The Gluten-Free Craze

The Gluten-Free Craze

Only a small percentage of Americans suffer from a sensitivity to wheat, but many say eating a gluten-free diet helps them. Diane and her guests discuss what's behind the gluten-free food craze.

The market for gluten-free food is booming. Products made without wheat were once just targeted to those with celiac disease – an auto-immune disorder of the small intestine. Most researchers believe celiac disease affects less than one percent of all Americans, yet as many as 25 percent of us seek out gluten-free foods. Many consumers believe eliminating wheat from their diet may improve their digestive health, help them lose weight, or relieve joint pain. Until now, it’s been difficult to diagnosis gluten-related disorders that aren’t celiac disease. That may be about to change. Diane and her guests discuss why gluten sensitivity is on the rise, how it differs from celiac disease, and what’s behind the latest food craze.


Dr. Alessio Fasano

professor of pediatrics, medicine and physiology and director of the University of Maryland Center for Celiac Research (CFCR) at the University of Maryland School of Medicine

Dr. Aline Charabaty

director of the Center for Inflammatory Bowel Diseases at Georgetown University Hospital

Melissa Abbot

director, Culinary Insights, The Hartman Group

Katherine Tallmadge

dietician, nutritionist and past spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Program Highlights

More Americans are seeking out gluten-free foods, but how does gluten sensitivity differ from celiac disease? Our guests discuss what's behind the gluten-free craze and how these new foods may be affecting our health.

What Is Celiac Disease?

Celiac disease affects up to 1 percent of all Americans. In people with the disease, gluten is actually toxic to the gut. "When patients with celiac ingest gluten, it destroys the lining of the small bowel so the small bowel is not able to do its proper function," Charabaty said. Celiac disease is a true auto-immune disorder. It can be difficutlt to diagnose, he said.

How Is Celiac Disease Different From Gluten Sensitivity?

Gluten sensitivity is a new diagnosis. There's no real test for it, but patients often end up trying a gluten-free diet to see how they feel. But Talmadge cautions that there's a "huge placebo affect" when it comes to gluten sensitivity. Before cutting out gluten entirely, she suggests trying an overall healthier diet and exercise program to see if a patient's health improves.

What's Behind The Gluten-Free Craze?

"What we've seen is that with gluten-free, a lot of the consumers are self-diagnosing," Abbot said. "What's really happening is that they're removing some of the processed foods from their diet, rather than actually just taking gluten out of their diet as the reason for feeling better,"
she said. Wheat is the number-one food containing gluten. Rye, barley, and spelt also contain it. Food retailers are taking advantage of the move away from gluten. In the long run, though, this might not be the best thing for companies because as Abbot puts it, gluten-free labels reduce "the healthy halo of the actual brand."

More Gluten-Free Junk Food

As the gluten-free trend has grown, Tallmade said, more food makers are producing gluten-free versions of junk food - cookies, pop tarts, donuts, and more. "They all contain highly refined starches that really contribute to problems with the digestive system," Abbot said. "More than anything
what we hear from consumers, the biggest complaint, the biggest condition that we hear beyond stress and inability to sleep at night is digestive issues,' Abbot said.

You can read the full transcript here.

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