People who prefer to avoid gluten or suffer from celiac disease will be pleased to know that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is setting new guidelines to regulate how food manufacturers label their products “gluten-free.” The new guidelines state that foods must be comprised of less than 20 parts gluten per million to be labeled “gluten-free.”
Foods labeled “gluten-free” must also be free of barley, rye, wheat and any crossbred grains including the above. Derivatives of these grains must also be left out of the food product, or processed in such a way that the overall gluten concentration in the food falls short of 20 parts per million. While some argue that a gluten-free diet is universally beneficial, it’s still generally considered best for only those with gluten sensitivity or celiac disease to avoid gluten altogether.
About Celiac Disease
Celiac disease is an immune disorder in which the body attacks the small intestine’s lining after gluten is consumed. When a person with celiac disease consumes gluten, they experience symptoms include weight loss, diarrhea and gastrointestinal pain. This is because the intestines become damaged in such a way that prevents them from properly absorbing crucial vitamins and minerals, which can in turn lead to malnutrition and specific or general nutrient deficiencies. Eating gluten can also lead to more serious problems, including death, for people with celiac disease. Currently, there is no cure for celiac disease, though those with the condition can avoid symptoms by avoiding gluten-containing foods. About three million individuals in the United States alone have celiac disease, which can be developed later in life or exist from birth.
Gluten is a naturally occurring protein found in grains such as barley, wheat and rye, and also wheat products such as bulgur, farina, kamut, spelt and semolina. A massive list of foods contain gluten, including everything from bread, cakes, pastas and most breakfast cereals to soy sauce, french fires, candy and beer. Vegetarians have an especially difficult time avoiding gluten as it’s found in many imitation meat and seafood products.
New FDA “Gluten-Free” Guidelines
The FDA has chosen 20 parts per million as the upper limit for gluten content in “gluten-free” foods because this is the lowest level detectable by available gluten testing devices. In other words, if the testing device detects any gluten at all in the food product, its manufacturer will not be allowed to label it “gluten-free.”
Andrea Levario, the American Celiac Disease Alliance’s executive director, described the new guideline as a “desperately needed” tool in the battle for food safety for sufferers of celiac disease. Inaccurate labeling, according to Levario, could cause undue pain and suffering or even life-threatening consequences for those with celiac disease.
The FDA has been cracking down on manufacturers of all foods claimed to be “free” of a certain component, such as fat, sodium and sugar. Any food labeled “sodium-free,” for example, must contain less than 5 mg of sodium per serving, while foods labeled “sugar-free” must contain less than 0.5 g of sugar per serving. Keeping with the tradition, “calorie-free” foods must contain under 5 calories per serving.
The unfortunate news is that food manufacturers will have one full year to comply with the new FDA guidelines for foods labeled “gluten-free.” Until then, those with celiac disease will need to do their own research to determine how much gluten is actually contained in foods labeled “gluten-free.”
The Bottom Line
The FDA has announced new guidelines requiring foods labeled “gluten-free” to contain a gluten concentration lower than 20 parts per million. Food manufacturers will have one year to comply with the new packaging and labeling guidelines.
A press release containing additional information on the new guidelines can be found at the website of the FDA.