Gluten-free. It’s among the hottest trends in food today. It competes with “non-GMO”, “local”, and “organic” for mindshare among today’s health-conscious, price-insensitive, and trend-following foodies, yuppies, and self-anointed amateur nutritionists. It’s become so fashionable to be gluten-free that even Fido and Spot have jumped on the bandwagon (click HERE). Like all such sweeping trends, it has a powerful attractive force that lures innocent bystanders into asking if they too should join the party. Last Fall, The New Yorker ran an article entitled “Against the Grain: Should You Go Gluten-Free?”(click HERE) to help readers answer the very question. Grain Brain and Wheat Belly hold entrenched positions on lists of today’s best selling books. Gluten-free is clearly on the minds of many.
Like financial bubbles, the herd behavior identified by such popular attention is never sustainable. We’re likely in the midst of a gluten-free bubble; one that seems poised to burst. Here’s the big disconnect that captures the essence of the problem: less than 1% of the population has celiac disease (click HERE), approximately 6% are gluten intolerant (click HERE), and…. drum roll please… almost 30% of American adults are trying to avoid gluten (click HERE). One of the main reasons consumers avoid gluten is they feel it’s healthier. It’s generally not.
The blunt reality is that many gluten-free foods are not healthier for the 93% of the population that doesn’t have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. Consider that a Glutino Original New York Style Bagel has 26% more calories, 250% more fat, 43% more sodium, 50% less fiber, and double the sugar of a Thomas’ Plain Bagel – for a price that is 74% higher! (Click HERE). Further, because many gluten free products utilize rice flour, they are also at risk of containing higher levels of arsenic than desirable or healthy (click HERE).
Despite these facts, the gluten free craze continues. Market research firm Nielsen estimated that sales of products with a gluten-free label have doubled in the past four years, rising from $11.5 billion to over $23 billion. While the trend is impressive, it’s partially driven by marketing efforts. Chobani Greek yogurt and Green Giant vegetables, for instance, added “gluten-free” labels onto products that never contained gluten (click HERE). Add a label, grow your sales! Reminds me of Internet mania when merely announcing a URL increased valuations overnight. Another sign the gluten-free bubble is nearing its end is the popular backlash against casual gluten-free diners (click HERE).
None of this is to suggest that there isn’t a real underlying need for gluten-free products. There is, and I know from personal experience. In October 2011, my doctor informed me that a blood test indicated I had heightened sensitivity to gluten. The sensitivity was so high he recommended a gluten-free diet. I protested, suggesting he was over-diagnosing my unhealthy diet.
I asked: “Have you considered icecreamitis? That’s a disease I know I have,” bluntly admitting my addiction to the divine creamy frozen sugar to which I was devoted. I insisted he conduct a genetic test to determine if I had genetic marker for celiac disease. When the results came back, I was saddened to learn that I indeed had the gene. I’ve been gluten-free for three and a half years now and I genuinely do feel better.
Whether you have celiac disease, are gluten intolerant, or just part of the fashionable trend-following crowd, you can rest assured that this article is certified gluten-free.