Saint Louis University

Author: Tabi Farr
Published: Friday, November 23, 2012

Gluten-free is a new buzz word soaring around the world of dietetics. Those with celiac disease find themselves having to avoid gluten, along with altering purchases at the grocery store.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that affects 1 in 133 people in the US population. This disorder is genetically based causing sensitivity to certain sequences of amino acids found in wheat, barley, rye and some oats. When these grains are consumed in individuals with celiac disease, it causes an immune response resulting in damage to the mucosa of the small intestine. With this damage, it can result in malabsorption of nutrients; therefore, those with celiac disease must maintain a gluten-free lifestyle.

What does it mean to be gluten-free?— Well, individuals with celiac disease must avoid gluten, which is found in products containing wheat, barley, and rye. Most think these individuals just have to avoid bread, but it is much more than that. Wheat especially, is found in a lot processed foods, or a more common term, flour, which is in a lot of baked goods. Since gluten is found in an abundance of foods, celiac disease has created quite the demand for gluten-free products.

With the increase of individuals being newly diagnosed with celiac disease, the market for gluten-free products has created a cash cow. With products limiting wheat, barley, rye, and some oats, it is reported that gluten-free products have made a chump change amount of $4.2 billion dollars! —Nearly growing 28% from 2008 to 2012, with expectations of exceeding the market to $6.6 billion dollars by 2017.

After recently visiting the FCNE convention in Philly, I believe these numbers. With over two hundred vendors, it was not hard to find the gluten-free vendors marketing their products. There were multiple vendors marketing gluten-free products, from sweet-potato fries to chips.

In addition to celiac disease, new perceptions of grained based diets being unhealthy or unnatural has shown an increase in followers of the Paleo diet, which limits grains within the diet. While celebrities like Miley Cyrus and Gwenyth Paltrow are gluten-free claiming a healthier lifestyle. Even though these people do not have a gluten allergy, they are still willing to pay the extra cash for these products.

It is clear that celiac disease has created a market for gluten-free products, but the fad diets becoming more prevalent has caused quite the increase in sales for gluten-free. Even though doctors have stated that only those diagnosed with celiac disease need to be gluten-free, we are starting to see more aiming for a gluten-free lifestyle.

What dose this mean for dietetics?—Well, this might be an opportunity for some RD’s to expand and profit from this market, while other RD’s might have to expand education on appropriateness of when to follow a gluten-free diet.