Have you ever been with friends who are eating gluten-laden delicious-looking food and had them ask, “Can’t you have just one bite?” You may be wondering yourself whether a little bit really will hurt you, especially since hearing that the Food and Drug Administration is considering allowing some gluten in gluten-free food.

So, is it okay to have a little bit of gluten? The answer depends on what you mean by “a little bit.”

The Food and Drug Administration is in the process of developing a rule for the labeling of foods as gluten free. Currently the proposed rule states that food labeled “gluten free” must contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten. This is a teeny tiny amount.

What is meant by parts per million?
Parts per million is a proportion or percentage. It means the same thing as milligrams per kilogram because there are one million milligrams in a kilogram. To help illustrate 20 parts per million, consider the following scenario. You purchase a bag of nuts containing 1,000,000 almonds (use your imagination) but instead of receiving 1,000,000 almonds you actually receive 999,980 almonds and 20 cashews. You could say that your bag of almonds is contaminated with 20 parts per million of cashews.

To put 20 parts per million of gluten into real-life context, consider the following information. Regular white bread has been reported to contain 12,400 milligrams of gluten per 100 grams (124,000 parts per million of gluten). Assuming this is accurate, a one-ounce slice of regular bread would contain 3,515 milligrams of gluten. Compare this to a one-ounce slice of gluten-free bread containing less than 20 parts per million of gluten. The slice of gluten-free bread would contain a little over 1/2 milligram of gluten.

So, if a “little bit” of gluten means an occasional slice of regular pizza, piece of regular cake, or a regular croissant the answer is “No, it is not okay!” It isn’t even okay to have to have “just one bite.” If you could cut the regular bread into 7,030 itsy bitsy pieces, one itsy bitsy piece would contain about the same amount of gluten as the entire slice of gluten-free bread.

That isn’t even a nibble. But it might be a crumb!

Copyright © by Tricia Thompson, MS, RD

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Gluten: Is It OK to Have A Little Bit?