What does gluten free mean? Well, until this past week, there wasn't a definition. After nearly a decade, the Food and Drug Administration has finally ruled that gluten free means there must be less than 20 parts per million of gluten in a product. That basically means smaller than two grains of salt on a slice of bread. Our Katie Gibas tells us what gluten is, why it can make some people sick and what this new ruling means.
UNITED STATES -- Telisa Stewart and her five-year-old daughter, Bailey, both have Celiac disease. That means they can't eat gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. If they eat even the smallest amount, they'll be sick for days.
"The challenges of just day to day life. What is she going to eat at school to what am I going to prepare for birthday parties. How are we going to travel. In the airport, we can't just grab something at the local McDonald's for something to eat," said Telisa Stewart, MPH, DrPH, Upstate Medical University Master of Public Health.
Kelly Springer, MS, RD, CDN, a Wegmans Nutritionist, added, "When someone with Celiac disease eats any type of gluten, your body fights it. It feels like it's some type of virus. And it attacks its body."
Celiac disease and gluten intolerance have been on the rise in recent years. Some experts say it could be in part because gluten is added to foods to give it a better texture. In the past, it has also often been misdiagnosed.
"Celiac disease is one of the most undiagnosed diseases. They used to call it IBS or Irritable Bowel Syndrome. So they're finding out now, most of those patients either had a type of Celiac or gluten intolerance," said Springer.
There will soon be some relief for Telisa, Bailey and the three million Americans who have Celiac disease. After nearly a decade, the FDA has now said if a product wants to claim to be gluten free there must be less than 20 parts per million of gluten.
"Having that definition out there is going to bring some clarity. Right now, we can grab things off the shelf and it will say gluten free and when you look at the product, it's made in a gluten facility and now we can just go through and not have to worry and not have to second guess and just make sure whatever we're picking, we're going to have safety in our house," said Stewart.
If you feel like you might have Celiac disease or a gluten intolerance, experts say don't stop eating gluten. First meet with your health care provider and get tested. And then come up with a comprehensive plan for the future.
"A gluten-free diet is low in fiber, B vitamins, calcium, iron. So if you're eating a gluten-free diet, your doctor would tell you to go on a multivitamin," said Kathryn Szklany, RD, a St. Joseph's Hospital Registered Dietitian.
Manufacturers have a year to comply with the FDA ruling.
Health professionals also say to consult with your doctor before eliminating gluten from your diet. And if you don't have Celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity, there aren't any health benefits to eating a gluten free diet.