FDA begins enforcing new requirements on gluten-free labeling

Celiac disease causes more than stomach discomfort

FDA Gluten Labeling
FILE - In this Aug. 2, 2013, file photo, a variety of foods labeled Gluten Free are displayed in Frederick, Md., Friday, Aug. 2, 2013. Starting this week, "gluten free" labels on packaged foods have real meaning. Until now, the term "gluten free" had not been regulated, and manufacturers made their own decisions about what it means. (AP Photo/Jon Elswick, File)

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – According to doctors, celiac disease occurs in about 1 in 200 Americans.

As more people are diagnosed with celiac disease, more companies are offering gluten-free products. People with celiac can’t eat gluten, which is in wheat, rye and barley. Baystate Medical Center Gastroenterologist Dr. Barry Hirsch said it causes more than just stomach discomfort.

“It actually damages the lining of their intestines, so it can cause malabsorption and one of the big problems it can cause short stature, it can cause a malabsorption of vitamin D and osteoporosis, there have been dental issues it can cause,” said Dr. Hirsch. He said there’s also a slight chance it could lead to certain cancers.

That’s why the Food and Drug Administration is requiring companies to be honest when they label foods “gluten free.” Wheat is often labeled on foods, but sometimes rye and barley are hidden ingredients. Even the dust from them in a factory can cross-contaminate the gluten-free food and make people sick. These products all started as a way to offer more options for people with celiac disease, but with more awareness of that disease, it’s attracted other people who claim they feel healthier when they eat them. Dr. Hirsch said there’s no medical evidence proving that gluten-free products do make people healthier.

“For some people, I think they do it because they want to…get away from the wheat and the breads and stuff,” Pat Strom of Agawam told 22News.

It can be expensive to buy gluten-free products.

“The healthier you get, the more it costs you and that’s what I think is unfair about it…Why should you have to pay more because you have a problem? But that’s the way it is and I think the government should step in and do something about it,” said Tom Daigneau of Springfield.

Restaurants don’t need to comply, but the FDA is encouraging them to follow the same regulations.

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