Ask Beth: Gluten-Free Nutrition Labels

Happy August, everyone!

I recently received the following question from a reader. She gave me permission to share her question and my response in case anyone else may benefit from this information.

“I’d like some clarification regarding products that are GF supposedly but label says less than 2% of various gluten containing ingredients. I see the less than 2% on several different labels which might relate to modified food starch, might be molasses which might have gluten in it. Apparently things can be labeled gluten free if it is less than 2%. Are these types of products recommended for people with Celiac to use?”

It seems like there are (potentially) several questions here that I could answer, so I am going to try to address your question(s) as best as I can:

1) According to 2014 FDA regulations, any product that is labeled “gluten free” (it has those words on the box/container/package) MUST contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten. There is currently no test to accurately determine gluten in smaller amounts at this time. 20 parts per million is considered an acceptable level of gluten by the FDA. For more information about what 20 parts per million means, please visit this site.

2) There are companies called third-party certification programs that use different standards for “gluten free” — some go as low as 5 or 10 parts per million. You may have seen their logos on some products in your grocery store. You can read more about these companies here.

3) The phrase you mentioned, “contains less than 2%” is a different aspect of nutrition labeling.

For example, “Pork, water, contains 2% or less of: salt, spices, sodium phosphates, dextrose, autolyzed yeast extract, caramel color.”

There may be some confusion here because there are many ingredients that MAY contain gluten, such as modified food starch or caramel color or a variety of other things. However, (in the United States) if the label says “gluten free,” there is not more than 20 parts per million of gluten present, even if the ingredient could potentially contain gluten.

4) For most questionable ingredients, the FDA recommends companies put “contains wheat” on the label if that ingredient is sourced from wheat. HOWEVER, if the package does NOT say “gluten free,” that product MAY contain an unacceptable level of gluten.

As a side note, there are some people with Celiac Disease or other gluten-related disorder that cannot tolerate ANY gluten. So even 20 parts per million is too much for them. It is relatively rare, but possible, to be that sensitive to gluten. For the most part, the vast majority of people with Celiac Disease are safe consuming products as long as they are less than 20 parts per million of gluten.

So, the key here is to purchase products labeled “gluten free.” The “less than 2%” phrase is not used to calculate amount of gluten in a product.

Thanks for reaching out!

<3, Beth

If you have a question, please feel free to email me or comment below. If I don’t know the answer, I will do my best to point you in the direction of someone who can help you!

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