If you have celiac disease or gluten intolerance, grocery shopping is about to get less confusing. Starting today, packaged foods that hit shelves can only use the label “gluten free” if they actually are gluten free.
Sounds silly, but until now, the term “gluten free” hadn’t been regulated or even defined. An FDA ruling last August determined that it can only be used on foods containing less than 20 parts per million of gluten. That is, the foods don’t contain enough wheat, barley, and rye to trigger symptoms in most celiac sufferers. According to the Associated Press, wheat currently has to be labeled on foods, but barley and rye don’t.
In people with celiac, gluten triggers an immune reaction that damages the intestine and affects its ability to absorb nutrients, which can lead to rashes, weight loss, and fatigue. Symptoms of celiac disease include abdominal pain, bloating and diarrhea. Even trace amounts of gluten—which have been found in spices, lipsticks, and other products that don’t obviously contain wheat, rye, or other grains—can cause problems.
Manufacturers had one year to comply with the FDA ruling on the marketing of gluten-free products so it affects products labeled on or after today. It doesn’t mean everything that’s on the shelves now and is labeled “gluten free” adheres to the regulation: retailers don’t need to pull old inventory. It also doesn’t mean that all GF foods must be labeled as such—it’s a voluntary designation.
So if you have celiac disease, it’s probably best to continue checking ingredient lists for wheat, barley, and rye. But in the coming months, that GF label will mean exactly what you think it does.
RELATED: 5 Worst Gluten-Free Mistakes