Some Thoughts on the Recent Trendiness of the Gluten-Free Diet

Suddenly, the phrase “gluten-free” is all over the place. Chelsea Clinton’s 500-pound gluten-free wedding cake seemed to spark the fire, because in the weeks following her New York wedding, there have been two segments about gluten-free on the Today show, a discussion of the Old Spice Man’s gluten-free vegan diet on Jay Leno, and article after article on the gluten-free “diet craze” in the news. Hollywood seems to be heralding gluten-free eating as the hot new detox and weight-loss diet. Which is great, right? It’s raising awareness of what gluten is and the fact that some people avoid eating it. It’s making manufacturers perk up their ears, wanting to get in on the profits that come with new markets. For all we know, this craze might lead to more bakeries, restaurants, and pizzerias offering gluten-free dishes galore.

But, if you have Celiac, you might be finding all the talk about the gluten-free “diet trend” kinda annoying. The word “fad” is defined by its fleetingness – here today, gone tomorrow. But the truth of the matter is, for anyone diagnosed with Celiac, that the gluten-free diet is a lifelong diet. There is no cheating allowed, no reaching a weight-loss goal and rounding off into a “maintenance” plan. There’s no giving up when a craving hits. If you have Celiac, you can’t cave in the face of fresh bread. You can’t sneak a bite of your husbands’ leftover pizza when no one’s looking. You stick to the diet because your health depends on it. The gluten-free diet heals you.

For Celiacs

Gluten-free isn’t a trend, like animal print or acid-washed jeans. Gluten-free is a lifestyle. And it’s a lot of work. It requires extra time checking labels in the grocery store, extra money to buy specialty products, and extra effort to call ahead to restaurants and then follow up with the manager and chef when you arrive. Contrary to what some of the GF trend-followers might think, simply cutting out bread and pasta doesn’t mean “gluten-free.” Gluten-free isn’t the Atkins no-carb diet. (Besides, eating gluten-free doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll lose weight due to the high fat, sugar, and salt content of a lot of GF goods, which a lot of Celiacs know because they went through an initial post-diagnosis weight-gain.). Sensitive Celiacs have to avoid all traces of gluten, which means not allowing crumbs of gluten-containing bread into your mayonnaise jar or your toaster, wearing gloves to feed the dog because of the gluten in the dog food, and sending a salad back to the chef because there was a single crouton hidden among the leaves. It’s stressful. It’s challenging. And it’s probable that those jumping on the gluten-free bandwagon for weight-loss are not managing their gluten-free diet to such an extent. Which brings us to a possible setback….

The Upside and Its Downswing

I hope that all this talk about gluten-free means that more dining establishments will start offering gluten-free menu items. We’ll start to more see gluten-free pizza, cupcakes, maybe even sandwiches and chocolate croissants. Grocery stores will expand their gluten-free aisles, and major brands will print “GF” on their labels. The Gluten-Free Dream come true!

But, as anyone with Celiac knows, while having gluten-free food on menus is great, the knowledge and mindset of the kitchen staff is what really matters. And if restaurant chefs start viewing gluten-free dining as a trend, rather than a medical necessity, there may be a greater risk of carelessness (and cross-contamination) in the kitchen. When a chef is told about a customer’s peanut allergy, he will take a lot of precautions to avoid sending a diner into anaphylactic shock. That’s the level of seriousness that kitchens should take when dealing with Celiac:  it’s a medically necessary diet, which, if not followed, can lead to severe discomfort and long-term damage to the intestines. If a person is eating gluten-free just for the heck of it, a splash of regular soy sauce or a pot of water that previously boiled gluten-containing pasta won’t do real harm. But for someone with Celiac, such “minor” mistakes are Bad with a capital “B.”  Ideally, restaurant chefs will add gluten-free items to all of their menus, and they’ll train their staffs to know that they can’t be flippant when it comes to gluten-free diets, even if labels such as “fad,” “craze,” and “trend” get attached to gluten-free dining.

The Reconciliation

Deep down, it can be a little bit hurtful to see people diving into gluten-free dining for reasons such as weight loss or “detox.” At the end of the day, those people are choosing to eat gluten-free and they can choose to give it up whenever they really want to eat a cookie. If you have Celiac, you didn’t make a choice. Gluten-free is forever part of your life. But know that when the “fad” is over (assuming it steps off the stage after fifteen minutes), you’ll still be surrounded by thousands of others like you who can’t eat gluten and never will. More people are being diagnosed with Celiac every year and realizing that they can feel better again by following the gluten-free diet. Trendy or not, the gluten-free community will continue to grow and encourage itself through support groups, bloggers, and GF-aware companies.

So, should Celiacs view the momentary “hotness” of gluten-free as a positive? A lot of non-Celiacs who’ve tried the gluten-free diet have said that they see a difference and feel better for it, so they’ll probably stick to it (and maybe the popularity of the gluten-free diet will even stick around), which is great. However, it’s likely that, for most of the fad-followers, the demands of gluten-free living will be too challenging, and they’ll drift on to the next butter-and-bananas diet. But, if we can do anything about it, they’ll leave in their wake a greater awareness of the gluten-free diet and, hopefully, some new products and menu options. They’ll have expanded the gluten-free market, which means the Celiac community will see the benefit of a wider selection, higher quality, and lower price of gluten-free specialty foods. It wouldn’t hurt to see a few new brands of GF beer, now, would it?

Are you happy that people are paying more attention to gluten-free, and do you think the increased awareness will stick around? Or do you feel more at risk because of the diet’s “fad” status?


38 thoughts on “Some Thoughts on the Recent Trendiness of the Gluten-Free Diet”

  1. I haven’t heard people doing the GF diet as a way to lose weight – I can’t imagine they would stick with it long enough to even try to see results. It’s a difficult diet to maintain, even if you’re just avoiding bread and pasta. What I will find interesting, if it’s ever talked about, is this: I started the GF diet because I’d heard over and over that avoiding gluten would help with managing symptoms of endometriosis, which I’ve had for about 25 years. The theory is that gluten causes inflammation and that can aggravate the disorder. I was tested for allergies and then with a biopsy for celiac disease and they were both normal/negative. I was still interested though to see if it would help with the endo symptoms so I really put my all into the diet. I noticed significant changes in the way I felt. I’d felt that way so long, I thought it was normal and then to see how much better I felt avoiding gluten, I was sure it was something I’d want to stick with. I’ve had a few mistakes as I’ve learned here and there about what to avoid and found that the more “bread and pasta” I avoided, the more smaller and more hidden gluten products bothered me. I’ve also caved to a few cravings thinking that since I didn’t have celiac, maybe the positive effects of the diet were in my head (wishful thinking) and lived to sorely regret the breadsticks, pasta, brownies and sandwich I had that week. I’m convinced that I have an intolerance of some sort and while I’m far from thrilled about the diet, its’ many complications and difficulties to adhering to it, including the cost, I feel so much better avoiding all forms of gluten.

    All that to say, I wonder how many people who do the GF diet as a fad, will return to gluten foods and find themselves surprised at how bad gluten foods make them feel due to an intolerance or maybe even an undiagnosed celiac disease. I’ve also read that many women’s bodies don’t handle gluten well after a certain age – something about having trouble breaking down the protein. So who knows, maybe the fad will turn into more than that for a lot more people than we think, in turn keeping the marketing and industries churning out products aimed at the GF market around much longer. Here’s hoping.

  2. I haven’t heard people doing the GF diet as a way to lose weight – I can’t imagine they would stick with it long enough to even try to see results. It’s a difficult diet to maintain, even if you’re just avoiding bread and pasta. What I will find interesting, if it’s ever talked about, is this: I started the GF diet because I’d heard over and over that avoiding gluten would help with managing symptoms of endometriosis, which I’ve had for about 25 years. The theory is that gluten causes inflammation and that can aggravate the disorder. I was tested for allergies and then with a biopsy for celiac disease and they were both normal/negative. I was still interested though to see if it would help with the endo symptoms so I really put my all into the diet. I noticed significant changes in the way I felt. I’d felt that way so long, I thought it was normal and then to see how much better I felt avoiding gluten, I was sure it was something I’d want to stick with. I’ve had a few mistakes as I’ve learned here and there about what to avoid and found that the more “bread and pasta” I avoided, the more smaller and more hidden gluten products bothered me. I’ve also caved to a few cravings thinking that since I didn’t have celiac, maybe the positive effects of the diet were in my head (wishful thinking) and lived to sorely regret the breadsticks, pasta, brownies and sandwich I had that week. I’m convinced that I have an intolerance of some sort and while I’m far from thrilled about the diet, its’ many complications and difficulties to adhering to it, including the cost, I feel so much better avoiding all forms of gluten.

    All that to say, I wonder how many people who do the GF diet as a fad, will return to gluten foods and find themselves surprised at how bad gluten foods make them feel due to an intolerance or maybe even an undiagnosed celiac disease. I’ve also read that many women’s bodies don’t handle gluten well after a certain age – something about having trouble breaking down the protein. So who knows, maybe the fad will turn into more than that for a lot more people than we think, in turn keeping the marketing and industries churning out products aimed at the GF market around much longer. Here’s hoping.

  3. Overall, this can only help. The more awareness, the more name recognition of gluten, gluten-sensitivity and celiac disease, the better. More borderline celiacs will come out of the woodwork, like we saw after the Adkins diet. As far as new products are concerned, they will come, and consumer choice will select out the best ones in the long run. There will always be gluten mishaps; when dining out, you simply take a risk.

  4. Overall, this can only help. The more awareness, the more name recognition of gluten, gluten-sensitivity and celiac disease, the better. More borderline celiacs will come out of the woodwork, like we saw after the Adkins diet. As far as new products are concerned, they will come, and consumer choice will select out the best ones in the long run. There will always be gluten mishaps; when dining out, you simply take a risk.

  5. I don’t think that what the GF community–or ANY community needs is more grain-based products. We don’t need more GF beers or chocolate muffins. We need more options for eating fresh fruits and vegetables out in public. That said, I think that any and all opportunities for more awareness is a good thing. Will a “trend” make a chef more careless? Hard to say. But it will certainly make more chefs aware.

  6. I don’t think that what the GF community–or ANY community needs is more grain-based products. We don’t need more GF beers or chocolate muffins. We need more options for eating fresh fruits and vegetables out in public. That said, I think that any and all opportunities for more awareness is a good thing. Will a “trend” make a chef more careless? Hard to say. But it will certainly make more chefs aware.

  7. I agree, many wonderful posts and we do need more fresh, organic fruit, veggies and less cupcakes. So earlier this year, I had a negative intestinal biopsy for Celiac. My doctor told me to feel free to eat wheat. He insisted it was not a problem for me, even though I told him how sick I felt when I ate it (stomach aches, weight loss, exhaustion, acid reflux, acne, etc..). Luckily, a friend informed me about the (ALCAT) blood test and it showed an Intolerance to Gluten. I do find it dishearting when the perception is that Celiac is the only serious disease associated with gluten problems. After reading a ton of material written by doctors on Celiac and Gluten Intolerance I have come to understand that Gluten Intolerance has serious long term ramifications when untreated just like Celiac (for some people it may even be a precusor to Celiac they aren’t obsolutely sure yet). Surprising to me, I have learned that Gluten is difficult for most people to digest! It is a wild grass that we only started cultivating and eating 10,000 years ago (a short time in evolution). If there is a gluten-free fad insuing, hopefully, it will ultimately heighten everyone’s awareness about how much gluten is hidden in our everyday foods and the serious diseases that can manifest in ourselves, our children and people we love as a result of it.

  8. I agree, many wonderful posts and we do need more fresh, organic fruit, veggies and less cupcakes. So earlier this year, I had a negative intestinal biopsy for Celiac. My doctor told me to feel free to eat wheat. He insisted it was not a problem for me, even though I told him how sick I felt when I ate it (stomach aches, weight loss, exhaustion, acid reflux, acne, etc..). Luckily, a friend informed me about the (ALCAT) blood test and it showed an Intolerance to Gluten. I do find it dishearting when the perception is that Celiac is the only serious disease associated with gluten problems. After reading a ton of material written by doctors on Celiac and Gluten Intolerance I have come to understand that Gluten Intolerance has serious long term ramifications when untreated just like Celiac (for some people it may even be a precusor to Celiac they aren’t obsolutely sure yet). Surprising to me, I have learned that Gluten is difficult for most people to digest! It is a wild grass that we only started cultivating and eating 10,000 years ago (a short time in evolution). If there is a gluten-free fad insuing, hopefully, it will ultimately heighten everyone’s awareness about how much gluten is hidden in our everyday foods and the serious diseases that can manifest in ourselves, our children and people we love as a result of it.

  9. I’ve been gluten free for a year now due to a wheat allergy. It is really hard to stick with this diet, but after getting “glutened” a few weeks ago and the agonizing pain I felt, I will never eat it again. I am confident that the GF sections in the stores will be growing in years to come. As our physicians get further educated, more and more people will be correctly diagnosed with celiac disease and allergies and the need for the food will increase….do not worry…this is not a trend!

  10. I’ve been gluten free for a year now due to a wheat allergy. It is really hard to stick with this diet, but after getting “glutened” a few weeks ago and the agonizing pain I felt, I will never eat it again. I am confident that the GF sections in the stores will be growing in years to come. As our physicians get further educated, more and more people will be correctly diagnosed with celiac disease and allergies and the need for the food will increase….do not worry…this is not a trend!

  11. I hope that this will bring more awareness to stores and restaurants.
    I would love to go to an Italian restaurant for once in south Florida and be able to order gluten free pasta and pizza. Not steak, not chicken, not just a salad, I can get those anywhare.

  12. I hope that this will bring more awareness to stores and restaurants.
    I would love to go to an Italian restaurant for once in south Florida and be able to order gluten free pasta and pizza. Not steak, not chicken, not just a salad, I can get those anywhare.

  13. Is there a danger that as a result of the publicity around this latest diet fad some will think gluten free means excluding just bread, pasta, pastries etc and not realize that gluten is hidden in so many other locations of our food and other products? I’d hate to go a restaurant that has a so-called GF menu and find out (too late) that they just thought they could leave the bun off the hamburger but not the bbq sauce with gluten, due to ignorance of what GF really means. Also, referring to the previous post. We DO need many more GF beers! That is the big, big thing for me. Not that I am an alcoholic, but the joys of tasting new beer or the social aspects of sharing a pitcher with friends after a bike ride, or simply being able to go to a pub with friends and have a drink is a major thing for many of us that like(d) beer. It is far more than just a drink. Not being able to drink beer is like being the first to get married – nobody calls you anymore to go out and socialize!

  14. Is there a danger that as a result of the publicity around this latest diet fad some will think gluten free means excluding just bread, pasta, pastries etc and not realize that gluten is hidden in so many other locations of our food and other products? I’d hate to go a restaurant that has a so-called GF menu and find out (too late) that they just thought they could leave the bun off the hamburger but not the bbq sauce with gluten, due to ignorance of what GF really means. Also, referring to the previous post. We DO need many more GF beers! That is the big, big thing for me. Not that I am an alcoholic, but the joys of tasting new beer or the social aspects of sharing a pitcher with friends after a bike ride, or simply being able to go to a pub with friends and have a drink is a major thing for many of us that like(d) beer. It is far more than just a drink. Not being able to drink beer is like being the first to get married – nobody calls you anymore to go out and socialize!

  15. I just hope that the new products are carefully made and the makers have researched ingredients and that they will truly be safe. Remember that guy in NC that was selling “gluten free” bread when it really wasn’t? I hope people don’t think to do the same and slap a gluten free label on something that’s 100% gluten free just to make a buck.

  16. I just hope that the new products are carefully made and the makers have researched ingredients and that they will truly be safe. Remember that guy in NC that was selling “gluten free” bread when it really wasn’t? I hope people don’t think to do the same and slap a gluten free label on something that’s 100% gluten free just to make a buck.

  17. Maybe what we need to do is make sure that the message gets out in the media that for a lot of people this is not a fad. Use this as a teachable moment!

  18. Maybe what we need to do is make sure that the message gets out in the media that for a lot of people this is not a fad. Use this as a teachable moment!

  19. For the most part I think this awareness will be good. While I don’t have celiac disease, my 2-year old daughter does and when I hear snide comments about any food allergy it gets to me because I know she has no choice. We’ve been living gluten free for less than a year and we’ve already run into a restaurant that just wanted to capitalize on the perceived trend. We went to a restaurant on Cape Cod that claimed to have a gluten free menu including fish and chips. My husband noticed they were beer battered and when I asked if there was a dedicated fryer they said no and insisted that my daughter was just very sensitive. They had no clue and no interest in understanding cross-contamination issues. Needless to say we walked out and we learned that the earnest restaurant without a GF menu is sometimes safer than the one with a GF menu.

  20. For the most part I think this awareness will be good. While I don’t have celiac disease, my 2-year old daughter does and when I hear snide comments about any food allergy it gets to me because I know she has no choice. We’ve been living gluten free for less than a year and we’ve already run into a restaurant that just wanted to capitalize on the perceived trend. We went to a restaurant on Cape Cod that claimed to have a gluten free menu including fish and chips. My husband noticed they were beer battered and when I asked if there was a dedicated fryer they said no and insisted that my daughter was just very sensitive. They had no clue and no interest in understanding cross-contamination issues. Needless to say we walked out and we learned that the earnest restaurant without a GF menu is sometimes safer than the one with a GF menu.

  21. I have become the “Cranky” Celiac. Would all of you who are diagnosed with Celiac please start paying attention to the details. Many of you do not follow the diet 100% of the time and that makes life for those of us who do, miserable! We cannot continue to guide and teach about cross contamination in a restaurant when every Celiac does not ask about cross contact/cross contamination. We went to a Mexican restaurant in Bar Harbor – Many favorable reviews on the web – is gf. They have a gf menu but no one ever asked them about cross contamination in the fryer. They put the chips and taco shells in this fryer with other gluten containing items, yet, they continue to say their tacos are gf. Wrong. So wrong!

  22. I have become the “Cranky” Celiac. Would all of you who are diagnosed with Celiac please start paying attention to the details. Many of you do not follow the diet 100% of the time and that makes life for those of us who do, miserable! We cannot continue to guide and teach about cross contamination in a restaurant when every Celiac does not ask about cross contact/cross contamination. We went to a Mexican restaurant in Bar Harbor – Many favorable reviews on the web – is gf. They have a gf menu but no one ever asked them about cross contamination in the fryer. They put the chips and taco shells in this fryer with other gluten containing items, yet, they continue to say their tacos are gf. Wrong. So wrong!

  23. Having more people aware of gluten free is a long way from no one knowing about it, and while it allows for more options, yes we will have to be careful. But at least the options are increasing. I do know many people that feel the benefits of gluten free that have not been officially diagnosed with celiac. If they have choices they will purchase them right along with those of us that have no choice. And as more people demand them, the choices will improve. I have experienced ignorance in a restaurant with wait staff assuming I was just avoiding carbs or that it was a simple solution of just removing the bread. I make my needs clear. If they do not respond I leave and do not return and everyone I know hears about it.

  24. Having more people aware of gluten free is a long way from no one knowing about it, and while it allows for more options, yes we will have to be careful. But at least the options are increasing. I do know many people that feel the benefits of gluten free that have not been officially diagnosed with celiac. If they have choices they will purchase them right along with those of us that have no choice. And as more people demand them, the choices will improve. I have experienced ignorance in a restaurant with wait staff assuming I was just avoiding carbs or that it was a simple solution of just removing the bread. I make my needs clear. If they do not respond I leave and do not return and everyone I know hears about it.

  25. The thing I’d like to see happen is this: how many celiacs do you know who diagnosed themselves because the medical community was so clueless? My daughter is one of those. I diagnosed her. She had every single symptom of a classic celiac child, yet no doctor I took her to, could figure out what was going on.

    If it takes a fad to wake up the medical community, so be it. Think of all the people out there who are suffering needlessly. Maybe trying a new fad will help them self-diagnose. Maybe all the talk in the media will point medical educational facilities in the right direction. It’s a shame when doctors graduate from college with a shiny degree in hand, and yet they can’t diagnose a child with classic symptoms of celiac disease.

  26. The thing I’d like to see happen is this: how many celiacs do you know who diagnosed themselves because the medical community was so clueless? My daughter is one of those. I diagnosed her. She had every single symptom of a classic celiac child, yet no doctor I took her to, could figure out what was going on.

    If it takes a fad to wake up the medical community, so be it. Think of all the people out there who are suffering needlessly. Maybe trying a new fad will help them self-diagnose. Maybe all the talk in the media will point medical educational facilities in the right direction. It’s a shame when doctors graduate from college with a shiny degree in hand, and yet they can’t diagnose a child with classic symptoms of celiac disease.

  27. I couldn’t agree more with the points made in this post. I wrote similar thoughts in one of my blog posts and, upon searching for other thoughts on this topic, came across this post and referenced it within my blog, glutenfreerd.wordpress.com.

  28. I couldn’t agree more with the points made in this post. I wrote similar thoughts in one of my blog posts and, upon searching for other thoughts on this topic, came across this post and referenced it within my blog, glutenfreerd.wordpress.com.

  29. I agree… if this fad is what it takes to make doctors aware that celiac disease exists then so be it… ive had graves disease (an autoimmune thyroid disorder) for four years now and it never occured to any of my doctors that the stomach problems, weightloss and extreme fatigue was anything other than my graves disease. it was my mother who found an article linking graves disease and celiac disease… turns out something like 10% of peolple with graves disease are also diagnosed with celiac disease. i had to bring this to my doctors attention and initiated a gluten free diet on my own and for the first time in a long time im feeling “normal”. if its just a fad diet for some i wish them luck, for those of us who have no choice, you have to take life as it comes but what ever we can do to get the word out that this condition exists is a huge step in the right direction… heres hoping that all this media attention will help make our doctors more aware of these conditions so people dont have to suffer undiagnosed like i did for so long!

  30. I agree… if this fad is what it takes to make doctors aware that celiac disease exists then so be it… ive had graves disease (an autoimmune thyroid disorder) for four years now and it never occured to any of my doctors that the stomach problems, weightloss and extreme fatigue was anything other than my graves disease. it was my mother who found an article linking graves disease and celiac disease… turns out something like 10% of peolple with graves disease are also diagnosed with celiac disease. i had to bring this to my doctors attention and initiated a gluten free diet on my own and for the first time in a long time im feeling “normal”. if its just a fad diet for some i wish them luck, for those of us who have no choice, you have to take life as it comes but what ever we can do to get the word out that this condition exists is a huge step in the right direction… heres hoping that all this media attention will help make our doctors more aware of these conditions so people dont have to suffer undiagnosed like i did for so long!

  31. Excellent column! I like the fact that more awareness is being made and hopefully there will be more options, but like you said, it worries me some that the wait staff at restaurants and other places won’t take it as seriously. We still feel like we have to stress at most places that croutons can’t have ever touched our salad, people preparing the salad can’t have touched croutons before preparing our salad, etc. and I don’t think that will change.

  32. Excellent column! I like the fact that more awareness is being made and hopefully there will be more options, but like you said, it worries me some that the wait staff at restaurants and other places won’t take it as seriously. We still feel like we have to stress at most places that croutons can’t have ever touched our salad, people preparing the salad can’t have touched croutons before preparing our salad, etc. and I don’t think that will change.

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