Gluten Intolerance

What is gluten intolerance?

Gluten intolerance is a hypersensitive reaction of the body to gluten. Gluten is a component of grains. Gluten intolerance is also referred to as coeliac disease (infants and children) or sprue (adults). The medical term for gluten hypersensitivity is gluten-sensitive enteropathy.

What are the consequences of gluten intolerance?

In individuals affected by coeliac disease, the consumption of foods containing gluten destroys the mucosa of the small intestine. The result is poor digestion and malabsorption of nutrients. Prolonged contact with gluten damages the fingerlike projections of the inner wall of the bowel (intestinal villi). As the intestinal walls become smoother, they loose their ability to efficiently transport nutrients. A gluten-free diet will allow the intestinal mucosa to recover and its functions to be restored.

Which foods contain gluten?

Gluten is found in wheat (i.e. all Triticum species, such as durum and soft wheat, spelt and unripe spelt grain [which is harvested in the milk-ripe stage and roasted], kamut, wild emmer, einkorn wheat), barley and rye. Gluten in wheat is made up of the protein fractions “gliadins” (prolamin fraction) and “glutenins" (glutelin fraction). Prolamins and glutelins occur in wheat at a ratio of approx. 1:1.

Gluten-free cereals include quinoa, amaranth, maize, rice, millet, soy, so-called wild rice, buckwheat, pulses, sesame, poppy seed, linseed and edible nuts.

Oats contain glutelins, but the amino acid sequence of its prolamin fraction differs from that of other grains. It does not seem to cause problems for gluten-sensitive individuals in the same way as do other cereals. However, oats have not yet been recommended as part of a gluten-free diet in German-speaking countries, since contamination through gluten-containing cereals cannot be ruled out.


Gluten intolerance is a chronic disease that may occur at any age. In Germany, about one out of 500 individuals suffer from the disease (women more often than men).


When selling to the final consumer, foods that consist of or contain one or several ingredients made from wheat, rye, barley, oats or their crossbred varieties which have been especially processed to reduce gluten, may be advertised and presented to the final consumer as follows (COMMISSION REGULATION (EC) No. 41/2009 of 20 January 2009 concerning the composition and labelling of foodstuffs suitable for people intolerant to foodstuffs):

very low gluten Gluten content not exceeding 100 mg / kg (I), equalling 100 ppm

gluten-free Gluten content not exceeding 20 mg / kg (I), equalling 20 ppm

Oats in foodstuffs for individuals who are intolerant to gluten must have been specially produced, prepared and / or processed in a way to avoid contamination by wheat, rye, barley or their crossbred varieties, and the gluten content of such oats must not exceed 20 mg/kg (I).

Revision valid as of 2016

Regulation (EU) No. 41/2009 will be repealed on 20 July 2016 and replaced by Implementing Regulation (EU) No. 828/2014. The previously defined maximum values justifying the food information “gluten-free” and “very low gluten" will be maintained, with the latter food information also being allowed for food of general consumption in future. Both food information labels may in future be accompanied by the statement

“Suitable for people intolerant to gluten” or “Suitable for coeliacs”.

Regulation (EU) No. 828/2014 defines that if the food has been specially produced, prepared and/or processed to reduce the gluten content of the gluten-containing ingredients or to substitute the gluten-containing ingredients with other ingredients naturally free of gluten, the food information

“Specifically formulated for people intolerant to gluten” or “ Specifically formulated for coeliacs”

may be provided.

The provision of food information on the absence or reduced presence of gluten in infant formulae and follow-on formulae as defined in Directive 2006/141/EC shall be explicitly prohibited.