A new U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulation will soon give Americans with celiac disease reassurance that their food is, in fact, gluten free.
Many Gainesville eateries are already on board.
In August, the FDA officially defined the term “gluten-free.” Beginning in August 2014, all manufacturers who choose to label their foods as gluten-free must ensure that the gluten levels of their products don’t exceed 20 parts per million (ppm).
Celiac is an autoimmune disease that damages the small intestine when gluten, a protein found in grains, is ingested. The only cure to celiac, the most common genetic autoimmune disease, is maintaining a gluten-free diet. Types of gluten include anything made with wheat, barley or rye.
According to the FDA, 20 ppm is the smallest amount of gluten that can be identified by scientists and is a tolerable level for most with celiac disease.
“Many people didn’t realize that when gluten free was put on the package, there was no regulation behind that,” said Alice Bast, president of the National Foundation of Celiac Awareness.
Jacqueline Papilsky, a 20-year-old University of Florida psychology junior, said she was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2012.
Though she immediately adopted a gluten-free diet, she said there were many foods, like soy sauce, that she never knew contained gluten. She said it’s overwhelming trying to determine which foods have gluten in them especially if some aren’t accurately marked.
“I’ve worried a lot about it,” Papilsky said. “It’s hard to know, so it’s a good thing they’re getting stricter.”
Papilsky said she is pleased with the amount of gluten-free options in Gainesville, including foods at Trader Joe’s, Earth Origins and Publix. She said the gluten-free menus at several restaurants like The Top and The Jones are also good choices.
Dino Genser, kitchen manager of Piesanos restaurant, 5200 NW 43rd St. in Gainesville, created a gluten-free menu in 2012 after having many requests from customers.
He said the most popular item is the gluten-free pizza, for which he special orders crust. Other items on his gluten-free menu include salads, mussels and grilled chicken Parmesan.
Genser said he was aware of the recent FDA ruling and that he is still doing research in order to provide the best options to his customers.
“We’re trying to stay ahead of the game,” he said. “The response has been really good so far, and it seems like people are really catching on.”
Amy Aponick, a registered dietician and nutritionist at the UF Health Diabetes Education and Nutrition Center, said the gluten-free diet has become popular for patients with other health issues, including autism and ADHD.
She said many companies have jumped on the gluten-free bandwagon in recent years to meet the need of consumers, however, several of their products are processed in facilities that contain gluten. She said she’s glad to see this aspect change in the coming year.
Aponick also said clearer regulations will make it easier to educate patients on which products are safe to eat.