Are Americans Being Duped by a Gluten-Free Label?

A recent study found that 30% of American adults are tempted to try alabel-gluten-free_300 gluten-free diet – the highest percentage since the consumer research firm, NDP Group, began following the trend in 2009. All healthy eating “habits” seem to go through cycles. From low-fat diets, to avoiding carbohydrates on Atkins, over 100 years of dieting has certainly seen the ebb and flow of what is deemed “healthful” eating. Interestingly enough, the health fad of today seems to be the gluten-free diet.

But, as I’ve mentioned on this blog before, is this trend in “losing weight” on a GF diet really about cutting out the gluten, or is it more about dumping the processed foods that are so often saturated or cross-contaminated with the dreaded protein?

It is no secret to Celiacs that going gluten-free is often about more than just swapping out wheat bread for gluten-free bread. Though it’s great there are some viable gluten-free products out there (especially when kids have to go without the flour), the reason many people are able to heal their gut is due to carefully monitoring their food intake and refocusing their diet around fruits, vegetables, and gluten-free whole grains.

Therefore, my question remains, is the gluten-free trend (among eaters who do not have Celiacs or an intolerance) driven by a desire to eat more healthfully, or is it fueled by strategic advertising of products that saw a demand resource that had previously been largely untapped? Market research found this year that the gluten-free food market is a $4.2 billion industry, further pushing the gluten-free label onto restaurant menus around the U.S. The words “Gluten-Free” seem to trigger a mistaken equation with “healthy” and “diet.”

Sadly for many Americans, they are succumbing to the snake oil sale of Gluten-free products. The processed food is oftentimes no better for you than gluten-filled processed foods. Fortunately for the Celiacs and gluten-intolerant who actually need gluten-free products, the proliferation of these products only serve to give more variety to our diets, no matter if the trend is driven by a fad in perceived health or not.

Now onto getting some more regulation about gluten-free labeling and the risk of cross-contamination and lowering those prices…

13 thoughts on “Are Americans Being Duped by a Gluten-Free Label?”

  1. The Adkins diet precipitated a large crop of gluten sensitive people, who after abstaining from gluten for a prolonged period, upon returning to a glutenous diet discovered it made them ill. I expect this ‘fad’ will have the same results.

  2. My concern about the fad is that it may result in those of us with this illness not getting the service we require at a restaurant. I was at one restaurant where the server asked if I was very sensative or could, as many of his customers, have a small amount of wheat. Luckily he asked others may not. Yes, the market is larger and there are more products in more places–but it comes at a cost to those of us with the illness.

  3. I’ve read a number of articles which refer to GF dieting as a diet trend, with the assumption based on the actual number of diagnosed Celiacs purchasing GF food vs the remaining number of people (considered non-Celiacs) who purchase GF food. The issue seems to be that it is so difficult for some people to get diagnosed as having Celiacs that it is just easier to adopt the GF diet and never look back. So, it would not be a trend for the people who can’t get diagnosed. They just have no choice but to eat GF. I personally haven’t been officially diagnosed but I cannot have even the slightest bit of cross contamination without severe consequences. It’s not worth the hassle of eating wheat products just for a doctor to test me and tell me they make me sick.

    If the GF diet is truly a “trend” then I suppose it’s beneficial to those of us who have no choice. We have seen a great increase in availbility and new products over a short period of time. I don’t, however, think it’s a trend for most people. I think it speaks volumes about the amount of people who can’t get diagnosed easily and the lack of better testing available.

  4. I do think GF dieting is a popular trend, as I know several people who eat GF because “it makes them feel better” but forget all about their diet when the pizza is served. As a diagnosed celiac, I have to say the recent proliferation of GF products has brought more variation to my diet and helps my friends deal with my dietary needs when they decide to feed me!

  5. I own a store that has a gluten-free department and an in store gluten free bakery. I would estimate that about 1/3 of our gluten free purchasers are not celiac. Many are trying to avoid wheat, often because of arthritis and other health issues. Others, as the article says, have just heard it is a healthy diet and want to try it. I have many who do not have celiac symptoms and have not been diagnosed who say they feel much better eating gluten free.

  6. Yes, the celebs are jumping on the bandwagon, but what about non-celiacs such as myself who have being healed or greatly helped with rheumatoid arthritis (there’s even been a scientific study published as to WHY GF helps them), eczema, fibromyalgia, etc.? Some of those people may be able to have the occasional gluten-filled meal (I mean, I could, I’d just feel lousy the next day or so – but I wouldn’t be as sick as a celiac). There’s no medical “test” to tell us we need gluten-free. Undoubtedly some of those 30% who are “considering” it have heard first-hand from someone about ADHD or autism being helped.

  7. I love going into restaurants and not having to explain what gluten free means. I do worry however when gluten-free becomes less of a fad that foods will disappear and restaurants will care less about GF. I also worry about the people I know who are going gluten free and gaining weight because they’re eating GF doughnuts even though they rarely ate a doughnut before. Until the trend dies back, however, I’m loving having people thinking this is cool instead of bothersome!

  8. I started a gluten free diet about a year ago and I have lost 82 lbs. My thinking is clear, my skin is clear, my energy is up – even before I lost a substantial amount of weight. Before this significant change, I attempted diets that includes prepackaged “healthy” and “diet” foods without any kind of sustained success.
    I learned a lot from my daughter who discovered she has celiac disease. She discovered that those with hypothyroidism (which I do) have difficulty metabolizing gluten as well as soy. After eliminating gluten and other products like “hydrolyzed” and “modified” I did eat a GF pizza made on the same board as a regular pizza & I experienced headache, bloating, lots of problems.
    We as a country need to evaluate what we accept in our foods. The changes of our grains and meats with gmo and other processing additives have contributed to fat children and a dangerous increase in diabetes mellitus and high blood pressure in young adults.
    If this new trend helps people read labels and increase their awareness to the additives companies use that create allergies and add unnecessary sugars or fats then I am all in. I promote it at work and have others in my office that have results of lower cholesterol and lowered blood pressure. We are awesome.

  9. My gut doctor was absolutely convinced I had celiac disease, but after testing, determined I didn’t. So he thinks, now, that I have “non-celiac gluten sensitivity”. So I am newly searching for real gluten-free foods, It is not easy, but as long as I stick with whole foods, I do OK. Prepared GF foods are expensive and I am on a strict low income. Life is HARD!

  10. And, once the fad ends? Will the proliferation of GF products diminish since there will not be the demand? I hope these new products will last for those of us who can’t move on to the next fad.

  11. It is definitely a combination of both. For those of us with celiac disease it gives us lots more choice than just a few years ago and makes shopping and restaurants much easier.

    I just hope that for those who don’t have the blood test and endoscopy to confirm celiac disease that they are being monitored closely by a doctor for all of the other related things that we need to be checked for, i.e. bone density for osteoporosis, regular blood work to check absorption levels of vitamins and minerals, etc., colonoscopies since we have greater risk for certain cancers, endoscopies to monitor our small intestine, and the small bowel series.

    It’s really not that hard to get tested for celiac disease. If you have the blood test for the gene and it’s negative then you don’t have celiac disease. If you do have the gene, then you have an endoscopy to confirm if you have celiac. If your doctor won’t do these tests, then find a new doctor.

  12. The terms need to be changed from GF diet to GF Living. When you make a choice to remove gluten from your diet, you are making a lifestyle choice to live without Gluten. Gluten Free Living promotes a healthier lifestyle without the like to “diet”.

    I have been off gluten for about a year and it has made a major difference in my life centered around cardiovasular exercise. My allergies are more under control, especially in my T zone. and my digestion is better.

  13. The problem I have as a celiac patient is that foods are being labeled gluten free that don’t give information about how they are processed. Cross contamination in restuarants and in prossing can be a huge risk. I stick to places where staff is trained on handling and products that are certified gluten free to 20 ppm. Trace amounts may not ‘make you sick’ but can still cause damage.

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