
  • Cubed watermelon or cantaloupe
  • Sliced oranges, lemons or limes
  • A splash of orange, pineapple or grapefruit juice

Just be sure to thoroughly rinse any such ingredients under running water before adding them to your water. Anything with a tough outside skin or rind should be scrubbed with a vegetable brush under running water before being cut into, to make sure any contaminants on the exterior aren’t transferred to your fresh glass of cool water.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or

Editor: This column was reviewed by Carol Smathers, Ohio State University Extension’s field specialist in Youth Nutrition and Wellness.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

New labels to help ID added sugars

176774860Next month, I want to try to cut added sugars from my diet, but I’m confused when I look at the Nutrition Facts labels. For example, sliced fruit packed in juice seems to have a lot of sugar. How can I tell if it’s added sugar or just the natural sugars from the fruit and juice?

First, good for you for paying attention to added sugars in your diet. On average, Americans consume about 16 percent of their daily calories from sugars added during food production and processing, during cooking, or from the sugar bowl at the table. The nation’s Dietary Guidelines have recommended decreasing the amount of added sugars in the diet for years.

To answer your question, though, if the label says “100 percent juice,” there are no added sugars in the beverage.

This can get confusing because many food items that are labeled “100 percent juice” also list “fruit juice concentrate” on the ingredients label. Fruit juice concentrate is natural fruit juice with most of the water removed. If it’s not reconstituted — that is, if the same amount of water isn’t restored — then the concentrate is so sweet that it is considered an added sugar. But in order to claim “100 percent juice” on a label, the Food and Drug Administration says a food manufacturer must add as much water to a concentrated juice as appears in the original juice.

On the current Nutrition Facts labels, to find added sugars in foods, you need to examine the food ingredient listing and know to look for words like high fructose corn syrup, fructose, sucrose, dextrose or even honey. See a complete list of added sugars here:

But in March, the FDA proposed changing the Nutrition Facts label to clearly separate added sugars from other sugars. This way, consumers can tell at a glance if a product has added sugars, and how much. You can see the proposed new Nutrition Facts label at

The World Health Organization recently drafted a recommendation for people to limit consumption of added sugars to as low as 5 percent of calories. That recommendation includes even 100 percent fruit juice. Although many other nutrition authorities don’t consider 100 percent fruit juice to be an added sugar, most recommend eating whole fruit rather than drinking just the juice. Juice lacks dietary fiber, and it’s easy to consume in excess, contributing extra calories.

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus

A new definition for ‘gluten-free’

120724276I heard recently that the government set a definition for “gluten-free” labels on foods. If that just happened, why have I seen “gluten-free” on some food labels for years? 

Unfortunately, the gluten-free labels you’ve seen in the past had no standard definition — and that will continue to be the case until August 2014, when the new rule by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration goes fully into effect.

At that point, you can be assured that any food labeled gluten-free will contain less than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten. That is the lowest level of gluten that can be consistently detected in foods using valid scientific testing, and is a standard consistent with that used in other countries.

Luckily, the FDA believes that of the foods currently labeled gluten-free, only about 5 percent contain more than 20 ppm of gluten. But if you are one of the estimated 3 million Americans with celiac disease, you’ve got to wonder: Which foods would those be?

Although a lot of people these days flirt with a gluten-free diet to try to lose weight or feel healthier, eating gluten-free is a serious matter for people with celiac disease. Gluten is a protein that occurs naturally in wheat, rye, barley and hybrids of those grains. Although oats do not contain gluten, they can be contaminated during harvest or processing with grains that do, so people with celiac disease usually avoid oats, as well.

Why? If you have celiac disease and you consume gluten, your body’s defense system goes haywire and attacks the lining of your small intestine, causing sometimes-severe abdominal pain, bloating, intestinal bleeding and diarrhea. Long-term, the damage to the small intestine can be so severe that deficiencies of important nutrients such as iron and calcium can result, leading to conditions ranging from anemia to osteoporosis.

Gluten-free labels can be an immense help if you have celiac disease. It might be obvious to examine ingredients listings of grain-based foods — breads, pastas, crackers and cakes — for wheat, rye, barley and related ingredients. However, other foods that contain gluten aren’t so obvious, including candies, gravies, salad dressings, sauces, seasoned rice mixes, flavored snack foods, soups and soup bases, vegetables in sauce, and processed lunchmeat.

A “gluten-free” label — one you can trust — will make life in the grocery store aisle much easier.