Is Gluten Free a Trend or Fad?


This last week I gave a presentation on trends in the food industry at the May 2012 Food Executive Women’s meeting. The Chicagoland-based group ( was founded about 21 years ago and its membership profile is somewhat similar to the Institute of Food Technologies, just all female.

Top-10-trends-2012-presentationThe presentation covered trends previously mentioned in this blog with further details. (Click on image to the left to download the presentation. It takes a bit of time.) It also included comments on a few additional trends. The audience had questions and comments on one trend in particular…that of “free from” foods for which gluten free was used as an example. Although they differ from each other, statistics from both Packaged Facts and New Nutrition Business show phenomenal growth in the U.S. gluten free market. Many in audience were nutritionists and the question arose as to whether gluten free was a trend or a fad. They also asked from where were the statistics on gluten sensitive people derived? Were they self-diagnosed?

Although I am not aware of a quantitative way to differentiate a fad from a trend (I’d appreciate comments), interest and attention to gluten free is here to stay. There are simply too many people legitimately impacted by gluten for it to go the way of low carbohydrate foods (although I’d argue that hasn’t disappeared either, just morphed into interest in new eating patterns).

While certainly many have falsely self-diagnosed gluten issues, clinical research does support very high rates.  One study (Fasano A, et al. 2003. Arch Intern Med. 163(3):286-92.) places the prevalence of Celiac disease at 1 in 133 in the U.S. based on the presence of serum antibodies and intestinal biopsies.  Another study (Sapone, A, et al. 2001. BMC Med.9:23.) places the number of gluten-sensitive individuals at about 10% of the U.S. population. They again identified Celiac patients by antigen typing and intestinal biopsies and gluten-reactive individuals by a gluten challenge carried out for about four months under clinical supervision.

— Claudia O’Donnell, Co-owner, Global Food Forums, Inc.
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