University of Florida

Understanding Gluten-free Labeling

You may have noticed gluten-free products in your local grocery store and wondered what that term meant. Gluten refers to the proteins that naturally occur in wheat, rye, barley, or any crossbreeds of those grains.

Gluten affects people that have celiac disease, which causes the body to react to foods with gluten by attacking and damaging the lining of the small intestine. Because this damage limits the ability to absorb nutrients, people with celiac disease may be at risk for health problems, including nutritional deficiencies and osteoporosis, if they consume a certain amount of gluten.

According to the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), foods that don’t inherently contain gluten, such as fruits and vegetables, can be labeled as “gluten-free.” Additionally, products can be labeled “gluten-free,” “without gluten,” “no gluten,” or “free of gluten” if they don’t contain any of the following:

  • An ingredient that is any type of wheat, rye, barley, or hybrids of these grains.
  • An ingredient derived from any of these grains that hasn’t been processed to remove gluten.
  • An ingredient derived from any of these grains that has been processed to remove gluten, but the ingredient results in the food having 20 or more parts per million (ppm) gluten.
  • A product that contains 20 ppm or more gluten.

People managing celiac disease and those with gluten sensitivities or intolerances need to understand current labeling regulations. Visit the FDA for more information on “gluten-free” labels.

Adapted and excerpted from:

A. Dicks, A. Harder, and A. Simonne, “Being Smart about Gluten and Gluten-free Issues? Part 2: What Retailers and Consumers Need to Know about Gluten and Gluten-free Product Labeling” (WC153), UF/IFAS Agricultural Education and Communication Department (rev. 09/2013).

Gluten-Free Labeling of Foods,” U.S. FDA, (11/2013).

What is Gluten-Free? FDA Has an Answer,” U.S. FDA, (01/2014).


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