What does “gluten-free” mean?

One in 100 people worldwide are affected by celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine, according to the Celiac Disease Foundation.

But, as CBS reported in 2012, as little as a decade ago, “virtually no one in the U.S. seemed to have a problem eating the protein that’s found in bread and other foods,” which lead to the question: is there a celiac disease epidemic, or is this just another food fad?

Statistics from that same report say that 1.8 million Americans have the disease, with 1.4 million of those people possibly not even aware that they have the disease. Add on another 1.6 million people who choose to live a gluten-free lifestyle, despite not having been diagnosed, and the popularity rises.

The report goes on to say that celiac disease had probably been under-diagnosed in the U.S. in recent decades, and that the rise in diagnoses might also be from changes made to wheat after cross-breading.

With the rise in numbers comes regulation for gluten-free labels, receiving “meaning” for the first time since they started appearing on packages.

Now, anything labeled gluten-free must contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten—those in the medical community agree that this amount is low enough that most who have celiac disease won’t get sick if they eat it.

The rule for this change was initially announced in August 2013, with compliance scheduled for August 5, 2014.The ruling applies to all U.S. Food and Drug Administration-regulated packaged foods, including dietary supplements, and excludes all food labels regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.

Celiac disease can cause abdominal pain, bloating and diarrhea. People with the disease often additionally suffer from weight loss, fatigue, rashes and other medical problems.

Comments are closed.