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The Details on 'Gluten-Free' Labeling

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The only treatment for celiac disease is a gluten-free diet. Anyone who is newly diagnosed should realize that "the learning curve is steep" for leading a gluten-free lifestyle, says registered dietitian Tricia Thompson in the February 2012 issue of Practical Gastroenterology.

One of the big eye-openers for celiac disease is the ever-present need to read labels on processed foods. It's imperative to avoid gluten -- the naturally occurring proteins in wheat and a handful of other grains.

Thompson is the founder of Gluten Free Watchdog and advocates for accurate information for celiac patients. In "Celiac Disease: What Gluten-Free Means Today," Thompson gives a rundown on how to interpret the proposed Food and Drug Administration rules on gluten-free labeling that are scheduled to be finalized in 2012.

For a food to be labeled gluten-free:

 It cannot contain barley, wheat of any kind, rye or triticale.

 It cannot contain an ingredient that is derived from any of these prohibited grains unless it has been processed to remove gluten. Thus, a consumer will have to pay attention to labeling for items such as wheat germ, wheat bran, barley malt extract or flavoring, malt vinegar and certain flours.

 It can contain an ingredient derived from a prohibited grain as long as the gluten-removing process leaves less than 20 parts per million of gluten in the product. This can include products such as wheat starch, modified food starch from wheat and dextrin.

 Generally, the product must contain less than 20 ppm of gluten, which is considered the threshold for keeping celiac patients safe from adverse reactions.

Thompson's article includes a chart called "Categories of Food Allowed on a Gluten-Free Diet," which warns about processed foods not labeled gluten-free.

The chart also points out that oats -- although they can be a good addition to a celiac patient's diet -- can sometimes be contaminated with gluten. It's important to choose oats and oat products that have been labeled gluten-free, she writes.

Another area of concern is the category of grains that are inherently gluten-free, such as corn, rice, millet, sorghum, buckwheat and quinoa, yet could be cross-contaminated with gluten during processing.

Celiac patients buying gluten-free grains, gluten-free flours and products made from these grains and flours might want to follow Thompson's recommendation to buy products with the gluten-free label whenever possible.

"It is essential that patients receive up-to-date, timely, and ongoing counseling from a registered dietitian proficient in CD (celiac disease) and the GFD (gluten-free diet)," Thompson concludes.

A consumer-oriented article on the FDA website notes that most people have digestive systems that can tolerate gluten, but for those with celiac disease the ingestion of gluten is a serious health threat.

The FDA says that its definition of gluten-free will eliminate uncertainty about how food producers may label their products. In addition, new labeling will assure consumers who must avoid gluten that the gluten-free label meets a clear standard enforceable by the FDA.


Thompson, Tricia. "Celiac Disease: What Gluten-Free Means Today." Practical Gastroenterology. Web. 23 April 2012. http://www.medicine.virginia.edu/clinical/departments/medicine/divisions/digestive-health/nutrition-support-team/nutrition-articles/Parrish_Thompson_Feb-1.pdf

"A Glimpse at 'Gluten-Free' Food Labeling." Food and Drug Administration. Web. 23 April 2012.

Reviewed April 24, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

Add a Comment7 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

A movement has started for the gluten free labeling that Tim Lawson, Board Member of Celiac Sprue Association and CEO/Founder of New Grains Gluten Free Bakery has started. It is time to take a stand. Follow it on http://newgrainsblog.wordpress.com/category/gluten-free-labeling/

May 24, 2012 - 9:38am
EmpowHER Guest

What about MSG? People still seem to think it is not a gluten... It needs to be included in all the lable regs!

April 30, 2012 - 7:47pm

Yes, that is true. And to make it worse, the basic math done in the fda documents is wrong and miscalculated. Tim Lawson, from the CSA (Celiac Sprue Association) and New Grains Gluten Free Bakery, is heading up the class action suit against the fda. Things are getting finalized as we speak and you will see more on this. Much more.

April 27, 2012 - 6:40am
EmpowHER Guest

So basically the proposed GF labeling will mean basically nothing since some Gluten is still allowed and other toxic parts of prohibited grains,even though technically GF, are still allowed also. Wow---not only did our Govt sell us out to the Big Banks, now we are sold out to Big Food too. Ridiculous and sad for people who will continue to deal with gluten related health issues and not realize it because they are eating those labeled 'GF' foods.....

April 27, 2012 - 5:40am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

Trace amounts of gluten, which the FDA permits in processed foods misleadingly labeled "GF" can create dangerous chronic inflammation for people with Celiac Disease. Further, processed foods not labeled GF do not require ANYs ingredients below 300ppm be listed at all! Anyone with Celiac Disease who cares about their life, is wise to only eat fresh produce (i.e. apple = fresh apple) and avoid processed and packaged foods for life. The result? Excellent health!

April 27, 2012 - 7:00am
EmpowHER Guest

Great Points! I would love to see Tricia Thompson and Tim Lawson, CSA Board Member and owner of New Grains Gluten Free Bakery get together. He is heading up the Class Action Law Suit concerning the new labeling laws.

April 25, 2012 - 7:27am
(reply to Anonymous)

Thanks for your comment. I was curious about Tim Lawson and found his blog at newgrainsblog.wordpress.com. Looks like he is advocating for a more stringent "gluten-free" classification that would bring it down to 10 parts per million. Interesting stuff.

April 25, 2012 - 2:51pm
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