Sourcing nutritional supplements for gluten-free customers.
Many people who follow a gluten-free diet, which for some is a lifetime requirement, benefit from vitamins and supplements to address common related nutritional deficiencies. But how can gluten-sensitive customers determine if a nutritional or dietary supplement is gluten free?
Many supplement manufacturers have traditionally used gluten as a protein source or binder and it may be listed or hidden in the inert or inactive ingredients on a product label. The FDA’s (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) “gluten-free” food labeling ruling, which came into effect in August 2014, states that foods must meet a defined standard for gluten content. This standard allows for any packaged food or dietary supplement with less than 20 ppm gluten to be labeled as “gluten-free.” Foods may also be labeled “gluten free” if it is inherently gluten free, without gluten-containing grain; derived from a grain that has not been processed to remove gluten; or derived from gluten-containing grains that have been processed to remove gluten, where the gluten remaining is less than 20 ppm. These rules apply to all imported products as well as cross-contact situations, where the 20 ppm limit remains in effect.
However, this FDA ruling promotes a voluntary use of labeling and it is not a legal requirement. Manufacturers are not required to test for gluten presence in their products, although some serving the gluten-free market are increasingly using third party testing and certification companies, which often target less than 10 ppm, and down to as little as 5 ppm quantities of gluten. On top of this reality, products that were released to market prior to the regulation coming into effect may still be on the shelves, and the presence or absence of gluten unknown.
So what is a customer searching for gluten-free supplements to do? The good news is that many supplement manufacturers have already been addressing this market’s needs when formulating their products and the numbers are growing. “The gluten-free supplement market is approximately $15 billion in sales and represents about 13 percent of all supplements,” said Nancy Smithers, owner of Nova Scotia Organics in Canada. “As consumers continue to eat gluten-free, the trend will continue to spread, therefore leading the industry to expand. Bigger brands will have more options for gluten free.”
How to Determine if Gluten is in it?
“The biggest challenge facing consumers searching for gluten-free products is if the product is truly gluten free,” said Stacey Littlefield, lead product formulator for Illinois-based Redd Remedies. “As this group well knows, gluten hides and turns up in surprising places. From medicinal mushrooms to probiotics, gluten has infiltrated many, many different ingredients. It is up to the individual manufacturers to verify their label claims.”
“There is still issue with complete disclosure of ingredients on supplements,” added Rachel Mitchell, owner of Ausmerica LLC in Utah. “Many supplements that appear to be gluten free contain ingredients that do contain gluten. In 2009, around 25 percent of supplements were found to be unsuitable for gluten-free consumers.”
Why would gluten be present in a supplement? Smithers explained, “Gluten would be found in supplements because it is very high in protein with a four ounce serving of seitan, which contains 50 percent of the recommended daily intake of protein. Gluten is also low in fat and high in iron, with iron levels depending on how you’re eating gluten. Many companies that use gluten in their supplements use it as a binding agent to glue together the other ingredients so retailers need to be cautious when labeling and promoting supplements.” “Checking the labels is very important,” said Smithers. According to the Gluten Intolerance Group, gluten can be found in natural and herbal supplements as added grains, grain grasses, or ingredients derived from grains; often used in inactive ingredients as binders and fillers. Commonly used terms for grain-based fillers in vitamin supplements include: wheat germ, food glaze, food starch, maltodextrin, MSG, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, textured plant protein, artificial flavors and colors, natural flavors and dextrin.
“Knowledge is power,” confirmed Mitchell. “Many gluten-free consumers are unaware that supplements may contain gluten. It would be great to have a gluten-free sticker or marking system on gluten-free supplements on the shelves,” she suggested. “Look for products from GMP (good manufacturing practice) manufacturers that have gluten-free (GF) certification,” Mitchell advised.
What Gluten-free Supplements are Available?
Gluten-free supplements have been on the market for at least 10 years and new manufacturers have launched new gluten-free nutritional products within the last two years.
Mitchell’s company, Ausmerica, has been manufacturing gluten-free supplements for 18 months. Its KidzShake and KidzSprinkles products are designed specifically for the nutritional requirements of children ages 2-18. For Mitchell, this venture is personal. “My husband and two out of my four children have celiac disease. It is very important for me to produce supplements that are suitable for them. I also wanted to develop products that would support and maintain gut health, as this is a common concern in the general population, due to toxin exposure, food production, stress and environmental triggers,” she related.
To ensure gluten-free products, Mitchell said, “We have a 100 percent gluten-free manufacturing facility, with regular third party testing to make sure our ingredients are all safe. We source all of our ingredients from quality producers, with strict quality control measures. Our products will be officially certified gluten free in August.”
The KidzShake nutritional shake has, “organic, grass fed, New Zealand whey base that is an excellent source of protein in quantities appropriate to support the growth and development of children.” In addition to being gluten free, it is lactose- and casein free. “It also contains multivitamin, probiotic, digestive enzyme and some omega-3s, which support gut health and immune function.”
KidzSprinkles offers an alternative to gummy vitamins, which can be sugary and contain artificial colors, flavors and GMO (genetically modified organism) ingredients. It is a flavorless sprinkle that can be added to any food “and is an awesome way for supplementing your children without all the extra added sugar—which they simply don’t need,” Mitchell said.
All Beauty LLC is another relative newcomer to the gluten-free supplement market. Its product All Beauty Water is specifically formulated “to help nourish and hydrate skin, so it’s all about ‘beauty from within’,” emphasized Camille Varlet, CEO and founder of New York-based company. “Each bottle has two glasses of water in it, eight skin vitamins and seven additional skin nutrients.” It has no sugar, calories, artificial sweeteners, preservatives or flavors.
All Beauty launched a year and a half ago. “We did not want to leave out the gluten-free community and wanted to make sure, as we try to change the beauty conversation and get people to think about beauty from within, that it would be a product everyone can enjoy and benefit from,” stated Varlet. “All of our ingredients are GRAS (generally recognized as safe) and our manufacturer/bottler is approved by the FDA. We only have ingredients that are gluten free.”
“Redd Remedies has been manufacturing gluten-free supplements since we launched our first product in 2006,” said Littlefield. “Having roots in health food retail, we recognized the growing needs of individuals with gluten sensitivities or intolerances in the dietary supplement category, especially within condition-specific supplements. While there were many foundational products, such as multivitamins, in a gluten-free format, we felt that more could be offered for those looking for products to address specific health needs.”
Redd Remedies offers a diverse line of condition-specific supplements, ranging from sinus and respiratory health to joint health, bone health, and pain and throat relief. Products for children include Children’s Sinus Support, Throat & Bronchial Syrups, Lung Care and UT Soothe. Additional gluten-free products available are: Pain T4, which targets joints, muscles, stress and the brain for advanced pain relief; Throat Drops which use pure essential oils and natural flavors; and Adult Sinus (also available in a chewable children’s version) which targets sinus cavities, immune balance and digestive balance.
With regards to Redd Remedies’ manufacturing practices for gluten-free products, Littlefield stated, “The regulatory and compliance issues that surround gluten-free supplements are intertwined with current cGMP guidelines set forth by FDA. In creating quality products that live up to our gluten-free claims, we utilize strict testing protocols on both raw materials and finished products to verify that our products are indeed gluten-free. The specifications of each raw material we use are verified prior to manufacturing and essentially re-verified at the finished-product stage to insure the products we provide are gluten-free.”
Nova Scotia Organics addresses the specific nutritional needs of those with celiac disease in some of their gluten-free products. “Those with celiac disease lack certain vitamins, minerals and fiber in their diet. Specifically, those who follow a gluten-free diet lack vitamin B6, vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium, iron, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and folic acid. Many of our supplements are able to nourish those who lack these essential pieces of an everyday diet, such as Bone and Joint Support, vitamin D3 and vitamin B complex products,” said Smithers.
All of Nova Scotia Organics’ products are gluten free, except for the pro- and prebiotic powder and chewables, Smithers said. “A few of the gluten-free supplements formulated for different ages and populations includes our Children’s Chewable Vitamin C, Pre and Post Natal Multivitamins and Minerals and Age Defense Formula,” she added.
When sourcing ingredients for gluten-free products, Smithers explained, “The difference between sourcing for gluten-free vs. regular supplements is that gluten-free suppliers must state that they do not manufacture ingredients in a facility which handles wheat, etc.”
Emerging Market Trends
“Retailers can expect the gluten-free lifestyle to continue to grow, therefore making supplement manufacturers more conscious of what is going on in their products,” Smithers reported. She pointed to other ingredients to be careful of in supplements such as chemicals. “The biggest allergens are pesticides, herbicides and chemicals. These three allergens can cause headaches, eye irritation, dizziness, nausea and shouldn’t be in food. This is why Nova Scotia Organics produces only certified organic supplements. We believe that these chemicals are a contributing factor in many health issues.”
Mitchell thinks that, “there will be more supplements that address the complete nutritional needs of those living a gluten free lifestyle.” She pointed to The Gluten Free Society’s list of “Important Supplements Recommended for a Speedy Healing Process, including: a high quality multivitamin, a comprehensive digestive formula, a strong probiotic, a supplement containing immune factors to help restore immune function and balance, vitamin B12 (95 percent of patients with gluten sensitivity are deficient in B12), and a bowel regulator.” Mitchell said that Ausmerica “seeks to provide a complete all-in-one solution for our gluten-free customers.” A complete disclosure of ingredient lists and third party testing are emerging trends retailers can expect from manufacturers. Soy, nuts and eggs are other ingredients they are avoiding using in their facility.
Varlet of All Beauty predicts a trend towards better tasting products in the market. “Products are evolving and the market will no longer have to give up great taste for their health/diet choices,” she said.
“Clean-label products and ‘free-from’ products are the latest trends for both foods and dietary supplements,” shared Littlefield. “Retailers can expect more variety and a larger volume of gluten-free products, as this category keeps growing. Additional products manufacturers are trying to eliminate are “dairy, soy and other common food allergens in addition to GMO-ingredients.”
The Need for Better Labeling Practices
To accommodate the gluten-free community, said Smithers, “clear labeling on their products warning consumers of the ingredients used in a product,” would be helpful. “When information is translated better to a consumer they are more likely to stick with that product. Providing trustworthy information will benefit both the consumer and the retailer.”
Varlet suggested that retailers, “have signs, shelf talkers, marks or sticker tags that help consumers identify products that are gluten free.”
Littlefield acknowledged that “health-food retailers are generally pretty savvy when it comes to knowing quality companies that perform their due diligence when it comes to label claims and quality and those that do not.” She recommended “they should stick with those companies that have proven quality records and those companies that have openly taken the appropriate actions when issues in the supply chain have occurred.” GFR
For More Information:
All Beauty LLC, (914) 214-7449
Ausmerica LLC, (435) 612-0607
Nova Scotia Organics, (902) 440-5928
Redd Remedies, (888) 453-5058