A: Gluten is a plant protein found in barley, rye and wheat. A completely gluten-free diet eliminates all forms of barley, wheat and rye.
In the past the gluten-free diet has been recommended for individuals with Celiac Disease, a gluten intolerance that presents as a potentially life-threatening digestive disorder. A recent study conducted by the Mayo Clinic estimated that 1.4 million of those individuals are unaware that they have Celiac Disease. Still more individuals have an unspecified gluten intolerance that presents as similar digestive symptoms.
The FDA has issued the final rule defining the characteristics necessary for food to be labeled as “gluten-free.” This rule limits the maximum amount of gluten that can be present to a level that is small enough that it has been shown not to be harmful to patients with Celiac Disease, who face potentially life-threatening illness if they eat the gluten found in breads and cakes. To be gluten-free according to the FDA, a product must not contain any of the following: an ingredient that is any type of wheat, rye, barley. or crossbreeds of these grains, an ingredient derived from these grains, and that has not been processed to remove gluten or an ingredient derived from these grains, and that has been process to remove gluten, if it results in the food containing 20 or more parts per million (ppm) gluten.
Most people do not require, and would likely not benefit from, a gluten-free diet. However, it can be beneficial for others, especially those with undiagnosed Celiac Disease or other gluten intolerance.
Information provided by Benjamin Koenig, Drake University PharmD/MBA Candidate 2014.