The Grapevine

How Gluten-Free Craze Impacts People With Celiac Disease

Most of us have heard of gluten-free diets by now, either from a celebrity, a grocery market aisle, or the menu at your favorite restaurant. While many have subscribed to the dietary pattern out of choice, one may be curious to know how the people who never had a choice feel about the growth of the gluten-free industry.

What better way to understand this than to simply ask them? That is exactly what a researcher from Canada did as he interviewed 17 adults who were living with celiac disease.

The study titled "Experiences of coeliac disease in a changing gluten‐free landscape " was published in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics on October 2.

The term ‘double‐edged sword’ could describe the impact of the gluten-free industry, according to the participants. The semi-structured interviews not only asked questions about their dietary habits but also their social lives and relationships.

On one hand, people were grateful for the prevalence of gluten-free food products, which have been taking up more space on the shelves of grocery stores. The growth is notable, to say the least, as estimates suggest that the market for these foods in the United States may be valued at 7.59 billion dollars by the year 2020.

However, the participants also pointed out the rise in misunderstandings about their condition. Presumably fueled by celebrities endorsing the diet, many non-celiac disease individuals have also started to exclude gluten from their meals. 

Reasons for doing so range from supposed weight loss to self-diagnosed "gluten sensitivity," all of which are based less on science and more on anecdotal evidence. But many are unaware that going gluten-free without a medical reason can actually trigger poor health effects such as nutritional deficiencies and metabolic abnormalities.

"While the popularization of the gluten-free diet has offered benefits to many individuals with celiac disease, it has also amplified some of the common challenges associated with having to follow the diet so strictly," said lead author James King of the University of Calgary, Canada.

"As this condition is becoming increasingly diagnosed, it is important that healthcare professionals and policy-makers understand these subtler burdens when developing strategies with patients to improve the management of celiac disease."

In their social life, the participants said they were subject to a negative perception at times, as some would view them as high maintenance. This can be tied to the association of the restrictive eating pattern with being another "fad" diet rather than a necessity.

"The sole medical recommendation of a gluten‐free diet fails to acknowledge the ongoing difficulties those with [celiac disease] can endure in the current gluten‐free landscape," King wrote, in conclusion. "Recommendations beyond the gluten‐free diet are advisable to alleviate many of the indirect burdens revealed in the present study."