NORMAN — It is hard to miss all the products lining grocery store shelves proclaiming to be “gluten-free.” Have you ever wondered about the accuracy of those claims?
A recently issued U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulation defines the term “gluten-free” for voluntary labeling, ensuring that now food manufacturers and consumers will speak the same language.
To manage specific diagnosed medical conditions, up to three million people in the U.S. follow gluten-free diets. For those individuals, this is welcome news because it will make identifying gluten-free products much easier.
Gluten is a protein contained in certain grains such as wheat, rye and barley. These proteins enhance the taste and texture of foods and are found in a wide variety of foods like ice cream, French fries and even ketchup.
While most of us have no trouble eating foods with gluten, for the small percentage of Americans who have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, the only effective treatment for these conditions is following a diet free of gluten.
Specifically, the FDA regulation creates a uniform meaning for the term “gluten-free” throughout the food industry. To claim a product is gluten-free, it must meet all = requirements of the definition, including that it contains less than 20 parts per million of gluten.
Other foods labeled as “no gluten” “free of gluten” and “without gluten” also must meet the same threshold as items designated as “gluten-free.” Once the rule is published, food manufacturers will have one year to comply with the new policy. However, many products already may meet the standard.
Beyond looking for clues on packaging, consumers of gluten-free products can check the list of ingredients on the nutritional label for guidance.
If the label doesn’t clearly say the food item in free of gluten, check for six basic ingredients: wheat, rye, barley, malt, oats and brewer’s yeast.
The 2006 Food and Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act requires that companies list “in plain English” the eight most prevalent food allergens in a product, including wheat. However, the legislation does not cover barley, rye, oats or ingredients that could be contaminated during processing.