Gluten Content from Barley Malt in Cereals

I was just flicking through the new CUK Food & Drink Directory and found the pages on cereals. There is a note in the section that says:

"Some of the breakfast cereals listed contain barley malt extract and you will see this ingredient in the ingredients list and/or the allergen advice box. The cereals contain 20ppm or less of gluten, a level which is safe to include in a gluten free diet. Manufaturers must highlight the ingredient barley malt extract in the ingredients list no matter how much they have used."

I have always been put off of supermarket cereals when I see the word 'barley' in the allergen box. It might as well have a skull and crossbones on the label.

If there was a 'Suitable for Coeliacs' or a 'crossed grain' symbol I would consider the prduct 'safe'. However, these seemed to appear and disappear from packaging at random or were dependent on the size of the box.

Now, with the help of this note in the CUK F&D D, I can decipher the warning in the cereal allergen boxes and read it as 'Contains less than 20ppm gluten therefore safe for most people with Coeliac Disease'.

Without the cypher, the labelling could mean the cereals contain any amount of barley gluten, couldn't it?

(Note I use the word 'most'. Some poor Guerrillas can't even be in the same room as 20ppm and a 'gluten free' diet is poison)

I would much rather the allergen boxes contained this information instead of the CUK F&D D, because the little book comes out once a year whereas the labelling on the box tells you exactly what the manufacturers think they have probably put inside it a short time after they printed the label.

I may be barking up the wrong tree. Perhaps the labelling already states the 20ppm content. I will check.

13 Replies

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  • Hi Phil, here's the ingredients for Tesco's cornflakes which I believe are in CUK's directory and they just list the ingredients.

    tesco.com/groceries/Product...

    Maize,Sugar ,Salt ,Dextrose ,Barley Malt Extract ,Iron ,Niacin ,Pantothenic Acid ,Vitamin B6 ,Riboflavin ,Thiamin ,Folic Acid ,Vitamin D ,Vitamin B12

    I have issues with malt regardless of it's concentration and what worries me about it is it is tested with the test for wheat gluten and can give an under or over reading depending on which test is used.

    This explain the testing methods etc:

    glutenfreedietitian.com/new...

  • Good post Phil. Yes this is confusing for all. One major supermarket started a debate on twitter a few weeks ago on this - read here: foodallergyandintolerance.b...

    We agree and would love to see a contains barley malt & a Gluten free symbol. Sadly the new legislation has confused many companies & coeliac alike. Plus if companies don't want to waste their budget on testing to confirm their items containing barley malt are actually within the new 20ppm EU guidelines and so 'gluten free' then they are unlikely to label them as such. Which also means they may be produced under conditions where the cereal could be cross contaminated - but not bother to state that as they're not attempting to label the item GF. Still with us? Add to this mix that the Suitable for coeliacs labelling seems to be disappearing for the new annoying label 'no gluten containing ingredients' which means nothing legally (see the FSA website). It doesn't mean an item is GF nor that it has been made in a GF safe factory. Go figure - more ambiguous labelling. We feel sorry for newbie coeliacs trying to make their way around all the ingredient labels. It's a mindfield!

    We recommend writing to manufacturers & retailers to ask for clear GF labelling & a definition of what their current labelling means.

  • Hi Fiona, I would hate to see food labelled as gluten free and contains malt, for a few reasons:

    1) it's not suitable for all coeliac

    2) it's not gluten free as it has a known amount of gluten in it

    3) it sends out the wrong message to non coeliac that coeliac can eat small amounts of gluten. And they could infer the wrong thing

    I would be happier with contains barley malt within 20ppm codex or something along those lines so that it was clear.

    We were discussing this on another forum and someone in Sweden said how they could get mustard labelled as gf and contains wheat and this coeliac was super sensitive so it made her ill.

    I would be even happier with gluten free meaning made from no gluten containing grains and free from contamination with undetecable gluten as gluten free because how do we know that there is a safe level of gluten? and to those of us that can not tolerate traces of gluten we have to avoid food clearly labelled as gluten free so to me having known amounts of gluten in gluten free food causes divisions amongst coeliac.

    In Australia they have 5 ppm as gf and no gluten containing grains. We do not know what harm these traces of gluten do to our systems. And look how many coeliac still have issues on their strict gf diet.

    And I'm sorry to disagree here.

  • That's a good point Jerry. No wonder the retailers are stumped - they'd be lost for room on the package with all the context setting text. I must admit I avoid anything made from maltodextrin or barley or vinegar just to be on the safe side. Labelling is still a minefield.

  • Thanks for the responses folks.

    Jerry, I looked at that testing methods article. The chemistry stumped me but I guess you summed it up nicely: none of the testing methods are reliable.

    In the Sainsbury's Twitter, Fiona, Sainsbury's seem to think their own brand cereals are less than 10ppm, and therefore fall into the <20ppm group, but they don't understand that they could mark the packs 'gluten free' if they wanted to, so they don't. Instead they put a label on the packs that says " Don't go near these unless you know what you are doing".

    If the testing methods are so unreliable how do Sainsbury's know they're less than 10ppm?

    Whilst CUK gives out the message, "It's okay, we understand gluten and we've spoken to Sainsbury's about the barley gluten in their cereals and we reckon you should get away with it, probably".

    I am beginning to see the attraction in a neanderthal diet, avoiding anything that could contain gluten at any level. Complete abstainance and peace of mind.

    I still risk malt vinegar and maltodextrin because I've been told they're safe, and I just bought some Sainsbury's cereals for the same reason (before reading your responses)

    And I'm not convinced I'm doing the right thing. Taking risks is all very well if you are willing to face the consequences.

  • Hi Phil and this is quite correct in my opinion: you said:

    And I'm not convinced I'm doing the right thing. Taking risks is all very well if you are willing to face the consequences.

    When we are on a normal wheat based diet we do not have the same reaction to ingesting gluten as we do after a little while on a gf diet. So the questions we should ask are:

    1) by eating low levels of gluten do we have a low level tolerance to it?

    2) if we stopped eating any allowed gluten (20ppm or whatever foods) would we still be able to tolerate them if we abstained for a month?

    3) just because we can not test gluten to zero how do we know that it is not still harming us in an insidious way?

    I can not differentiate between a coeliac who eats chip shop chips and crunchy nut cornflakes because they do not appear to make them ill and a coeliac on a ''strict'' gluten free diet who only eats allowed levels of gluten because to me gluten is gluten and the coeliac is ingesting the gluten and not the label.

    I have a scientific backround and I can see that on a molecular level there are lots of gluten molecules in just 1ppm of gluten.

    When you have allowed levels of gluten in gf food it is a weight/ratio so eating a single normal bread crumb exceeds the allowed level but if you have a gluten free French stick that has 1million bread crumbs and 20ppm is the gluten content. The gluten content of normal wheat bread is less than 10% gluten so there could be the equivalent of 200 normal bread crumbs in the French stick.

    When a crisp manufacturer dusts their crisps with wheat starch as long as the weight to gluten ratio is below the allowed level these crisps are below 20ppm.

  • This might sound stupid. Is it possible for a small amount of gluten to pass through you 'unnoticed' if it contained in a large volume of food? If so, a person who eats a lot might not suffer from eating one thing that contains 20ppm compared with a person who eats very little but still eats that item containing 20ppm.

    When the 20ppm food is mixed up in your stomach with gluten free food the gluten content of the mixture could be omly 1ppm.

    I can't believe that every gluten molecule that you consume comes gets detected by your system and sets up a reaction.

    I take an alendronic acid tab once a week for the osteoporosis and have to take it on its own, standing up, half an hour before eating and drinking to ensure that the maximum amount is absorbed. If I had it with food it would be innefective.

    If I drink alcohol before eating a meal it affects me more than drinking it with the meal.

  • The answer to this question Phil is I don't know. All I know is that since diagnosis allowed levels of gluten have come down. The real problem for coeliac is in my opinion that we still do not have the ability to test gluten down to less than 1ppm. The other thing that interests me is people who are allergic to nuts, which has a much more dramatic and immediate effect on them than us and they do not have alolwed levels of nuts.

    Also in my opinion and from the experiences of other coeliac on forums is that the longer we are on our gf diet and the less gluten that we consume the less our bodies can tolerate.

    What brings this home to me is the fact that many coeliac who eat codex and malt etc still have issues like low vitamin/mineral levels and many have IBS and have to take codeine and or immodium. I didn't go the codex route after diagnosis was in my early 40's and I felt better within 10 weeks and my vitamin and mineral levels are normal so again to me the proof of the pudding.

    At the end of the day I'm not an ''expert'' I'm a coeliac who can not tolerate any gluten and what other coeliac eat and consider as safe is their decision.

    As for watering down gluten then obviously less is better but it's a plant protein so it's not like temperature where there is no such thing as absolute zero. And gluten is toxic to coeliac regardless. And I'm an idealist so to me gluten free should mean just that.

  • Great debate chaps, nice to see so many of the questions being discussed that go round in my head. As a relative new boy on the Coeliac block - only 4 months - I took as gospel the contents of the CUK Food Directory. I too noticed the note about Asda own brand cereals and started eating the rice snaps and corn flakes - mainly due to a lack of breakfast alternatives.

    After 4 months I am still feeling very sluggish and can safely say I don't feel any better. Maybe by eating these and maybe other "suspect" products I'm doing myself no favours.

    I have tried to stay away from the specialist GFree products in favour of the naturally GFree alternatives - this is partly because of the stigma attached to having to single myself out as abnormal and partly to do with the financial penalties we must pay.

    Taking up Jerry's point about becoming more sensitive to gluten the longer you go without - I have been suffering stomach issues for about a fortnight now - mainly bad bloating and constipation. I wonder if this could have been a reaction to something with gluten in but it sure has dragged on.

    Does anyone know how long the effects of eating gluten stay in your system for after digestion ?

  • I guess it depends on the person. I accidentally ate a few mouthfulls of curry sauce containing wheat flour last year and I think I got a rumbling tummy for a day, and the trots. That was it, or so I thought.

    More worrying to me is the effect that you can't detect immediately. I have been told by a dietician that a dose of gluten can set your villi healing back two years. So you don't just get a day or two of symptoms, you get years of malabsorption, anaemia, osteoporosis, a broken hip, pneumonia and its good night from me. Grim.

  • I think one of the reasons we still feel ill is any gluten is too much. I was looking at a PubMed paper from 2004 (Italy) entitled "A milligram of gluten a day keeps the mucosal recovery away: a case report". The study fed someone just 1mg/day for 2 years to see whether it would make any difference to his recovery. His villi didn't heal. And you think you're grim Phil :-)

  • Let me see if I've got the maths right.

    If I eat 2 gluten free buns weighing 95g each a day and they contain 20ppm gluten ( = gluten free) ...

    20ppm = 0.020 grams per kilogram

    Isn't that 0.004 grammes of gluten in two buns = 4mg I'm eating every day?

    Surely that can't be right?

  • I agree with Jerry, the simpler I keep my diet and the less I eat of any processed foods including things with codex wheat the better I feel. I have never been able to get my head around the science that says that eating 20ppm is okay. This is an autoimmune illness and I have a few of those surely any amount can trigger an autoimmune response which will whether we feel it or not cause damage. Has there been research done not on the effects to our villi alone but to our overall bodies.

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