Earth Eats: Real Food, Green Living

What Is Gluten-Free? FDA Still Figuring It Out

The quickly growing gluten-free market has spurred the FDA to define what exactly it means for foods to be gluten-free.

rows of muffins on a wire tray

Photo: Queen Roly (flickr)

Are these muffins gluten-free? The FDA is trying to figure out how to define what exactly that means.

The Food and Drug Administration is still attempting to decide what it means for food to be “gluten-free.”

In 2004, the Congress gave the FDA a 2008 deadline to come up with a definition for gluten-free. Now in 2011, the FDA has yet to do so.

Celi…what?

According to the Celiac Disease Foundation:

Celiac Disease is a lifelong inherited autoimmune condition affecting children and adults. When people with CD eat foods that contain gluten (a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and possibly oats), it creates an immune-mediated toxic reaction that causes damage to the small intestine and does not allow food to be properly absorbed.

The condition is said to afflict about three million people in the United States, while an additional 17 million Americans are “gluten-sensitive,” which means that they can experience abdominal pain, fatigue, headaches, “foggy mind” or tingling extremities when coming in contact with gluten.

Gluten Explosion

“We are in the midst of an epidemic,” says Alessio Fasano, medical director of the Center for Celiac Research at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. “I really don’t understand why [the definition] is lingering up in the air when it really should be a no-brainer.”

The prevalence of Celiac Disease in this country is soaring partly because changes in agricultural practices have increased gluten levels in crops.

According to a Washington Post article, the gluten-free market is projected to reach $2.6 billion next year, up from $100 million in 2003. Gluten-free cereal, snacks and other foods carry a premium price, creating an alluring growth market for food companies.

Lying About Gluten

This growing market has even led one chef to admit to lying about his gluten-free food.

Chef Damian Cardone, the former executive banquet chef at Tavern on the Green in New York, admitted via Facebook last month that he had misled his gluten-free customers multiple times, stating that he often served guests requesting gluten-free pasta a dish containing fresh pasta made with high-gluten flour.

Would a gluten-free definition make it harder for chefs like Cardone to trick people with Celiac disease or a gluten intolerance?

Read More:

  • FDA still struggling to define “gluten free” (Slashfood)
  • 3 years after deadline, FDA still hasn’t defined ‘gluten-free’ (The Washington Post)
  • Chef admits lying to gluten free diners (Foodista)
Katie Dawson

Katie Dawson is a sophomore at IU majoring in journalism and Spanish. Currently she lives in Bloomington, IN but is originally from Indianapolis. She enjoys cooking, eating and sometimes exercising.

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  • Myakitas

    I’m absolutely horrified that any chef would knowingly disregard a person’s health. I’m a Celiac and suffer tremendously from damage done to my digestive system before I was diagnosed. To be contaminated in a restaurant can literally make me ill for weeks. My disease has caused me to develop an array of auto-immune diseases, which can all flare at once and make my life quite painful and difficult. People need to understand the seriousness of dietary restrictions before they knowingly cause harm. I put this into the category of abusive behavior.

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