Too many people are eating gluten-free diets.
I’m not talking about people who are genuinely affected by celiac disease or who suffer from gluten sensitivity. They obviously have to eat gluten-free.
For over a decade, however, going gluten-free has become a fad to signal the virtue of self-care.
According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, celiac disease diagnoses have increased an average of 7.5 percent over the past few decades. But even this remains minuscule. A study in Minnesota found that from 2000 to 2010, those with celiac disease increased from 11 for every 100,000 to 17 for every 100,000.
Genetics can cause celiac disease but so can environmental factors. I have a family member who developed it from the stress she experienced in college.
But the explosion in gluten-free food doesn’t account for the small growth in gluten-related illnesses.
From 2004 to 2011, gluten-free products increased at an annual rate of 28 percent.
In 2013, in its ‘Healthy Eating Consumer Report’, Technomic found that, in 2010, gluten-free items on limited-service restaurant menus were virtually non-existent. By 2012, there were hundreds. In fact, by the early 2010s, many restaurants were treating gluten-free as a healthy food choice rather than a way to attract celiac customers.
Soon, the public became bombarded with gluten-free Girl Scout cookies, Vodka, and even Trader Joe’s satirical “Gluten-Free Greeting Cards.”
Figuring out which came first, the supply or the demand, requires further research. What’s certain, though, is that they overlapped. The percentage of households purchasing gluten-free products increased from 5 to 11 percent from 2010 to 2013.
Virginia Morris, vice president for consumer strategy and insights at Daymon Worldwide, a private brand and consumer interactions company, told the New York Times, “There are truly people out there who need gluten-free foods for health reasons, but they are not the majority of consumers who are driving this market.”
Indeed, less than one percent of the population suffers from celiac disease. Only six percent suffers from mild gluten-related symptoms. This made the five percent of gluten-free consumption in 2010 in line with the percentage of people who actually needed it.