Gluten-free holds its ground

by Charlotte Atchley
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Despite persistent reports that the gluten-free “fad” will run its course, the popularity of gluten-free products still outpaces the number of people in the US diagnosed with celiac disease — one in 133, according to the Celiac Disease Foundation. In fact, going gluten-free for weight loss doesn’t appear to be dissipating anytime soon, which irritates some in the grain-based foods industry.

“We’re working to get the message out that only people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity need to go gluten-free,” said Judi Adams, president, Grain Foods Foundation (GFF), on the foundation’s efforts to clear up misconceptions about the diet. “It’s not a fad diet or a weight-loss program. The fad diet aspect really diminishes it for the people who really do need it for a medical reason.”

Ms. Adams and other experts attribute an increased awareness of celiac disease and celebrities attributing weight loss to the diet as the culprits responsible for the diet’s staying power as a trend. Anecdotal evidence from friends and family members who have experimented with gluten-free diets also plays a powerful part in influencing consumers to hop on the bandwagon.

“People are either recognizing their own symptoms and trying to improve their diets with these foods, or there’s the medical side as doctors are recognizing celiac disease more,” said Steve Feinberg, owner, Mid America Food Sales, Ltd., Northbrook, IL.

Ms. Adams predicted that maybe once people without celiac disease realize how expensive and difficult it is to maintain a gluten-free diet, the movement will drop off. Until then, she said, GFF and other organizations will continue to raise awareness that gluten-free diets are for people with medical conditions not weight loss.

Cynthia Harriman, president, Whole Grains Council, said her organization is trying to help people differentiate that gluten-free doesn’t mean grain-free.

“It’s really important to point out that there are lots of grains that don’t have gluten, and there are only three grains they must avoid,” she said. People on a gluten-free diet only need to keep away from wheat, rye and barley.
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