Gluten-Free Market Growing Faster Than Gluten Sensitivity

It’s estimated that around 1% of the U.S. population suffer from celiac disease. More suffer from gluten intolerance or have other health conditions which benefit sticking to a gluten-free diet. Still, gluten sensitivity, including celiac disease and other causes, is estimated to affect less than 2% of the U.S. population. So why is the market for gluten-free foods growing as fast as it is?

An interesting article from Gastroenterology and Endoscopy News reports that the annual market for gluten-free foods in the United states was more than $4 billion. That’s a whole lot of gluten-free food if only 2% of the population are thought to be affected by the protein.

This huge increase in the availability of gluten-free foods has increased awareness of gluten sensitivity, but investigators from Columbia University, who presented their findings at last year’s annual meeting of the American College of Gastroenterology were unable to find a corresponding increase in the prevalence of problems with digesting gluten.

Whilst diagnosis of celiac disease is increasing slightly, the National health and Nutrition Examination Survey (2009-10) found that most of the people who were following a gluten-free diet did not have a celiac diagnosis.

We know that gluten-free foods seem to appeal to many people who don’t need to be eating gluten-free but what are the reasons for this? Is non-celiac gluten sensitivity being drastically underestimated? Perhaps those are eating gluten-free to help with other conditions such as thyroid problems? Or is is simply fad-dieting?

I would love to see more research on this topic! What are your thoughts? Why do you eat gluten-free? Why do you think the market for gluten-free foods has grown so drastically over the last few years?

12 thoughts on “Gluten-Free Market Growing Faster Than Gluten Sensitivity”

  1. This article notes that “gluten-free foods in the United states was more than $4 billion of the annual market.” This figure may over-estimate the number of persons consuming these food items. The reason: If you consider the largely inflated per item consumer costs for most gluten-free foods, the number of people actually eating gluten-free food, is lower than one my assume from this high annual market figure alone. Additionally, profitability of gluten-free foods is likely significantly higher than comparative non gluten-free food items at current pricing figures.

  2. I am a dietitian who treats many celiacs and I was diagnosed with celiac almost 2 decades ago, along with one of my two children. I think the biggest reason for the increase that never seems to be mentioned is the amount of family members that eat GF for convenience. Even though people think of it as expensive, it is less costly and more readily available than it was 5, 10, 15 or more years ago. My entire family eats GF while in the home, even though only 2 members have celiac. We don’t have to worry about cross contamination or cooking two dishes and washing two pots. Many of my patients tell me this, especially parents of celiac children.

  3. My daughter was diagnosed with Celiac disease about 4 years ago. She could not find any baked goods that tasted good so she developed her own gf products which are now sold all over under the name XO Baking Co.

  4. I eat gluten free but do not have Celiac Disease. My daughter has it and I have tested negative for it but clearly have a gluten intolerance or sensitivity of some sort … if I eat wheat/gluten I am in the bathroom the whole day. My doctor agrees, but how would this be reported. When they come up with the numbers where do they get them from?

  5. I have a terrible wheat sensitivity (not Celiac disease) and cannot eat anything that contains gluten or within minutes my lungs start filling up with sticky mucus and it makes me cough/choke to the point of vomiting. I have a lot of friends that were not officially ‘diagnosed’ with a wheat or gluten allergy like I was, but say that they notice a huge difference in the way they feel when they don’t eat it (bloating, fatigue, etc.), so maybe a lot of people that are consuming these products do so because they have ‘self-diagnosed’ a sensitivity and see the difference and have not officially been ‘reported’ for wheat sensitive/Celiac statistics–even children with autism often do better with a gluten/dairy free diet (they sometimes don’t process the proteins the same way but won’t necessarily come up on a test with a ‘gluten intolerance’)……I wonder if the entire population were actually tested if the stats would be higher than 1%……?????

  6. I agree with Gloria. We all eat gluten free in our house, even though only half of the house has celiac. It is easier for all of us and it makes the people who have the special diet needs feel normal in their own home. If those of us that don’t need to eat gf really want something different, we can go out and get it.

  7. I think alot of people are self diagnosing, the medical tests are so worthless I really am not surprised that people are doing this. I was tested…bloods, endoscopy….all negative, my gastro doctor told me he could test a thousand people and only 10 would test positive. I had a genetic test and have the gene. My son had bloods, endoscopy, genetic test, all negative for celiac….yet he had lots of celiac symptoms. I hate that doctors make a distinction between “gluten intolerance” and “celiac disease” when clearly they have the same symptoms….there are varying degrees of everything. I believe doctors are doing their patients a disservice by diagnosing gluten intolerance….especially in europe where someone diagnosed with Celiac disease can claim gluten free food on prescription….a prescription has a set charge, no matter what the drugs or food are.

  8. Why is everyone still using the 1948 study number? When I was at the International meeting in Seattle several years ago, they’d blasted that number out of the water. It’s not “1 in 133” anymore and hasn’t been since the wheat ‘fix’ in the 60s-70s.

    I also had gone on a cleansing diet and refuse, now that I know gluten was part of my problem, to eat it again just so some doctor can say, “well, then don’t eat it”. Some of us are smart 😉

  9. I agree with Kim and Gloria. I have a gluten intolerance and my daughter has celiac. My husband is unaffected but eats tons of gluten free food in support of us and for convenience. He eats gluten outside the home. My PR firm represents gluten free products and my staff eats gluten free because they feel better and have less inflammation. Lots of people in Los Angeles avoid gluten to lose weight but do not substitute gf products, they just eat protein and produce

  10. Who said the study number is from 1948, Meran? I recommend you check your source.

    Shortly after I was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2004, I attended a talk by Dr. Alessio Fasano, who was then in charge of celiac research at the Univ. of Maryland and now is director of the Center for Celiac Research & Treatment at MassGeneral Hospital for Children.

    Dr. Fasano described a meeting he had at the National Institutes of Health in the early 1990s, soon after he had arrived here from Italy (where celiac disease was already known to be common). NIH told him only 1 in 10,000 Americans had celiac disease. When he disputed that, they challenged him to prove otherwise with clinical trials. He did, and published the results (1 in 133) in 2003. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention then published an alert to put physicians on the lookout for CD.

    THAT is where the number came from and THAT is why diagnoses of celiac disease have grown and THAT is why gluten-free food has become much more common. In the process, it has become a lot more appealing, even since my relatively late 2004 diagnosis.

    As for 1948, that seems to be an extremely unlikely date for a study that found celiac disease in 1 in 133 people. A couple of years ago, a study was published using blood samples from U.S. Army soldiers stored since the early 1950s, when the purpose of the samples was to determine what effects the soldiers might have suffered from exposure to atmospheric tests of nuclear weapons. The analysis of the blood from that era revealed that celiac disease markers in blood today are five times higher than they were in the blood from the ’50s.

    1948? I don’t think so.

  11. According to a statistic that spending on gluten-free products will reach $5.5BN by 2014 in the United States. Assuming a population of 3M Celiacs suffering from food sensitivities associated with gluten, that works out to more than $1,800 per person per year. That’s over $5 / day for every Celiac in the US. That’s big….

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