Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Gluten Free Fad

For the past few years the gluten free bubble has been filling, quickly.  There's been increased demand for Gluten free foods, awareness has skyrocketed, and offerings increased.
People have used to gluten free diet to lose weight, treat autism, improve depression, and cure a range of digestive issues.  Some even latched onto it as the next great health phenomenon.  Gluten free was to the 2000's as granola was to the 70's.

But research shows, or claims to show, that the fad is slowly fading.  The masses find a strict gluten free diet difficult to adhere to, and the concept of 'simply' removing a dietary mainstay is proving not so simple.  Choosing gluten free products can be confusing and frustrating.  Substitutions that are high in fat and starches and artificial substances are gumming up the "healthy, natural" niche that gluten free used to fall in.
It makes sense that people who found success in the GF lifestyle because they were opting for whole foods, rather than prepackaged calories, are now finding that a whole food diet including some gluten grains is perfectly acceptable for them, in fact may work better than one full of gluten free pastries.  For those who jumped on the bandwagon simply because it was a bandwagon, the next new trend is coming (whatever it is) and they'll happily leave gluten free labels by the wayside.  And those who were buying gluten free simply because of the China dog food scandal are relaxing, realizing that gluten as an additive and gluten as a naturally occurring substance are two very different things.

Meanwhile, those who are gluten free out of medical necessity are both revelling in the widened selection in the marketplace, brought about by the gluten free trend, and wading through the increased muddy definitions of "gluten free".  When it was just a health requirement, the concept was relatively easy.  Either it was gluten free, or not.  Products that took the time to proclaim themselves gluten free were generally aware of the concerns and requirements.  Products that were naturally gluten free were, well, naturally gluten free.

Times have changed.  Food producers recognize that the general masses, the majority of individuals that they are trying to appeal to, don't care if their gluten free food is tested or not.  They don't care about cross contamination.  So they are adjusting their packaging or recipes accordingly.  The savvy gluten free eater needs to discriminate between gluten free food, and food that doesn't contain gluten ingredients but may have been exposed to some flour sediment.  (Which contains gluten)  This brings about a lot of debates.  "That's not gluten free!"  "Oh, but it is!"

No wonder the gluten free fad is fading.  For the sake of ease, and variety, a person following any diet for medical reasons needs to not only understand their own dietary restrictions, but the reasons surrounding why different people might follow a similar diet.  And how strict they need to be.  Unless you see clear, definitive results and have a supportive network of friends and family, a restrictive diet is too confining.  And the complications and expense simply aren't worth it for the sake of a fad. 

The flip side is that the fad reputation gives those of us following the diet religiously for the sake of their own health a bad name.  Those following the fad can cheat, and even give up.  Those of us who need to be strict, need to be strict.  Which is hard on the host as well as the guest or customer.  Hopefully as the fad fades, awareness will continue to increase, and we will get truth in labeling...not just a few isolated ingredients deemed dangerous by the government, but any ingredient...because the statistically insignificant strict, picky eaters count.