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Is the gluten-free diet a fad or here to stay?

Posted on May 13th, 2010 by Alison Read 14 Comments - Add Your Own »

I can’t believe it has been three years since I posted an article called Is gluten-free a fad? Since then, more and more people have started eating gluten-free and it seems that the gluten-free world has just exploded wide open (finally!) And, just like three years ago, the gluten-free diet has been termed a fad diet in news articles, on blogs and in comments like this one posted on my site just a few days ago:

Of course this is a fad! …  If wheat or barley were unhealthy to the general population, I’m fairly certain we would’ve come to that conclusion over the last 6,000 years of cultivation. I guess we should all “make the choice” to not eat other things, like fruit (MANY food allergies related to fruit proteins) or any type of nut (nut allergies are much more common than celiac) or breathe the air which contains pollen (by far most common allergy) Come on people, think about this before you write ridiculous things, or decide not to eat an important group of foods. There is no doubt in my mind of “fad” status. Just like anti-sugar, pro-agave, or anti-gelatin, pro-pectin, whatever it may be. Most people ARE NOT SMART ENOUGH to think about these things, and come to their own sound conclusions, so PLEASE stop spreading the inane “hype” which only inflames the ignorance. IF YOU ARE DETERMINED TO BE GLUTEN INTOLERANT, DON’T EAT GLUTEN. IF NOT, FEEL FREE. Simple as that. Apply this to other food-allergy-related questions as necessary.

My response:

The fact is that we are eating more gluten than ever before. And more dairy. And more soy, etc. Even sesame allergies are increasing… why? Because people are consuming more and more sesame. Same goes for sugar consumption. So there is the reality that our environment (what we eat) is changing and our bodies cannot cope with the change.

Unless your statistics are different than mine, there are about the same number of people with nut allergies as there are with celiac. This doesn’t include the many more who are non-celiac gluten intolerant. Food allergies are also much different than gluten intolerance or celiac disease — with food allergies, you generally know right away that you are reacting to it. With intolerance or even celiac disease, the symptoms can be more subtle and can develop over time. There is no reason to avoid a food if you are not allergic or intolerant to it. But if you are, then you should.

It doesn’t take determination to be gluten intolerant, but it does take determination to get diagnosed, to recognize that gluten and other foods really are responsible for people’s ill health and to stay on the diet. I personally write about being gluten-free and hope to educate others so they don’t have to be sick like I was. It’s frustrating and depressing to think about relatives whose lives could have been longer and healthier if only we had known about the problems that gluten can cause.

I wonder why you are so anti-gluten-free?

I believe the logic that is being used to call the gluten-free diet a fad is as follows:
1% of the population has celiac disease (every article and doctor quotes the celiac statistic as this). Of this 1%, only 3% are diagnosed (another statistic often quoted). So clearly, more than just diagnosed celiacs are buying and eating gluten-free food. Therefore, the people buying gluten-free foods who are not celiacs don’t really need to be eating it and are doing it because it is popular or to lose weight.

Here is the key point that is missing from this logic and continues to be my frustration… there exist more people with gluten sensitivity than people with celiac disease! It is a real condition, just like celiac disease. Just because there are no official statistics does not mean that it doesn’t exist. And this will change in the next few years, I’m sure. (For more of my opinions on this, read Think Outside the Celiac Box.) People buy gluten-free food because it makes them feel better. Couldn’t this mean that they are gluten intolerant? That is my simple logic. Also, the definition of a fad is something that is embraced very enthusiastically for a short time. This gluten-free thing is not going away!

What do you think? Fad or here to stay? How would you respond to the commenter who seems to think that gluten-free people are pushing their agenda on others?

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  1. I think an important point about gluten intolerance is that it is, based on my understanding, a predecessor to Celiac. Gluten intolerance is someone recognizing that their body is reacting badly to the intake of gluten. If left untreated, gluten intolerance can lead to celiac. You don’t just wake up with Celiac, it is the result of your body reacting against the gluten protein over time. For some people that may be months, for others years, and for some they never may have the gold standard dx for the disease.

  2. You’re doing such a great job educating people! I’m gluten intolerant and it’s really hard getting respect from people, especially Doctors or ignorant people who think they know better [ie, your commenter]. I’ve had so many stupid and annoying comments from people, for example when someone offered me a gluten filled lolly. I declined, stating my reason and he just replied “oh, I’ve taken all the gluten out of this one”. Thankfully I was able to restrain myself and explained that I would be really sick for 3 weeks if I ate it.
    Professionals don’t know enough about how or why we are allergic to things or get auto-immune disorders. I’ve been tested for coeliacs, however I don’t think the tests are good enough to actually definitely say that you’re not coeliac. Medicine hasn’t come that far yet, so we’ve just got to wait and eat as well as we can.

  3. Here to stay!

    Seven years ago I thought I was dying. I used Enterolab for “proof” that I needed to be gluten free. I eliminated gluten and the change in my health was like a miracle. Going GF gave me back my life and I feel better than I can ever remember. I have no desire ever to eat gluten grains again.

    I have heard similar stories from so many other people. Some were diagnosed with CD, but many were told they did not have CD. All improved with a GF lifestyle.

  4. This whole exchange may be a moot point, since the medical literature now includes a recently published study on biopsy-positive and biopsy-negative celiacs with positive blood tests. They ALL got better on a gf diet, which pretty much vindicates the existence of a medical condition with negative biopsy and positive blood work (“gluten intolerance” or celiac disease?–the terminology isn’t resolved yet). It looks like maybe nearly ALL people with positive antibodies are really celiacs, even if they have negative biopsies. More than 1% of the general population, for sure!

  5. Wow. And I thought I was the only one dealing with “facial judgement” and people who think GF is to loose weight.
    My 7yr old son, NK, got diagnosed with ASD, DD, so on. His school is even questioning on him being misdiagnosed from the specialist they referred to!
    When I did non-stop research, they all lead to 2 choices. Meds or GF lifestyle. Shortly after, NK recently got diagnosed with DH. From 2 yrs old, he has been on every antibiotic meds, steriod meds (oral and topical) to be treated for ezcema. With continued research and dermatologist’s options, I’ve chosen the biomedical route. GF.

    Like always, new information equals skeptics. We GF folks just need to support eachother more and stay stronger more.

  6. When I was diagnosed with gluten intolerance, we thought the absence of gluten would improve my health. Unfortunately, it was the beginning of a “cascade” of auto-immune disorders. Since my dx in 2006, I’ve learned I also have fibromyalgia, MS, arthritis, etc.

    Going GF is the only thing under my direct control as there is no cure for the others. Unfortunately, this genetic monster affects my teenagers also. One would think it would be hard to get them compliant, but after seeing my struggles with an out of control immune system, they understand the fragility of their own health.

    Hopefully, we can divert any future problems for them just by choosing GF. Let’s hope that help is on the way in research as these disorders seem to be growing for all.

  7. I think you may have an error in your post. I’m new to the gluten-free area, but I was under the impression that only 3% of celiacs were diagnosed (not 97% as you state).

    Please let me know if I am wrong.

  8. Kevin,
    You are totally right — I accidentally reversed it! Thanks so much – I edited it to be correct.

  9. Here to stay!
    I’m a diagnosed celiac, but I happen to know several people who are have gluten allergies. I believe that there is something that is triggering more and more cases of gluten sensitivity and auto-immune diseases. If the numbers continue to rise, it can’t be a fad, because too many people will need to be GF.

  10. I so agree with your response!!! It took 25 YEARS!!!! for them to realize I was intolerant to Gluten! My mother was “allergic to wheat” as a child but she thought she had “grown out of it” which was it turns out an under diagnosis! She was not allergic to wheat but really gluten instead! She has so many horrific side effects from eating it, it is crazy! I get Fybromiyalgia symptoms, extreme paranoia, Anxiety, and memory loss. That is just to name the big things! For the first 23 years of my life it kept me super skinny and then it gunked up my system so bad that I started gaining extreme weights when I had NEVER weighed a lot before…it makes my heart murmur as well! I almost forgot that part…so I am not DETERMINED to be Gluten Intolerant! I would love to be able to eat anything I wanted without fear of am I going to be stuck in bed for a week or more! (It turns my stomach into horrific gut wrenching knots within 20 minutes has me running to the restroom by the end of day 1 and attacks my muscles within 72 hours of contamination the muscle spasms do not subside for 3-5 days.) So if eating gluten keeps me from being as sick as my mom is then YES I guess I am determined to be GF because I refuse to stay ignorant!

  11. I should add that I have lost over 60 lbs from switching and that is without watching my calorie intake. If it were about losing weight I would still have to count calories GF or not!

  12. and do not even get me started on what it has done for my son with undiagnosed disabilities!

  13. Amelia,
    You said it! Thanks for the comment!

  14. I have read some AMAZING books on non celiac gluten intolerance. I hope we get a new word for this soon because it is quite a mouthful! I think the reason that almost every last person (I believe that is correct) is actually gluten intolerant is that we do not digest the gluten protein. It is too complex for our digestive systems. If I may relate the books on this thread, The Gluten Connection, Healthier Without Wheat, Living Gluten Free for Dummies, and Dangerous Grains. If those books won’t convince people I don’t know what will. I love the GF life. Never felt better. Went off gluten for a month! Went back on to get tested. In the one month, I forgot how tired and achy I was before. I’m only 30. I’m doing it for my kids who are gluten intolerant (non celiac so far). Few people believe me that they are and feed them gluten filled foods. I will have them retested when I get tested. Else, hopefully my tests will be convincing….I dunno. I hope I have celiac disease for their sake.

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