Foods that claim to be gluten-free are not always gluten-free. Many of those foods actually have enough gluten to cause gastrointestinal distress in those who are intolerant to wheat protein, also known as celiac disease. Gluten is actually defined as the protein contained in wheat, barley, rye, and other similar grains.
How can food manufacturers get away with this? It’s actually not entirely their fault, as there has never been an established US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulation to define just how much gluten can be in gluten-free foods.
What is the Standard for Gluten-Free?
As of this writing, manufacturers can decide how much gluten they put in their gluten-free foods. However, the FDA is now planning to push through a standard for gluten-free food, that manufacturers will be required to meet before they can put gluten-free labels on their packaging.
The Feds are proposing that gluten-free food – usually wheat products like cookies, cakes, and breads – should contain no more than 20 parts per million of gluten. At those levels lab tests are unable to detect the presence of gluten, thus meeting the label claim of “gluten-free”.
How Did They Decide on the Standard?
The standard of 20ppm is widely accepted by European countries as the definition of gluten-free food. This level is tolerable to those with celiac disease, which reportedly affects more than 3 million Americans today.
What is Celiac Disease?
Individuals who suffer with the condition known as celiac disease experience diarrhea, bloating, intestinal inflammation, and cramping when they ingest wheat protein. Babies with celiac experience vomiting and a slower rate of growth.
These symptoms are caused when gluten is detected by the digestive system, which causes the immune system to attack the healthy tissue lining of the small intestine. Without a healthy intestinal lining, the body struggles to absorb nutrients as food passes through the small intestine. A very strange reaction indeed, but one that causes great suffering to many people.
What Can Celiac Victims Do For Now?
Many companies actually list the quantity of gluten contained in their gluten-free products. Look on the nutrition label for a specific number that defines the ppm, at least until the FDA finalizes their regulation. Foods like fruits, vegetables, and meats, do not contain any gluten, so those are safe.
A good rule of thumb for celiac sufferers is: When in doubt, leave it out.
The FDA proposal is up for discussion now. Feedback is welcome from consumers, the food industry, and other gluten experts. Not only does the FDA want to protect affected consumers, but they also want to make it feasible for food manufacturers to easily provide a wide variety of gluten-free foods. They will make a ruling on it later this year. The new regulations will most likely go into effect in 2012.
Learn more about commenting on that proposal here: FDA Press Release
Gluten-free product sales have doubled since 2005, reaching well over the $1 billion mark. The many celiac disease victims, and those who think a gluten-free diet will help them lose weight, increase energy, improve their mood, and get healthy, have made gluten-free a household term.
Many health and fitness experts believe ‘gluten-free’ to be somewhat of a fad diet, at least for those who do not have an intolerance to wheat protein. After all, have you ever heard of anyone losing weight by adopting a lactose-free diet? Those two diet concepts are somewhat parallel.
Linda Antinoro, a registered dietitian at Brigham and Women’s Hospital is quoted as saying:
“There is no reason to avoid gluten if you don’t have celiac, but plenty of my patients with the condition tell me they feel wonderful after switching off gluten.”
There is no evidence that a gluten-free diet offers any significant health benefits to those who don’t have celiac. It is believed that people who lose weight on a gluten-free diet, do so because they restrict their intake of high carbohydrate, high sugar foods like cake, cookies, and other starchy foods. Fruits and vegetables are always a better choice than that garbage.