As you stroll up and down the aisles of your grocery store, chances are you will have seen numerous products with the label “gluten free” on them. Many stores also have entire sections dedicated to products for those looking to eliminate it from their diets. But is this just a trend that will see its way through, or should you be giving it some thought as to how you manage your food selections?
Celiac disease would be the primary reason for someone to adopt a gluten free diet. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder in which foods containing gluten trigger the immune system to attack and damage the small intestine. Gluten is a protein found naturally in grains like wheat, barley and rye. People with celiac disease have no choice but to avoid gluten in their diet. If they don’t, their small intestine is damaged every time they eat something with gluten. Gluten-free diets seem to be the latest fad, yet the number of people being diagnosed with celiac disease hasn’t budged, new research shows.
Researchers reviewed data from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, a regular survey of American health and diet conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Based on their analysis, the researchers estimated there are around 1.76 million people with celiac disease in the United States. About 2.7 million more people adhere to a gluten-free diet even though they don’t have celiac disease, the findings showed. Around a half percent of survey participants reported being on a gluten-free diet in 2009-2010. By 2013-2014, that number was closing in on 2 percent, the investigators found. The number of Americans following a gluten-free diet tripled between 2009 and 2014, but diagnoses of celiac disease remained stable during that same period, the researchers found, which may have been affected by a decrease in gluten consumption the past several years. The study was published as a research letter in the online edition of JAMA Internal Medicine.
Other reasons for going gluten free could be a wheat allergy or non-celiac gluten sensitivity. These people will eliminate their symptoms by keeping gluten out of the diet, and do not suffer the same intestinal damage as those with celiac disease, although it does still produce inflammation and a lesser immune response. For others, wheat is simply a source of carbohydrates and calories that needs to be curtailed if there are concerns about weight, inflammation or insulin resistance. So while it may not be absolutely necessary to keep wheat and gluten out of the diet for most, many people are adhering to the practice to improve their health. We have seen many patients feel better after eliminating it, in conjunction with other dietary modifications to help support better health.