Labeling food as “gluten-free” is considered voluntary labeling, but many food manufacturers are eager to use the term to attract the up to 3 million Americans who have celiac disease, an autoimmune digestive condition that can be effectively managed only by eating a gluten free diet.
“Adherence to a gluten-free diet is the key to treating celiac disease, which can be very disruptive to everyday life,” said FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D. in a press release. “The FDA’s new ‘gluten-free’ definition will help people with this condition make food choices with confidence and allow them to better manage their health.”
Of course, lots of people besides those with celiac prefer to eat gluten-free or to minimize their gluten intake, bringing sales of “gluten-free” foods to a new high of $4.2 billion in 2012, reported MSN.
Under the new federal definition, foods labeled “gluten-free,” “free of gluten,” “no gluten,” or “without gluten” may only contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten.
The FDA said that many foods currently labeled as “gluten-free” may be able to meet the new federal definition already. Food manufacturers will have a year after the rule is published to bring their labels into compliance with the new requirements.
The term “gluten” refers to proteins that occur naturally in wheat, rye, barley and cross-bred hybrids of these grains. In people with celiac disease, foods that contain gluten trigger production of antibodies that attack and damage the lining of the small intestine. Such damage limits the ability of celiac disease patients to absorb nutrients and puts them at risk of other very serious health problems, including nutritional deficiencies, osteoporosis, growth retardation, infertility, miscarriages, short stature, and intestinal cancers.
(Photo Credit: iStockphoto)
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