Going Gluten Free?

3 Million Going Gluten Free without Celiac Disease

Celiac disease rates have held steady in recent years at less than one percent of the U.S. population, but more than three million non-celiac Americans now follow a gluten free diet, according to a new study in the January, 2017, issue of the journal, Mayo Clinic Proceedings. That number more than tripled between 2009 and 2014, accounting for 72 percent of Americans following a gluten free diet. In the medical world these folks are known as PWAGs—people without celiac disease avoiding gluten.

PWAGs avoid gluten for a number of reasons, some legitimate and some simply because going gluten free is the thing to do. The Mayo Clinic report reveals that for some, symptoms of non-celiac gluten sensitivity can dramatically reduce quality of life. For these individuals, a gluten free diet makes sense. But, what about the rest of the 3.1 million? At this point it’s difficult to say how many of them have valid health reasons to avoid gluten.

The Risk of Self-Diagnosis

Some eliminate gluten due to unfounded beliefs that doing so promotes weight loss or athletic performance. Some avoid gluten to accommodate a family member’s gluten free diet. No matter the reason, going gluten free due to self-diagnosis can be harmful to your health. A gluten free diet can easily lead to uncontrolled weight gain and nutritional deficiencies if not properly managed. Specifically, it can easily lead to iron, calcium and fiber deficiencies. A high-fiber diet is crucial for avoiding life threatening health concerns, including colon cancer. Highly processed gluten free foods also contribute excess calories, sugar, fat and chemical additives to the diet.

Manufactures of gluten free foods are making great financial gains, frequently marketing to misperception. The three million PWAGs are driving the rapid growth of the $5 billion gluten free industry with projected earnings of nearly $7 billion by 2020.

So, is a gluten free diet necessary and safe for you? The evidence is clear that determining the answer is best done under the care of a medical professional to evaluate efficacy of the diet in each case, to monitor nutritional status and to provide guidance with regard to healthy, gluten free food choices. Your doctor will also make sure you’re not overlooking other more serious reasons for uncomfortable symptoms in favor of an easy fix. F

or most of us, the best and most healthful approach will always be a balanced and varied diet rich in nutrients and fiber. Don’t jump on the gluten free bandwagon unless you know it’s medically necessary.