For the estimated 1% of the population with celiac disease, gluten can trigger digestive distress and cause long-term health problems. For the rest of us, gluten is a harmless protein found in grains like wheat, rye and barley that is best known for giving bread its fluffiness. Although it’s virtually harmless for the majority of the population, “gluten-free” has become a huge selling point in the food industry, as described in a recent Time article by Katy Steinmetz.
Some people may mistakenly believe that “gluten-free” means “low carb,” when they in fact are not related to each other. Nonetheless, it is drawing people into the trend and everything from cake mixes to restaurant menus are popping up with gluten-free items. Americans spent a record $2.6 billion last year to banish gluten from their lives.
You would think that the majority of the gluten-free consumers have celiac disease, right? Not so. The trend followers are actually doing the bulk of the buying. A recent survey by market-research firm Packaged Facts showed that only 8 to 12% of people who purchased gluten-free products did so because of gluten intolerance. Most simply thought these products were healthier or of higher quality or could help them manage their weight.
Food manufacturers are rushing to get in on this newest trend, but the Food and Drug Administration has yet to set a standard for gluten-free labeling. For those with celiac disease, this can be very serious, as even the smallest amount of gluten can trigger a reaction. “Vendors or restaurants will feel it’s just a fad, it’s another crazy diet and it doesn’t matter what we feed to these people,” says Tiara Rogers, 34, who has a close friend with celiac disease.
Many health experts stress that gluten is not a dietary evil. As for supposed, a gluten-free pretzel is not going to take off the pounds any faster than a regular pretzel. In fact, if you avoid only gluten, rather than the carb-packed foods it’s typically in, you will likely be getting more calories with fewer nutrients because many substitutes end up being high in surrogate carbs and low in fiber.
The gluten-free trend is another example of afad that draws in followers, even when people don’t know exactly what it is they are following! Have you ever tried the gluten-free diet, or do you know anyone who has? We’d love to hear some feedback about this one!