Recent data4 estimates that approximately 1% of the US population lives with a medically diagnosed gluten-related condition and for those individuals, maintaining a strict avoidance of gluten in their diet is the only treatment option. However, in 2013 30% of the American population was estimated to be excluding or reducing gluten intake despite not having been diagnosed with a form of gluten sensitivity3.
Recent studies have investigated what drives people to opt for gluten free products, even if they are not on the spectrum of gluten-sensitivities1, and also what this means for those who do need to exclude gluten due to sensitivity2.
Why is ‘going gluten-free’ a popular dietary choice?
In the first study1, participants were presented with various pairs of pictures of food items, the only difference being whether they were labelled “gluten-free” on the packaging or not. Interestingly, a significant proportion of participants indicated that they would opt for the GF labelled food over the generic product.
Overall, the gluten-free diet was perceived as being much more ‘healthy’ compared to a gluten-inclusive, regular diet. However the contrary is typically more accurate in terms of substituting with processed products, with gluten-free foods often performing poorer in terms of nutritional quality. Cutting out some of the gluten containing grains also exposes the potential for deficiency in key minerals and nutrients.
Common misconceptions were that GF options contained less calories and would therefore be beneficial for weight loss, when in fact GF alternatives such as gluten free bread often contain more calories from added sugar and saturated fats, used to improve flavor and texture. Additionally, individuals assumed that gluten-free meant less processed than gluten-containing alternatives, despite extra processing often being required to improve palatability.
How does this impact those with diagnosed gluten-related conditions?
Participants interviewed for the second study2 described the increasing popularity of the gluten-free lifestyle as a “double edged sword”2. The wider availability of gluten-free foods in restaurants, cafés, and supermarkets is of course a positive advantage for improving lifestyle and quality of life for those with a gluten-sensitivity.
However, it was felt that a lack of awareness of the seriousness of the condition, and the connotation that going gluten-free is simply a lifestyle choice or trend, opened up a greater risk for concerns like cross-contamination when dining out, and being perceived as high maintenance and fussy2. As such, being in situations where food preparation was out of their control was often stressful, and something that some would try to avoid altogether.
Turning challenges into positives
Many participants interviewed who are on the spectrum of gluten-sensitivities learned from these challenges, turning them into strategies for enhancing their lives rather than limiting them. Many individuals reported that they had become better at researching where the best GF food can be found, and became more comfortable communicating their dietary needs whenever they ate away from home. Carrying GF snacks when out and about was also another popular method of making sure to always have something safe on hand.
If you suspect that you may have a gluten-sensitivity, the best option is to see a healthcare professional to receive the best dietary advice. If cross-contamination is a concern for you when dining out, GluteGuard may be helpful in supporting your gluten free diet by minimising the occurrence of symptoms caused by hidden gluten in meals.
Author: Cass, Glutagen.
- Prada, M., Godinho, C., Rodrigues, D.L., Lopes, C. & Garrido, M.V. (2019). The impact of a gluten-free claim on the perceived healthfulness, calories, level of processing and expected taste of food products. Food Quality and Preference, 73, 284-287. doi: 10.1016/j.foodqual.2018.10.013
- King, J.A., Kaplan, G.G., & Godley, J. (2018). Experiences of coeliac disease in a changing gluten-free landscape. Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, 32, 72-79. doi: 10.1111/jhn.12597
- Watson, E. (2013). Food Navigator USA. Health/weight conscious consumers are driving the gluten-free market, not celiacs, says Mintel. Retrieved from https://www.foodnavigator-usa.com/Article/2013/10/15/Healthy-eaters-dieters-not-celiacs-propelling-gluten-free-market#
- Niland, B. & Cash, B.D. (2018). Health Benefits and Adverse Effects of a Gluten-Free Diet in Non-Celiac Disease Patients. Gastroenterology & Hepatology, vol. 14, no. 2, 82-91.