Health: New FDA regulations help define ‘gluten-free’

By Debbie Bell/Health Department, Published:

Friday is National Celiac Disease Awareness Day and after more than a six-year delay, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has finally set a new standard for food labeling that will make shopping less cumbersome for individuals on gluten-restricted diets.  

Now, if a label states a food item is “gluten-free,” it will mean the same thing, regardless of what you might be purchasing.

Those with Celiac Disease (CD) can now rejoice. Until now, “gluten-free” terminology had not been closely regulated. Any manufacturer of foods, supplements or skin care products could make their own decisions as to what could be deemed “safe” for those on gluten-restricted regimens.   

As of Aug. 2, the FDA ruled that products labeled “gluten-free” will contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten. This standard does not ensure a product is completely free of wheat (in all forms including durum, semolina, spelt, einkorn and faro), rye and barley which are all food components that contain the offending agent — but this amount is generally recognized as safe by the medical community for those suffering with CD.

According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, “CD is a lifelong inherited autoimmune condition affecting children and adults. When people with CD eat foods that contain gluten, it creates an immune-mediated toxic reaction that causes damage to the small intestine and does not allow food to be properly absorbed. Even small amounts of gluten in foods can affect those with CD and cause health problems. Damage can occur to the small bowel even when there are no symptoms present.”

It is believed CD affects approximately 3 million Americans and many others worldwide. In the last decade, both diagnosis and awareness of CD has exploded.  Some believe this is due to more accurate diagnosis and increased testing for the condition. Others question the higher gluten content found in the wheat used in mainstream pastas and baked goods.  

Some of the symptoms of CD include abdominal pain, bloating and diarrhea. Additional markers may include weight loss, fatigue, skin irritation, joint pain and other long-term complications.  

The current treatment and key for managing CD is adherence to a gluten-free diet 100 percent of the time.  This means an individual with CD should read all food labels carefully and be aware of ALL foods that could contain wheat, rye and barley.

There are numerous websites that can assist an individual getting started on a gluten-free diet; some of the most useful and reputable include the Celiac Disease Foundation at www.celiac.org and www.celiac.com.  

According to the executive vice president, T.J. McIntyre of Boulder Brands, one of the largest gluten-free foods manufacturers, “We expect the new regulations set by the FDA to impact sales in a positive way as consumers feel more confident in their gluten-free choices.”  

The FDA will allow manufacturers one year to comply with these new standards.

Medical Nutrition Therapy is available at the Franklin County Health Department by calling 502-564-7647 to make an appointment.

Debbie Bell is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator in the Community Health Education Department at the Franklin County Health Department, 100 Glenns Creek Road.

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