Sensitive to Gluten-Free Claims

Research is making it clear that far more people are sensitive to gluten-free claims than are sensitive to gluten itself. Late last year, Peter Gibson published new research showing that few, if any, people have gluten sensitivity unless they have actual celiac disease. In other words, apart from the uncommon (<1% of the population) condition of celiac disease, gluten sensitivity may not actually exist.

Google Trends - Organic, Low Carb, and Gluten FreeThis finding is worth your attention because Gibson was the scientist who first published data supporting the idea that gluten sensitivity might actually affect people other than those with celiac disease. But after more careful research, he’s calling his own prior findings into question.

Unfazed by these facts, approximately 30% of consumers are striving to eat less gluten. Gluten-free product sales reached an estimated $11 billion last year and are expected to grow another 50% by next year. Interest in gluten-free everything has surpassed the fascination with low-carb goodies and left organic foods in the dust, as illustrated by the Google Trends chart above (click on it for a larger version).

And so it is that food marketing buzzwords rise up with a healthy halo that’s quickly rendered meaningless. Yet another example comes from a close examination of the farm-to-table movement that’s still gathering steam among cognoscenti of food. In the New York Times, Dan Barber explains how the movement is falling sadly short of its stated goals to change the quality of food from American farms. The numbers are actually moving in the opposite direction — toward more mega farms pumping out more corn and soy for more processed foods. Superficial farm-to-table talk is having little impact.

And so it is that buzz rules the day, nutritional quality gets glossed over, and convictions crowd out nutrition science.

We can aim higher.

Click here to read more about gluten sensitivity in Real Clear Science, here to read Gibson’s study, and here to read Barber’s op-ed in the New York Times.

Gluten-Free Chocolate Covered Cherries, photograph © Elena’s Pantry / flickr

Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.


2 Responses to “Sensitive to Gluten-Free Claims”

  1. May 21, 2014 at 12:24 pm, Amy Endrizal said:

    I hope this news item gains traction with the public not just for the result of the study (which may make the food industry apoplectic after jumping en masse on the gluten-free bandwagon) but for the underlying message that what looks like waffling on the part of scientists is actually what science is all about. What’s especially impressive here is that Peter Gibson turned a skeptical eye toward his own work and refined it, improved on his methods, and wasn’t afraid to report findings contrary to his earlier study. That’s not being wishy-washy, it’s being brave enough not to be wedded to your conclusions. We could all use a little more humility like that!

    • May 21, 2014 at 12:29 pm, Ted said:

      You’re absolutely right. Some other comments I’ve gotten remind me it’s worth noting that GI and dietary issues deserve attention from a thoughtful professional — the right physician or dietitian. Food marketing claims are a poor source of advice.