The Food and Drug Administration has set a standard for what food companies can label "gluten free." Gluten is the protein in wheat, barley and rye that gives breads and pastries their texture and chewiness. The labeling decision has taken the FDA six years to reach. Within that time period, gluten-free diet went from being something of a health necessity to a full-blown lifestyle choice that celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Gwyneth Paltrow espouse.
It has also become a multibillion-dollar business, driven by the proliferation of specialty gluten-free foods, as well as fast food players like Dunkin' Donuts and Domino's Pizza that want in on the action.Only an estimated three million Americans suffer from celiac disease, an autoimmune condition triggered by the consumption of gluten, that's about 1 out of 133 people.
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While celiac is easy to test for, gluten sensitivity is much harder to detect. At the same time, more and more people are diagnosing themselves as gluten-intolerant, half-treating it as the latest weight-loss scheme but potentially robbing their bodies of important nutrients.
Would the FDA labeling requirement lead to more self-diagnoses? Would it, ironically, lead to more confusion about why someone should go gluten-free?
Dr. Joseph Murray, professor of medicine and consultant in gastroenterology and immunology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester Minnesota
Larry Finkel, Food & Beverage Director at MarketResearch.com, which publishes the Packaged Fact research on gluten-free food.