New gluten-free standards
Listen up, ladies and gents: I’m all about breaking the rules when it comes to a healthy diet. Sure, I love my green smoothies and veggie-packed salads, but I also like to get down and dirty in the kitchen with a few “naughty” ingredients. (Triple chocolate cake, anyone?)
But, when it comes to sussing out the details of my gluten-free diet, I have a policy that can’t be touched. That means when I say I want my dish to be gluten-free, I mean it – no ifs, ands or cheating involved. And it’s not because I’m a first class you-know-what. The truth is I have celiac disease and, like many people who are dealing with the condition or have a gluten intolerance, the consumption of gluten-containing ingredients means the onset of digestive issues galore – in addition to migraines, flu-like symptoms, skin irritations and more.
Until this past August, it was difficult to navigate the line of what food products were allowed to be deemed gluten-free – for consumers, manufacturers and restaurants alike. The definition was murky at best. Therefore, one might imagine that the gluten-free community was completely jazzed when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently passed a ruling that regulates the standard for labeling foods gluten-free.
“The new FDA gluten-free ruling clears up any former confusion and provides both the shopper and the food producers’ reasonable expectations for ‘gluten-free’ labels on food packaging,” said Jennifer Fugo, certified gluten-free health coach and founder of Gluten-Free School. “This should give consumers, especially new to the lifestyle, greater peace of mind and ease in shopping for food and dietary supplement products.”
Need a refresher on the whole deal with gluten? Here’s the short of it: When people with celiac disease – an autoimmune response to gluten that currently affects 1 in 133 people – eat foods containing wheat, rye, barley and triticale (i.e. gluten), their immune systems cop an attitude and create a toxic reaction that causes damage to their small intestines, making them feel downright awful. We’re talking cramping, depression, migraines, skin rashes, vomiting and more bathroom trips than you care to learn about.
As for gluten intolerance and gluten sensitivity, the digestive system is again left unhappy, but without the CD immune response. Symptoms range from mild discomfort to those that are comparative to the ultra-icky ones related to celiac disease.
“The ruling also validates to the rest of the dietary world that the gluten-free diet is a legitimate response to medical conditions that goes far beyond the fad created by celebrities and the media,” Fugo said. “Ultimately, it removes a pervasive stigma for those who follow the diet for medical and health reasons that these shoppers aren’t just picky, weight-loss obsessed individuals as some have painted them to be. Celiac disease and gluten sensitivity are real enough concerns that the government stepped in and made it official.”
After a several-year delay, the new standards mean that food products labeled “gluten-free,” as well as “free of gluten,” “no gluten,” and more, will have to contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten in order to be free and clear to use the label. According to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA), researchers support less than 20 ppm as a safe threshold for a product to be consumed by individuals with celiac disease and other gluten-related disorders.
Fugo pointed out, however, that shoppers should be aware that the ruling does not apply to dental hygiene products, body and haircare products and medications.
“The gluten-free labeling rule takes the guessing game out of food shopping,” said Rachel Begun, MS, RDN, expert in gluten-related disorders and author of The Gluten-Free RD blog. “Consumers can now feel confident that a product labeled gluten-free is safe to eat.”
Wanna get more details? The NFCA is releasing a two-part series of free Webinars to help gluten-free consumers better understand the FDA’s ruling on gluten-free labeling. The first one (“Understanding the FDA’s Gluten-Free Labeling Rule Part 1”) has already been released and the second is planned for the upcoming winter months. Check the site, celiaccentral.org, for more details.
Caroline Shannon-Karasik is the upcoming author of a gluten-free healthy lifestyle book, set to be released in January 2014. She is the author of the popular gluten-free blog, sincerelycaroline.com and is currently training to become a certified health coach. Her writing and recipe development has been featured in several publications, including, VegNews, Kiwi and REDBOOK magazines. Caroline lives with her husband Dan and four adopted cats in Pittsburgh, Penn. Caroline can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.