AUSTIN -- You don't have to be a shopping cynic to know product labeling can sometimes be a downright lie. When it comes to so-called gluten-free foods, exaggerated claims in labeling can result in possible life-threatening conditions. New regulations adopted this week by the FDA will make sure gluten-free products live up to their labeling.
Most grocery stores these days carry products labeled gluten-free, no gluten, free of gluten or without gluten. But are the labels always accurate?
"Before the law it didn't necessarily mean anything," said Lynn Southard, the clinical nutrition supervisor at St. David's Medical Center. She's referring to this week's FDA mandate that anything labeled "gluten-free" contains over 20 parts per million or less of gluten. She says prior to this week that wasn't the case, and that was a problem.
"Anything above the 20 parts per million has been shown to cause adverse affects in people with celiac disease and gluten intolerance," said Southard.
Southard says the difference in the two is that celiac disease is an autoimmune condition.
"When a person with celiac disease eats gluten the body actually attacks itself instead of the gluten," she said. "Whereas a person with gluten intolerance the body attacks the gluten, but you just don't feel good when they eat gluten."
Southard hasn't just observed these symptoms in patients; she's experienced them first hand. She's suffered with celiac disease for the last five years. Even though she can be seen snacking on a gluten-free KIND bar in her office from time to time, she says making the transition to a truly gluten-free diet was difficult, even in her line of work.
"It really was," she said. "Even as a dietician it was a big change. I had to start cooking at home a bit more. Thankfully, Austin has been more helpful for people who need gluten-free diets."
Southard says she's equally thankful to the FDA for enacting this new gluten regulation.
"When I see the gluten-free label I will know that it is 20 parts per million or less, because that's been the standard in Europe for a long time," said Southard. "That's what they do. So that's really helpful for me. When I see it I can trust it."
Before the FDA issued the regulation, the food industry did not have requirements to be able to label products "gluten-free."
Go here to find a link to the new gluten guidelines.