Less than 1% of Americans suffer from celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder in which eating gluten damages the small intestine, according to The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
Yet, the gluten-free industry is booming.
In 2014, Mintel market research reported that the gluten-free food market had reached nearly $9 billion in sales in the United States, representing a 63% increase in just two years.
So what’s really driving this trend?
It’s probably not the 1% of the population with celiac disease or the roughly 6% with gluten intolerance, but instead, according to The NPD Group, the 30% of American adults who want to avoid gluten or cut it out of their diets entirely, often without reason.
And now, a new report from The Journal of Pediatrics addresses the risks of placing children on unnecessary gluten-free diets without consulting a physician.
“Out of concern for their children’s health, parents sometimes place their children on a gluten-free diet in the belief that it relieves symptoms, can prevent CD or is a healthy alternative,” the author, Dr. Norelle R. Reilly, a pediatric gastroenterologist at Columbia University, states.
“There is no evidence that processed gluten-free foods are healthier than their gluten-containing counterparts, nor have there been proven health or nutritional benefits.”
In fact, foods with gluten, like fortified breads and cereals, are major sources of fiber, vitamins, and minerals, while many gluten-free foods are often more fattening and contain more sugar, leading some gluten-free eaters to actually gain weight.
One recent study showed that 86% of patients self-diagnosing gluten-related symptoms did not have celiac disease or gluten-intolerance.
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