In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has finally set an official and legal standard for food manufacturers wanting to place the gluten-free label on their products. All products wearing the gluten-free label must contain less than 20 parts-per-million gluten by August 1st, 2014. This law covers all foods regulated by the FDA, including vitamin, mineral and herbal supplements.
“Adherence to a gluten-free diet is the key to treating celiac disease, which can be very disruptive to everyday life,” stated FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg. “The FDA’s new ‘gluten-free’ definition will help people with this condition make food choices with confidence and allow them to better manage their health.”
Long Time Coming
I’m not sure why it took so long, but six years after the FDA first proposed the standard in 2007, we finally have a clear, official definition of gluten-free in the United States. This same standard has already existed in Canada, Europe and the international Codex Alimentarius. I don’t mean to sound like I’m looking a gift horse in the mouth, but I would have preferred Australia’s stricter 5 ppm standard.
At 20 ppm, a vast majority of us should be fine, and research corroborates that this is a safe level to accept. This means that, for every million even parts of a food, less than 20 parts are gluten. You could also think of it as 0.002% gluten.
What About Non-Responsive Patients?
However, a study recently published in the BMC Gastroenterology journal illuminated how some people with non-responsive celiac disease could heal when put on a special diet designed to avoid even the most remote possibility of cross-contamination. They call this diet the Gluten Contamination Elimination Diet (GCED).
On one hand, this may suggest that a small percentage of people are significantly more sensitive than others and require stricter standards. Will 20 ppm be low enough for them? Being diagnosed with refractory celiac disease is very serious — some doctors even consider type 2 refractory celiac disease a cancer. It is critical for people to understand whether they’re unresponsive to a gluten-free diet or they’re suffering from true refractory celiac disease.
On the other hand, some of the people in this study may have not suffered had this new official standard been implemented years ago. It’s possible the cross-contamination these patients experienced occurred because manufacturers just assumed their products were gluten-free since the grains in them were inherently gluten-free. So they didn’t test for cross-contamination. Having a specific legal standard will prevent manufacturers from making such assumptions.
From now on, I suggest you avoid inherently gluten-free grains without the gluten-free label. That may sound counter-intuitive, but a June, 2010, study published in the Journal of the America Dietetics Association revealed that about 32% of all naturally gluten-free grain flours actually contained more than 20 ppm of gluten in them. These were gluten-free grains like millet and sorghum, but they were not labeled gluten-free. I also recommend avoiding bulk GF grains.
Find a trustworthy manufacturer who tests their gluten-free grains so they can use the gluten-free label. I know some people may think a gluten-free label on grains and flours like millet, sorghum or quinoa is redundant, but the study published in the Journal of the America Dietetics Association shows us how critical the gluten-free label can be.
We now have an official standard: let’s make the most of it.