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  • Jefferson Adams
    Jefferson Adams

    Are Gluten-free Foods a Waste of Money for Most People?

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

    Celiac.com 05/16/2013 - As more Americans then ever are looking to either reduce the amount of gluten in their diets or to eliminate it entirely, many nutritionists are saying that cutting gluten carelessly can be unnecessary and unhealthy, while others are pointing out that it is likely a waste of money for those who do not suffer from celiac disease or gluten intolerance.

    Photo: CC--Ron J. AnejoIn a recent poll by market-research company NDP Group, one in three adults said they were looking to cut down or eliminate gluten from their diets. Those are the highest numbers since NDP began asking the question in 2009. In fact, in 2012, TIME magazine put the gluten-free movement at #2 on its top 10 list of food trends.

    Current estimates put the number of Americans with celiac disease (diagnosed or not) at about 3 million. Other studies indicate that as many as many as one in 16 Americans may have a less-severe sensitivity to gluten that can trigger gastrointestinal symptoms.

    For people with celiac disease or gluten-sensitivity, avoiding gluten is not merely beneficial, it is necessary for good health. For everyone else, though, avoiding gluten is unnecessary, provides questionable benefit, and can increase food costs substantially.

    One thing to remember, is that junk food is junk food, whether is contains gluten or not. Many people who do not have celiac disease or gluten-sensitivity, and who feel better after cutting gluten out of their diet, are really benefiting simply because they have eliminated junk foods and/or breaded, fried foods from their diet, not because they have a problem eating gluten.

    On the other hand, many others who do not have celiac disease or gluten-sensitivity, and who simply replace junky, processed foods with gluten-free versions are gaining little or no benefit, and are, in fact, spending money unnecessarily. That's because gluten-free foods usually cost more than their gluten-containing counterparts.

    How much more? When researchers from Dalhousie Medical School at Dalhousie University in Canada compared prices for 56 standard grocery items with similar gluten-free items, they found that the gluten-free products cost about 2½ times more than the gluten-containing versions.

    With more and more food manufacturers producing more and more gluten-free products, the gluten-free market in the United States is projected to grow from $4.2 billion last year to $6.6 billion by 2017.

    But that still doesn't add up to the NPD Group’s finding that 29% of Americans are trying to avoid gluten. The numbers suggest that many consumers are staying away from gluten simply because it’s trendy to do so.

    It is likely true that many people are following gluten-free diets unnecessarily, but it is also true that many more people with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity remain undiagnosed, and the exact nature of those conditions needs to be better understood to know who will fully benefit from a gluten-free diet. In the meantime, look for the gluten-free market to grow, and look for much of that growth to be driven by people without an official diagnosis that actually requires a gluten-free diet.

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    Only all those stupid, copycat morons out there that use gluten-free food other than having celiac disease are making the gluten-free industry look bad. I for one have had several genetic tests both ethnic and medical and they both said I have celiac tendency, as well as genetic matches in Finland and Ireland where celiac disease is highest and originates from. I can't go too long or feel too well without some gluten-free food.

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    I have read that research shows that, while approximately 1% of the population has celiac disease, approximately 30% of the population has the gene giving them the potential to have celiac disease. Isn't it possible that the 29% of the population (mentioned in the article) who think they do better on a gluten-free diet actually do have some gluten sensitivity?

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    I have celiac disease. Gluten-free is not a fad for me. What is most disconcerting about the proliferation of the new gluten-free products on the market is how many contain too much sugar, sodium, and preservatives; in essence they are copies of products containing gluten but without wheat, barley, rye or oats or derivatives of those products. Hence, they are just as unhealthy.

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    A gluten-free diet has completely liberated me from a whole host of undesirable symptoms though I have not been diagnosed as celiac/gluten intolerant. When I had tests they came back negative as I had already been gluten-free for three months and I am just not prepared to eat gluten again just to have a certified diagnosis, for me it is sufficient that without the gluten-free diet my symptoms make life not worth living. Having an official diagnosis would not change anything as the only treatment is a gluten-free diet, which I am already benefiting from. As for those on a gluten-free diet for other reasons I don't think that it will do them any harm, and if not forced to stick to it like the celiac/gluten intolerant, after a while, they will probably get fed up with this new fad and go back to their old foods.

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    Jefferson you make the statement "...For everyone else, though, avoiding gluten is unnecessary, provides questionable benefit..." I know that you may have others who agree, but with all due respect I strongly disagree. Gluten is bad for everyone. And shame on any nutritionists who claim it's healthy. Are you gluten sensitive or celiac? if so, then you ought to have a more informed point of view here. As a gluten sensitive person whose blood test and intestinal biopsy are all negative, but the celiac DNA test is very high (having both genes), going first gluten free and eventually completely grain free has magically cured a barrage of debilitating symptoms plaguing my entire life. But gluten isn't just bad for me it's bad for everyone and here's why. Going truly gluten free has at least some degree of benefit for everyone. Ultimately only time will tell the truth since this is a newly emerging field of research. For now, take the fact that gluten spikes blood sugar more than table sugar, this applies to everyone not just gluten sensitive folks or celiacs. Which leads to the next point, consider the fact that the majority of our population is over-fat; now eliminate gluten and everyone loses weight and feels better with less blood sugar spikes. (oops I think we just helped prevent type 2 diabetes too!). This applies to everyone, not just the gluten sensitive or celiac folks. Remember that eating highly processed “junk†food labelled gluten free is still bad! Also take the fact that lectins in gluten and other grains can cause intestinal permeability (leaky gut) in everyone not just celiacs, leading to a myriad of other health consequences. The list of problems caused by and linked to gluten goes on. Have you been convinced yet? A paleo-like diet is no joke, there's many reasons why it's making those who try it feel better and no gluten is among the top of that list! If you don't believe me try it. But be careful, you might waste your money going gluten free when it's of questionable benefit.

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    Because of the Thyroid-Gluten connection more research is showing that a much higher number of people have gluten intolerance than previously estimated. If you read the article The Gluten-Thyroid Connection by Chris Kesser he explains why gluten intolerance has been so difficult to reliable test. He states the research done by Dr. Kenneth Fine done at Entero Labs indicates by more accurately testing people's stool samples that estimates closer to 1 in 3 Americans are Gluten intolerant. Also if you read any number of Forums on Thyroid disease you will find a huge number of people commenting on the fact that when they took Gluten 100% out of their diet their symptoms became significantly better. These are people who have been suffering sometimes for many many years and because thyroid issues are so misunderstood and misdiagnosed are trying to find ways of relieving their pain. I don't think they are following a fad.

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  • About Me

    Jefferson Adams earned his B.A. and M.F.A. at Arizona State University, and has authored more than 2,000 articles on celiac disease. His coursework includes studies in biology, anatomy, medicine, science, and advanced research, and scientific methods. He previously served as Health News Examiner for Examiner.com, and devised health and medical content for Sharecare.com. Jefferson has spoken about celiac disease to the media, including an appearance on the KQED radio show Forum, and is the editor of the book "Cereal Killers" by Scott Adams and Ron Hoggan, Ed.D.

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