The FDA has issued a consumer update spelling out the role gluten plays in our diet and noting that as much as 1 percent of the U.S. population suffers from celiac disease, a serious condition in which the body cannot digest or tolerate gluten.

The only known remedy for the ghastly gastrointestinal problems that intolerance causes is refraining from eating foods containing gluten. Which, as anyone with celiac disease can attest, is far easier said than done. To help those people and to offer guidance to food producers, the federal agency has proposed a new standard definition for what “gluten-free” means. That should protect consumers who can’t tolerate gluten from inadvertently ingesting the offending substance. It would also provide a framework within which manufacturers of gluten-free foods — a burgeoning market — can safely and legally operate.

"Eating gluten-free is not meant to be a diet craze," says Rhonda Kane, a registered dietitian and consumer safety officer at FDA. "It's a medical necessity for those who have celiac disease. There are no nutritional advantages for a person not sensitive to gluten to be on a gluten-free diet. Those who are not sensitive to gluten have more flexibility and can choose from a greater variety of foods to achieve a balanced diet."