Integrative Nutrition Blog

The Real Deal with the FDA’s New Gluten Labeling Standards

August 14, 2014

Good news for all you gluten-free eaters! Last week, new federal rules defining the use of the term “gluten-free” took effect. 

According to the FDA, the new standardized definition is meant to “eliminate uncertainty about how food producers label their products” and assure the 3 million Americans with celiac disease that food labeled as “gluten-free” meets a clear, consistently enforced standard. 

The new federal definition requires that food labeled as gluten-free must contain fewer than 20 parts per million of gluten, an amount that is virtually undetectable, according to nutrition experts.  The FDA allows this amount because it says that most celiac sufferers can tolerate foods with very small amounts of gluten, and the limit is set at the lowest possible level that can be detected using scientific methods.

This is good news for people with celiac disease who had been victims of improperly labeled foods in the past.  Misleading, opaque, and haphazard labeling meant they were at risk for suffering from diarrhea, anemia, lactose intolerance, fatigue, joint pain, abdominal pain, migraines, depression, osteoporosis, and malabsorption of nutrients, all of which are symptomatic of the autoimmune disorder. 

While the new FDA guidelines mean that these labels will now all denote the same thing—and that celiac sufferers can rest easy knowing that they won’t inadvertently consume gluten—they don’t address the fact that many people now mistakenly equate “gluten-free” with “healthy.” 

In recent years, gluten-free diets have become more popular among those who do not suffer from celiac disease, with experts like Integrative Nutrition lecturer Dr. Mark Hyman touting the health benefits of reducing or eliminating the protein from your diet, and the food industry has responded by putting the gluten-free label on as many items as possible. 

But does the gluten-free label really tell us valuable information about the nutritional quality of a food? 

When Butterfinger candy bars, jelly beans, and M&M’s can all accurately call themselves gluten-free, the answer is a clear no. 

These new FDA regulations bring a level of transparency and consistency to the food labeling system, which is a good thing. However, they also serve as a reminder that nutrition is nuanced, and no word or phrase can tell you whether something is “good” or “bad” for you. 

To make empowered health choices, we must educate ourselves on the meaning of different terms, the science of different dietary theories, and the specific needs of our individual bodies. Only then can we understand the true meaning of any food label. 

How do you use nutrition labels to inform your food choices? Tell us your tips in the comments section below!  

 Source: USA Today

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