The Other Kind of Green Thumb

Ever eaten food that was supposedly gluten-free, but you still felt terrible afterward? This is one of the reasons I have chosen to stay away from foods labeled “gluten-free,” and instead eat foods that are naturally gluten-free. But I can only eat so many vegetables without feeling like I’m about to start sprouting broccoli from my ears and growing leafy-green fingers.

Luckily, my woes are about to be buried deep in the soil. According to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, today the FDA released a statement defining the term “gluten-free,” which sets a universal standard that celiacs can trust to help them (us) maintain a truly gluten-free diet.

Gluten-free food is now defined by the FDA as food that is naturally gluten-free (my favorite), does not contain any ingredient that contains gluten, was made from a grain containing gluten that has not been processed to remove the gluten, or has been processed in this way, but if in using that ingredient, the food still contains 20 parts per million (a very small amount of contaminant) or more gluten. Food containing any gluten that just won’t go away (or, as the FDA calls it, “unavoidable”) needs to be less than 20 parts per million.

This doesn’t mean that anything that’s not marked gluten-free is verboten for celiacs under penalty of stomachaches (and worse). Companies have the option to pursue labeling their foods gluten-free, and some might opt out. So the ingredients list will still help you decide whether certain foods are gluten-free (but if you’re hyper-sensitive to gluten, even if the ingredients list doesn’t include anything containing gluten, there’s still the risk of cross-contamination), with the added assurance that if foods are marked gluten-free, it’s been put to the test.

Will this make it more difficult to identify gluten-free foods quickly in stores? Possibly. Some companies might choose to not go through the trouble to label their product gluten-free, so we might be reading more ingredients lists. But since the gluten-free label is a fad these days (so, a big selling point), I’d be interested to see how many companies do indeed drop the gluten-free label.

– Kaitlin Puccio