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FDA Looks To Regulate Gluten-Free Products

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Gluten-Free products in a store display (AP)

Gluten-Free products in a store display (AP)

CBS SF Bay (con't)

Affordable Care Act Updates: CBSSanFrancisco.com/ACA

Health News & Information: CBSSanFrancisco.com/Health

NEW YORK (CBS NEWS) – Gluten-free food has become popular and profitable—but sometimes products labeled “gluten free”—aren’t.

Now, the Food and Drug Administration is preparing strict new standards – and that’s a relief for people who are allergic to gluten.

Jennifer Shannon is a careful shopper, double-checking labels to make sure the food she is buying is gluten-free.

Shannon told CBS News, “If a company is going to sell me a product based on the fact that it’s gluten-free, I think they should be held accountable for it.”

Shannon has celiac disease, an allergy to gluten, which is a protein found in common grains like wheat, rye and barley. About three million Americans now suffer from this disease, which can have a wide array of symptoms, such as bloating, constipation, problems digesting food, numbing feeling in the extremities, and for some sufferers a rash.

Right now, the gluten-free label on the products is not regulated—something the FDA is looking to change by establishing a tough new standard for labeling foods as gluten-free.

Gluten-free products have gone mainstream and are big business, ringing up $2.6 billion in sales – up 30 percent in the last five years. Kelloggs’ new gluten-free Rice Krispies is now a top seller.

Some celebrities are even advocating a gluten-free diet for health benefits alone. But not all doctors are on board.

Dr. Peter Green, director of the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University Medical Center, told CBS News, “A gluten-free diet is not necessarily a healthy diet. People who are on a gluten free diet for an extended period can become iron-deficient and B Vitamin deficient.”

But for celiac patients like Jennifer Shannon, a gluten-free diet is the only treatment she has.

“Gluten-free food is the only medicine for celiac. It’s the only thing available and it’s a cure essentially. It’s how you heal yourself through eating and so knowledge of what’s in the food you’re eating is very important,” Shannon said.

The new standard, “Early Show” co-anchor Erica Hill noted, matches the one already in place in Europe. It’s expected to take effect early next year.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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