Last week, renowned Celiac Disease researcher Dr. Peter Green helped the FDA reform the gluten-free food labeling standards (which currently allow up to 200 parts per million of gluten) to a voluntary compliance of up to 20 parts per million.  As exposure, and the resulting gastrointestinal distress or intestinal damage from gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley) is cumulative, this change offers great progress for individuals needing to avoid gluten. It allows individuals who follow a gluten-free diet to enjoy a safer lifestyle with more options. 

The gluten-free market has grown tremendously.  People who became gluten-free 20 years ago chuckle at the fact that gluten-free baked goods used to mean only rice cakes.   Still, following a gluten-free diet can often feel like being on the outside looking in.  Stop by a potluck, go out to dinner, or attend a birthday party, and you’ll watch your carefree friends and family happily eating and chatting without a second thought as to safe food choices or cross-contamination. 

With the new labeling standards in place, Celiac Disease researchers and advocates can now focus on the health content of packaged gluten-free foods.  Manufacturers seem to utilize refined flours and higher levels of sugar (as compared to non gluten-free foods) as some sort of consolation prize in exchange for gluten.  The average gluten-free breakfast food or baked good is considerably less healthy than the gluten-containing counterpart, and available choices are still dramatically smaller.  

Also, the gluten-free section of most grocery stores, while much appreciated and larger than in the past, still has dramatically less choices than the rest of the grocery store.  Hopefully, the change in labeling standards will raise public awareness and educate manufacturers on safe production processes and gluten content.  In turn, safe gluten-free food can be more readily available, and bring about an ease in access and confidence in products.

My hope is that one day a pizzeria’s gluten-free pizza will be the same size as the “other” pizza (without being twice the price as it is now), and gluten-free families will be able to eat gluten-free Cheerios instead of the sugary options currently available.  With one important change in standards underway, there is hope for further reform and improvements in the lives of the ever-increasing population of gluten-free folks.

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