April 17/Minneapolis/Business Wire -- Millions of Americans who start the day with a gluten-free breakfast have a new option from a familiar ready-to-eat favorite: Rice Chex cereal.

Without changing the crunchy, oven-toasted flavor of Rice Chex, General Mills replaced barley malt syrup with molasses resulting in a gluten-free cereal. The company has taken the requisite steps to prevent cross-contamination during production and tested the new formula based on proposed FDA standards. Rice Chex cereal calls out its gluten-free status on new packaging that will be available soon on store shelves nationwide. One serving of Rice Chex still clocks in at 100 calories, contains 2g of sugar, 0.5g of fat and delivers a good source of whole grain with at least 8g per serving. Suggested retail price is $2.99. Rice Chex cereal also offers consumers convenient recipes that can be made without gluten-containing ingredients onwww.Chex.com.

"This is a revolutionary step forward for consumers who want easy and affordable access to gluten-free food options," said Rohan Thakur, Chex cereal marketing manager. "General Mills and Chex recognize the growing consumer demand for gluten-free products, and we're pleased to make Rice Chex, a classic American breakfast offering, available to more people. We are also proud to partner with Celiac Disease Foundation (CDF) to further generate awareness for celiac disease. CDF is a true leader and real-time resource for thousands of individuals in the gluten-free community, and we hope our support will only raise the level of awareness nationwide."

Celiac disease, a chronic inherited digestive disorder, can cause damage to the small intestine. It is estimated that one in 133 Americans suffer from celiac disease -- 3 million adults and children are living undiagnosed with this autoimmune disorder that is managed by following a gluten-free diet.

"Individuals following the gluten-free lifestyle are looking for great tasting, mainstream products that meet their special dietary needs," explained Elaine Monarch, founder/executive director, Celiac Disease Foundation. "The gluten-free category is growing significantly and together CDF and General Mills can generate more awareness of celiac disease and help to improve the quality of life for these individuals."

Gluten, the common name for the natural proteins found in wheat, barley and rye, is harmful to persons with celiac disease because when they eat gluten, their immune system is triggered and it begins to attack the small intestine. This results in damage to the villi which make up the lining of the small intestine. Villi are necessary for the absorption of nutrients, and over time, the damage to the villi can lead to malnutrition.

Celiac disease is the most common genetic disease worldwide, possibly affecting as much as 1% of the population. Celiac disease is not just a digestive disease, explained Monarch, but is a multi-system, multi-symptom autoimmune disorder that affects adults as well as children. Currently, there is no cure for celiac disease, only the lifelong adherence to a gluten-free diet.

From the April 28, 2008, Prepared Foods e-Flash