The commentary, due to appear in The Journal of Pediatrics has documented a 135% gluten-free industry growth from 2013 to 2015, reaching estimated sales of $11.6 bn (€10.4 bn) in 2015.
The author, Dr Norelle Reilly, assistant professor of Pediatrics at Columbia University Medical Center, said that although the prevalence of CD was increasing, this increase in disease prevalence and awareness, did not account for the disproportionate increase in growth of the gluten-free food industry.
A 2015 Nielsen survey of 30,000 adults in 60 countries worldwide found that 21% of individuals surveyed rated gluten-free as a “very important” attribute when making food purchasing decisions.
The widest appeal was seen in Latin America (32%) with 16% of Europeans seeking gluten-free products. 15% of those surveyed were willing to pay a premium for gluten-free products.
The results appeared to support market research by Mintel, which reported 25% of American consumers ate gluten-free foods in 2015.
“While some consumers view the gluten-free diet as a fad and are looking for improved nutrition and ingredients in gluten-free foods, consumption continues to trend upward,” said Amanda Topper, senior food analyst at Mintel.
“Large and small manufacturers are entering the gluten-free category, increasing the availability, quality and variety of gluten-free foods while interest is displayed in incorporating these foods into the diet.”
Fact or fiction?
The study believed the perception of a gluten-free diet had been overshadowed by a number of myths that continued to cloud the sector’s standing in the eyes of the consumer.
In providing an evidence-based approach to address these inaccuracies, Reilly pointed to an absence of data that supported the presumed health benefits of a gluten-free diet.
She believed the opposite was true in certain cases, notably when a diet was followed without the advice of an experienced registered dietitian or physician.
Gluten, comprises of gliadins and glutenins, and is one of the many protein components of wheat. For the majority of people, gluten proteins pass through the gastrointestinal tract without leading to the condition.
A gluten-free diet was considered to have multiple benefits according to Reilly, who identified dermatitis herpetiformis, a cutaneous manifestation of CD that was uncommon in children, but responded well to a gluten-free diet.
She also believed going gluten-free was not suitable for first-degree relatives of an individual with CD or for infants at risk of developing CD pointing to a study that pooled rates of CD among first-degree relatives in a meta-analysis that totalled 7.5%.
Reilly concluded by stating that a gluten-free diet should be recommended judiciously and patients self-prescribing should be counselled as to the possible financial, social, and nutritional consequences of unnecessary implementation.
“Health care providers may not be able to end the gluten-free diet fad, but can certainly begin to play a larger role in educating patients, excluding CD, and preventing nutritional deficiencies in those choosing to stay gluten-free.”
Source: The Journal of Pediatrics
Published online ahead of print, doi.org/10.1016/j.jpeds.2016.04.014
“The Gluten-Free Diet: Recognizing Fact, Fiction, and Fad.”
Authors: Norelle Reilly