Food allergy food labelling
Food labelling rules are designed to make it easier for people with allergies to make the right food choices.
Foods labelled 'free from' typically exclude gluten, wheat and dairy products, but there are many more foods or categories of food that are known allergens.
What do the rules say?
All food suppliers, including restaurants and cafés, delis, sandwich bars, health food shops, bakeries and takeaways must declare if their products contain any of a list of 14 allergens.
Which allergens are declared?
Food products containing any of the following must say so on the label and in any menu listings:
- Crustacea (including crab, lobster, crayfish, shrimps and prawns)
- Molluscs (including mussels, oysters, squid and snails)
- Tree nuts (including almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, cashews, pecans, brazils, pistachios, macadamia or Queensland nuts)
- Sesame seeds
- Cereals containing gluten (including wheat, rye, barley, oats and hybrids of these foods)
- Celery and celeriac
- Lupin (a legume often found in gluten-free products)
- Sulphur dioxide and sulphites (preservatives used in the production of some foods and drinks).
This means that wherever you buy food – whether it is sold loose, cooked from scratch, pre-packed or prepared for you while you wait – you will know if it includes any of the listed allergens. Any food outlet not complying with the new legislation can be prosecuted or fined.
Should we all avoid gluten?
No, but although only 1% of the population suffers from coeliac disease, which is an autoimmune condition that requires patients to avoid gluten altogether, British gastroenterologists have reported that the number of people switching to a gluten-free diet is very much out of proportion with the number of patients with coeliac disease. Already, around half of all consumers are buying some 'free from' products, and in North America it has been estimated that almost a quarter of consumers are demanding gluten-free foods.
Nutritionists believe that people who are following a gluten-free diet without a diagnosed underlying health reason for doing so may be missing out on important nutrients and vitamins, as gluten-free foods typically contain less fibre, iron, folic acid and B vitamins than their gluten-containing counterparts.
People who have been diagnosed with coeliac disease or other recognised conditions that can cause food intolerance will usually be referred to specialist dietitians who can advise them on how to keep their nutritional status healthy. This may mean eating more from certain food groups, such as gluten-free grains and fresh produce. Without the proper advice, however, general health could suffer in people who exclude gluten from their diets unnecessarily.
Another misguided reason for excluding gluten is the belief that it will result in weight loss. In reality, any resulting loss is more likely to be due to cutting out calories, and fat-dense gluten-containing foods such as cakes, pastries and junk foods, than the elimination of gluten itself from the diet.
So the message from health professionals is that, unless you are diagnosed with coeliac disease or any other medical condition that requires the avoidance of gluten, you should not exclude it from your diet. The usual advice for weight loss applies: eat fewer calories and increase your physical activity.