Oh yes, the gluten free diet is here to stay.
In this San Francisco Chronicle article, reporter Jonathan Kauffman says, “Market research firm Mintel recently estimated that the U.S. market for gluten-free foods hit $11.6 billion in 2015, 136 percent higher than just two years ago.” He says, “Gluten-free has become more than a dietary restriction and less than a lifestyle. It is one of the most potent, generative forces in the world of food.” I couldn’t agree more!
We also are seeing much data to support that more and more Americans are curious about the benefits of a gluten free lifestyle. Market research company NPD Group says, as reported in this New York Times article, that 30 percent of the public says it would like to cut back on the amount of gluten it’s eating. Again, 30 percent is a lot of people and enough to fuel a multi-billion dollar industry!
We’ve seen diet fads come and go – and many predicted the gluten free diet “fad” would come and go too – but I believe it’s here to stay for many reasons:
First off, there is a huge rise in scientific evidence to support that a gluten free diet can help you manage and heal a slew of symptoms from fatigue and brain fog to digestive discomfort and thyroid issues. Gluten free is not just for those with Celiac or gluten ailments found on the gluten spectrum, but also it has become a way of life for millions of Americans. In fact, while only about 1.8 million people have Celiac Disease, it’s the additional 18 million people (about 6 percent of the population) that suffer from some sort of gluten sensitivity. Others eat gluten free because they feel better (likely because they are consuming less packaged foods and more naturally gluten free foods like vegetables and whole grains). That said, I do not think Americans would continue to make the effort to be gluten free and support gluten free brands if they didn’t feel some sort of health benefits within the first few months of following a gluten free diet. There’s something to be said for feeling better regardless of a gluten sensitivity or presence of Celiac Disease.
Additionally, I believe the gluten free diet is here to stay because it brings awareness to things like label reading and understanding what the heck is in our food supply! We are no longer putting foods in our mouths that we can’t pronounce, and that has lead a large percentage of the population to inquire with brands about if whether their products are gluten free or “free from” other allergens. No longer can brands get away with pulling the wool over our eyes – we are now paying attention and clearly seeing the crap many brands have been stuffing in our food supply. A growing number of people are literally sick of it! Quality foods and quality food sources are top priorities for today’s trailblazing families.
In the midst of gaining a clearer understanding of what is in our food supply, we are now seeing that the FDA is finally paying attention to food labeling, including gluten free claims made by brands. While the FDA only took baby steps in the gluten free labeling space, you can rest assured that the FDA is getting constant pressure to require more transparency from brands regarding gluten free claims, allergen claims, and GMO labeling. I believe the FDA will make sweeping changes in the next several years due to public pressure and unfair practices from brands like General Mills and its Cheerios gluten free fiasco. The tipping point in food labeling is near!
Furthermore, the food industry has to understand that even though only about 30 percent of the population dabbles in the gluten free diet arena, that number is actually much higher. Think about it – if one person in a family of four follows a gluten free diet, that person is influencing what an entire household will eat. For example, I only cook meals that are gluten free, so in a way, my entire family is gluten free when they eat at home. I also pick the restaurant every time we go out with friends (I talk about this in my post, Why Gluten Free Patrons Matter to Restaurants). My friends want me to feel comfortable and safe, so they allow me the opportunity to decide where we go.
The gluten free industry is a force to be reckoned with indeed. Brands and restaurants can no longer ignore its impact on America’s food preferences. Foods that are naturally gluten free – as well as foods made to cater to the gluten free palates of the American people – are going to see continued curiosity and rise in sales… and, I believe, we are all better off for it!