“Gluten-Free” Now Means What It Says

Posted On August 25, 2014— Written By Lethia Lee and last updated by Cindy Nance

In August 2013, The Food and Drug Administration issued a final rule that defined what characteristics a food has to have to bear a label that proclaims it gluten-free. The rule also holds foods labeled ‘without gluten,’ ‘free of gluten,’ and ‘no gluten’ to the same standard. Manufactures had one year to bring their labels into compliance. As of August 5, 2014, any food product bearing a gluten-free claim labeled on or after this date must meet the rule’s requirements. This rule was welcomed by advocates for people with celiac disease, who face potentially life-threating illnesses if they eat the gluten found in breads, cakes, cereal, pastas and many other foods.

As one of the criteria for using the claim ‘gluten-free,’ FDA set a gluten limit of less than 20 ppm (parts per million) in foods that carry this label. This is the lowest level that can be consistently detected in foods using valid scientific analytical tools. Also, most people with celiac disease can tolerate foods with very small amounts of gluten. This level is consistent with those set by other countries and international bodies that set food safety standards.

What is Gluten? Gluten is a mixture of proteins that occur naturally in wheat, rye, barley and crossbreeds of these grains. As many as 3 million people in the United States have celiac disease. It occurs when the body’s natural defense system reacts to gluten by attacking the lining of the small intestines. Without a healthy intestinal lining, the body cannot absorb the nutrients it needs. Delayed growth and nutrient deficiencies can result and may lead to conditions such as anemia (a lower than normal number of red blood cells) and osteoporosis, a disease in which bones become fragile and more likely to break. Other serious health problems may include diabetes, autoimmune thyroid disease and intestinal cancers. Before the rule there were no federal standards or definitions for the food industry to use in labeling products ‘gluten-free.’ An estimated 5 percent of foods formerly labeled ‘gluten-free’ contained 20 ppm or more gluten.

For people with celiac disease, eating gluten-free can be a struggle. But it’s even harder for those who aren’t always sure where there next meal will come from.

Gluten really is in a lot of things – a lot of things you wouldn’t think it was in.

With that being said look for more articles on Gluten, Gluten-free, and no Gluten.

Information obtained from U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Consumer Updates.

For more information contact Lethia Lee, EFNEP Assistant with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service at 910-592-7161.