For those who have had to avoid gluten because they have celiac disease or because they are gluten-intolerant, a recent decision by the Food and Drug Administration to set clearer standards for gluten-free foods may be cause for celebration.
On August 2, 2013 the FDA officially limited the amount of gluten allowed in products calling themselves "gluten-free" to 20 parts per million. Canada and the European Union had previously set similar limits. 20 parts per million is the smallest amount that can be discerned and measured.
This new regulation is the final step in response to a law passed by Congress in 2004 which called for the FDA to determine standards concerning the amount of gluten allowed in foods labelled gluten-free.
Most companies are expected to comply with the new regulation, if they weren't already doing so. In 2007, this standard was proposed, and many companies have been following that guideline since that time.
According to FDA.gov, companies have one year after August 2, 2013, the date the FDA issued a final rule to comply. After that year, when any companies manufacture goods with gluten levels that are above the new limit, the FDA will be able seize the goods or demand a recall.
Michael R. Taylor, deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine at the FDA said however that industry stands behind the new ruling, and wants people to feel safe in buying their food.
An article on CBSNews.com reported that gluten-free product sales have jumped from $560 million back in 2004 to more than $4 billion in 2012.
According to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC) celiac disease affects more than 2 million Americans.
Wheat, rye and barley contain gluten, a group of proteins that those with celiac disease can't digest, and that can damage their intestines. Gluten is also found in drugs, vitamin supplements.
Gluten triggers an immune reaction that damages the villi, protrusions that line the small intestine. Without villi that work properly, malnutrition will result as food can no longer be absorbed into the bloodstream through the small intestine walls.
Completely avoiding gluten ends the symptoms, and may make healing of damaged intestines possible. This healing can begin within just a matter of days, though the whole healing process may take months or years.
People who do not have celiac disease, but who are gluten-intolerant, experience symptoms that include pain in the abdomen, bloating, diarrhea and loss of weight. Avoiding gluten alleviates these symptoms in those who are gluten-intolerant.
F.D.A. Sets a Standard on Labeling ‘Gluten Free’. NYTimes.com. Retrieved Aug. 5, 2013.
Questions and Answers: Gluten-Free Food Labeling Final Rule. FDA.gov. Retrieved Aug. 5, 2013.
FDA: "Gluten-free" foods will have to meet certain standards. CBSNews.com. Retrieved Aug. 5, 2013.
Celiac Disease. NIDDK.NIH.gov. Retrieved Aug. 5, 2013.
Standard for ‘gluten free’ on food products set by FDA. NYDailynews.com. Retrieved Aug. 5, 2013.
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Reviewed August 6, 2013
by Michele Blacksberg RN