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Why Are More People on a Gluten-Free Diet?

Many people are following a gluten-free diet even though they do not have celiac disease, which requires gluten-free eating.

Ten or twenty years ago, people following a gluten-free diet had a difficult time. Foods like pasta or crackers were not available in gluten-free versions. Now, that has changed. Baked goods without gluten are available in many supermarkets as well as online. Celebrities tout the virtues of a gluten-free diet.

Who Needs a Gluten-Free Diet?

Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition in which gluten triggers damage of the lining of the small intestine. Gluten, a protein found in barley, rye and wheat, is found in a host of foods that contain flour. People with this condition must follow a strict gluten-free diet to avoid serious complications. Recently manufacturers have been producing gluten-free alternatives to bread, pasta and other foods that are normally made from wheat. Such options make eating easier for those with celiac disease. They are not the only people who buy them, however.

A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that the proportion of people diagnosed with celiac disease did not change significantly in the five years from 2009 to 2014. It remained somewhere around 1 person out of 150.

Who Else Is Eating Gluten-Free?

In the same five years, however, the number of people following a gluten-free diet approximately tripled. The proportion went from 0.5% to 1.7% of the population studied. This study group was made up of about 22,000 Americans in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, or NHANES. Some of these people report they simply feel better on a low-gluten diet. Others may have hopped on a fad.

An invited commentary published in the same journal warns doctors not to dismiss individuals who report they are avoiding gluten. Some find that reducing gluten in their diets makes them feel better. Even though they don’t have celiac disease, some may have non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Others may be sensitive to other components of wheat. And some may be following a diet that is low in fermentable carbohydrates, whether deliberately or as a side effect of their gluten-free diet. This too can help some people overcome uncomfortable digestive symptoms.

JAMA Internal Medicine, online Sept. 6, 2016

You may find our Show 1049: Do You Need a Gluten-Free Diet? with Dr. Peter Green and Rory Jones, co-authors of Gluten Exposed, of interest.

3/29/18 redirected to: https://www.peoplespharmacy.com/articles/how-much-gluten-is-in-a-gluten-free-diet/

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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