Whew! F.D.A. Finally Releases Gluten-Free Guidelines

A new official definition of the term "gluten-free" obligates food manufacturers to back their labeling claims

Finally!

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration today published an official definition for the term "gluten-free" for voluntary food labeling. The three million Americans who have celiac disease (not to mention those who choose to eat gluten free as a preference) can breathe a sigh of relief.

This new federal definition standardizes the meaning of that much-tossed-around claim. It specifies that food bearing such messaging must consist of less than 20 parts per million of gluten. The F.D.A. recognizes that a substantial number of the foods already labeled as “gluten-free” may get to keep their claims, although some will have to ditch them. Food manufacturers will have a year to meet the label requirements.

“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 in a statement. “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.” 

Not a celiac sufferer and still confused about what the heck gluten is -- now that you’re seeing mentions literally everywhere? Mini crash course: “Gluten” refers to naturally occurring proteins in wheat, rye, barley and hybrids of these grains. Foods with the stuff trigger production of antibodies that attack and damage the small intestine lining in people with celiac disease. (And that's not good.)

Alesandra Dubin is a Los Angeles-based writer and the founder of home and travel blog Homebody in Motion. Follow her on FacebookGoogle+ and Twitter.

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