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Celiac Disease: What Gluten-Free Means Today

March 19, 2012

Celiac Disease: What Gluten-Free Means Today


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Dietitian Tricia Thompson explains difference between FDA and USDA regulations.

For individuals newly diagnosed with celiac disease, beginning a gluten-free diet can be daunting and overwhelming. The first step with the new diagnosis is to consult a dietitian specialized in celiac disease to understand how to read labels on products that are not certified gluten-free. However, a new proposed rule set forth by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), tentatively scheduled to be finalized in 2012, will make reading labels easier for individuals with celiac disease.

A new article by renowned dietitian Tricia Thompson, MS, RD, outlines the proposed FDA rule and explains how it differs from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) procedures for labeling gluten-free foods.

According to “Celiac Disease: What Gluten-Free Means Today, the new FDA rule, proposed in 2007, will label FDA-regulated products gluten-free if:

  • the product does not contain prohibited grains, which are: wheat and its varieties (such as durum, einkorn, and spelt); barley; rye; and triticale, a hybrid of wheat and rye;
  • the product does not contain an ingredient derived from a prohibited grain that has not undergone the process to remove the gluten protein;
  • the product is derived from a prohibited grain, but has undergone the process of removing the gluten protein and contains less than 20 parts per million of gluten;
  • the product contains less than 20 parts per million collectively, which includes food items that may have been unintentionally cross-contaminated, such as grains, or food items that may have small amounts of gluten like wheat starch.

Also proposed in the new rule is that naturally gluten-free food items, such as plain milk, will not be labeled.

In contrast, food items regulated by the USDA, such as eggs, soy, and meat products, currently have a mandatory food allergen labeling system, but it encourages manufacturers to also provide a “contains” statement on their food labels. According to the USDA, about 80-90% of manufacturers comply with voluntary allergen labeling.

If the manufacturer does not voluntarily label its products, ingredients to watch out for are modified food starch, dextrin, and starch, which is usually wheat or corn starch, according to the article. Conversely, FDA-regulated food items using “starch” are always derived from corn, Thompson wrote. Under the proposed FDA rule, wheat starch is an ingredient that has undergone the process to remove gluten proteins and thus can be included in items labeled gluten-free.

Thompson closed the article with some suggestions to ensure overall health in managing celiac disease, including:

  • Eat appropriate amounts of fruits, vegetables, milk or milk substitutes, legumes, nuts, seeds, fish, lean poultry, and lean meats
  • Choose gluten-free whole grains when choosing a grain-based product;
  • Choose products with higher fiber content

Starting a gluten-free diet, like any other specialty diet, can either be healthy or unhealthy by the choices we make; therefore, consulting a dietitian is key not only for successfully managing celiac disease, but also for one’s overall health.

Read the full article: Celiac Disease: What Gluten-Free Means Today


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