The FDA has reopened proposed gluten-free labeling rule originally published in 2007 in hopes of clarifying what “gluten free” actually means and how restaurants and manufacturers label their products. Gluten is a main cause of Celiac disease, which occurs when the body’s natural defense system reacts to gluten by attacking the lining of the small intestine. Without a healthy intestinal lining, the body cannot absorb the nutrients it needs.

Stefano Luccioli, M.D., a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allergist and immunologist explains:

“Some people don’t get immediate symptoms, but when they do, they are typically gastrointestinal-related, such as abdominal pain, bloating, and diarrhea. In infants, there may be a lot of vomiting, and they don’t grow and thrive.”

Some people do not have any symptoms at all but still may have intestinal damage and risk for long-term complications. It is important for individuals with celiac disease, who may vary in their sensitivity to gluten, to discuss their dietary needs with their health care professional.

Technically, gluten represents specific proteins that occur naturally in wheat. However, the term “gluten” is commonly used to refer to certain proteins that occur naturally not only in wheat, but also in rye, barley, and crossbreeds of these grains and that can harm people who have celiac disease. The only treatment for this disorder is a life-long gluten-free diet.

Eating gluten doesn’t bother most consumers, but some people with celiac disease have health-threatening reactions, says Stefano Luccioli, M.D., a Food and Drug Administration allergist and immunologist. They need to know whether a food contains gluten.

FDA has been working to define “gluten-free” in order to eliminate uncertainty about how food producers may label their products and assures consumers who must avoid gluten that foods labeled “gluten-free” meet a clear standard established and enforced by FDA.

Andrea Levario, J.D., executive director of the American Celiac Disease Alliance continues regarding consumers:

“When they find a product labeled ‘gluten-free,’ they don’t necessarily know what that means because today there is no federal standard for the use of this term. Having a federal definition of ‘gluten-free’ is critically important. If we have one national standard, the individual will know that all products labeled ‘gluten-free’ will have no more than a minimal amount of gluten.”

Gluten-free is not synonymous with low fat, low sugar, or low sodium. For people who must be on a gluten-free diet, Kane says it’s important to check the ingredients list and Nutrition Facts information on food labels to find the most nutritious options.

Rhonda Kane, a registered dietitian and consumer safety officer at FDA said:

“Eating gluten-free is not meant to be a diet craze. It’s a medical necessity for those who have celiac disease. There are no nutritional advantages for a person not sensitive to gluten to be on a gluten-free diet. Those who are not sensitive to gluten have more flexibility and can choose from a greater variety of foods to achieve a balanced diet.”

Written by Sy Kraft