Guaranteeing ‘Gluten-free’ Really Is Gluten-free

FDA regulations make choosing gluten-free safer

bread with caution tape

There’s good news if you have celiac disease and need to eat gluten-free. The FDA has mandated that any food labeled “gluten-free” has to be exactly that: gluten-free.

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On August 2, the agency ruled that any food product labeled “no gluten” or “gluten-free” can’t contain more than 20 parts per million of gluten, which is found in wheat, barley, rye and other related grains.

There are more gluten-free options today than ever — have you noticed that the gluten-free section of your local supermarket seems to be getting bigger? Now, with the welcome news of the FDA regulations, you can feel confident of the safety of the growing number of products.

Gluten-free for life

This may not be too comforting if you’ve just been diagnosed with celiac disease and are overwhelmed with the idea you can’t eat the foods you’re used to eating. But I can reassure you that the diagnosis of celiac disease is far from the end of the world.

Once you learn more about all the foods you can eat — and understand how much relief you’ll get from your symptoms and the higher energy level you’ll enjoy — you’ll be eager to begin.

But I also stress the importance of being gluten-free for life. No small bites now and then, and no “mostly” gluten-free, because any amount will destroy the small intestinal villi, which is vital in absorbing basic nutrients.

Naturally gluten-free food

Let’s start with the many foods that are naturally gluten-free, such as:

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  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Fresh meat, fish and poultry
  • Nuts and legumes
  • Most dairy: cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese
  • Eggs

Prepared simply, without fats and unhealthy oils, these are all great food options that I’d recommend anyway, gluten-free or not. It’s easy to eat gluten-free, just by eating healthier.

Gluten-free goodies

You’ve likely seen all the breads and pastas labeled as gluten-free, but really, the choices have gone far beyond that now. Part of this might be explained by the trend of people choosing to go gluten-free to lose weight and to eat healthier.

There’s a gluten-free variety of almost anything you can think of, from ice cream to pizza to beer to chocolate cake to pancakes and waffles.

But remember, gluten-free is far from meaning calorie- or sugar-free. You can gain weight just as easily with these foods as with others. Yet it reassures my patients to know that these goodies are available to them.

Feel good about your diet

By making sure you maintain a balanced and healthy diet, going gluten-free doesn’t just control the symptoms of your celiac disease. It gives you more energy and makes you feel better all around.

Yes, you have to be extra vigilant in reading food labels, ordering in restaurants and in cooking. But your good health is always worth a little extra effort.

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More information on celiac disease and gluten-free eating

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Laura Jeffers, MEd, RD, LD

Laura Jeffers, MEd, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian and Outpatient Nutrition Manager in the Center for Human Nutrition.
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