Did you know that the forecasted value for the US gluten-free food industry for 2025 is over 16.31 billion dollars? For comparison, in 2018, it was valued at just over $8 billion dollars. That’s a lot of gluten-free foods we’re predicted to be eating!
Should we be jumping on the gluten-free bandwagon? Let’s check out some of the facts…
Celiac disease is a genetic autoimmune GI disorder that causes gluten intolerance. This disease affects about 1 in 133 Americans or roughly 1% of people in the US. Gluten intake in this population causes damage to the small bowel which leads to many complications such as diarrhea, abdominal pain, and vitamin deficiencies to name a few. Elimination of gluten is essential for those with Celiac disease.
The celiac population is certainly not accounting for the $16 billion projected for the gluten-free food industry of 2025. More often we are hearing about non-celiac gluten sensitivity to describe some individual’s response to gluten. This can be characterized by bloating, abdominal pain, change in bowel habits, fogginess, aches, fatigue, skin rash, and more. While these individuals may experience improvement in symptoms with gluten elimination, current research often points to other causes for symptoms and symptom relief.
Fructans are a type of fiber found in wheat. Fructans can cause GI symptoms since they are not well absorbed and can ferment, which can cause bloating and gas. Fructans along with certain other carbohydrates are known as FODMAPS (fermentable oligo-, di-, and mono-saccharides and polyols) and have been linked to GI symptoms, particularly in individuals with IBS.
With IBS and other functional GI disorders, there are often underlying issues that cause abnormal gut function. This abnormal gut function is typically the cause of issues with the digestion of certain types of foods, not necessarily the food itself. Therefore, elimination diets may not target the core issue and could even be detrimental. If the elimination diet is removing nutrients from the diet, it could cause malnutrition. Malnutrition causes a breakdown of the gut lining and alters the gut microbiome, which may lead to even worse stomach conditions.
We recommend working with a professional to determine the root cause of your GI issues and recommend only attempting elimination diets with a professional. Eliminating gluten might be part of the solution, but this elimination removes a fairly large category of food and it may be unnecessary to do! Another thing to consider, gluten-free replacement foods can potentially be cause for concern as well, as some products made from rice may have higher levels of arsenic and mercury.
If you are having gut issues, talk with your dietitian or medical professional. There is a myriad of potential solutions available, such as probiotics or certain antibiotics to balance gut flora, adjusting fiber intake, taking digestive enzymes, or targeting the gut-brain axis (which could involve working on mental and emotional well-being) to name a few.
Erin Dragutsky is the co-founder of 901 Nutrition, LLC and a licensed, registered dietitian in Memphis. Erin specializes in helping clients with eating disorders and disordered eating habits. She is passionate about helping clients ditch their diets for good, find food freedom, and develop a positive relationship with food. 901nutrition.com, 901.800.9526.