Celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder which expresses as a serious gluten allergy, affects nearly 3 million Americans, and millions more have sensitivities to gluten, a protein found in wheat and other cereal grains including spelt and rye. Reactions to gluten run the gamut from severely painful digestive disturbances to skin problems and low energy levels. Even individuals without a sensitivity to wheat have begun avoiding it to improve their health and energy levels. According to the Times, "With one-third of Americans trying to avoid the protein, the "gluten free" label holds increasing cachet."
The new official FDA definitions state that a food (or substance) may use the terms "gluten free", "no gluten", "free of gluten" or "without gluten" if it contains less than 20 parts per million of gluten. The 20 ppm standard is already widely accepted by food manufacturers and gluten free certifiers.
Margaret A. Hamburg, FDA Commissioner, said the definition will be able to "help people with this condition make food choices with confidence and allow them to better manage their health."
According to Marion Nestle, author, Paulette Goddard Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health and Professor of Sociology at New York University, the FDA took some nine years to make the ruling (she outlines it in a timeline). " I am struck by the complexity of the agency’s processes for doing something like this," Nestle wrote on her blog, Food Politics.
Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger