The Gluten-Free Frenzy

by Sandy Todd Webster on Apr 27, 2013

Food for Thought

Chances are that you, one of your friends or a client has adopted a gluten-free diet. In fact, that is reality—according to a recent poll by The NPD Group, a leading global information company, that showed about 30% of adults want to cut down or be free of gluten in their diets. This is the highest percentage claiming this stance since NPD began asking the question in 2009. Harry Balzer, chief industry analyst and author of Eating Patterns in America, points out that as recently as 2011, it appeared that this “health” trend might have run its course, but then more Americans started to say they would like to cut back or avoid gluten.

Are Americans just bandwagoning on this trend, or are there legitimate reasons to follow it?

Natalie Digate Muth, MD, MPH, RD, is a pediatrician at Pediatric Medical Associates in Vista, California, a registered dietitian, and a senior health strategist for the American Council on Exercise. She thinks that while there are valid reasons to cut gluten, a lot of people have unnecessarily joined the gluten-free bandwagon.

“Of course, food manufacturers pick up on this and start taking the gluten out of everything, increasing the price, and promoting [products] as gluten-free,” she says. “For most people, there is nothing ‘bad’ about gluten. It doesn’t make you gain weight. It doesn’t clog your arteries. It doesn’t increase your blood pressure or cholesterol. And, for most people, it doesn’t cause stomach pains, cramping, bloating, diarrhea or constipation.”

According to Muth, only about 1% of the population has celiac disease. Anyone in this category should avoid gluten altogether. There are other people who do have gluten sensitivity and respond negatively to gluten even though they don’t have celiac disease, according to new research. But before adopting a gluten-free diet, those who think they may have a gluten reaction should discuss this with their physician.

“Many foods that are naturally gluten-free are foods that people should definitely eat more of—namely, fruits and vegetables—[so doing this might help people eat] fewer processed foods,” Muth says. “But when food marketers go to lengths to remove gluten, you still end up with processed foods; they just no longer have gluten. And, for the vast majority of us, whole grains (and whole wheat) are good for us. We should be eating them.”

That said, if people who have adopted gluten-free diets are eating a generally healthy and balanced diet, the overall risk of developing any significant nutritional deficiency is low, Muth says. But all of the time, energy and expense of going gluten-free is unlikely to be worth it for most people.

Does cutting gluten wholesale from the diet remind anyone of the fat-free craze of the late 1980s and early 1990s? More important, do you remember where that got us? Share your views on this issue with editor in chief Sandy Todd Webster at swebster@ideafit.com.

PHOTOGRAPHY: evhoffman

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About the Author

Sandy Todd Webster

Sandy Todd Webster IDEA Author/Presenter

Sandy Todd Webster is Editor in Chief of IDEA's publications, including the award-winning IDEA FITNESS JOURNAL and IDEA FOOD & NUTRITION TIPS, the industry's leading resources for fitness, wellness and nutrition professionals worldwide. Sandy joined IDEA in 2001 as executive editor of IDEA PERSONAL TRAINER and IDEA FITNESS MANAGER magazines and was promoted to lead the editorial team in 2003. More than 20 years in magazine publishing, marketing communications and creative services have shaped her straightforward approach to multi-channel communication. Early experience in Los Angeles as a sports writer/reporter, and then enriching years as a managing editor in allied health care publishing have pulled her across a spectrum of stimulating subject matter. Fitness, health and nutrition reside at the perfect center of this content continuum, she feels. A Chicago native, Sandy grew up fully engaged in various competitive sports. Her drive and dedication as an athlete translate to a disciplined work ethic and unwavering approach to challenge in her career. Shortly after graduating journalism school from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, she was recruited to L.A. for her first post in magazine publishing. After two decades of working on magazines--and now in the throes of applying the unbelieveable multi-media content delivery options available in the magazine 2.0 world--she is still "completely in love" with the creative process it takes to deliver meaningful, inspirational content to end users. She is an accomplished home cook and gardner who would love to combine those skills and passions with her health and fitness background to continue educating readers about a well-balanced, healthy lifestyle.