Gluten-free foods (and confusion) on the rise

The gluten-free foods market has increased 74 percent from 2004 to 2009, says a May 11 article in the New York Daily News, and is expected to grow from 15 to 25 percent a year, based on research by the Nielsen Company, who also projects that the the gluten-free market will hit $2.6 billion in sales by 2012.

Unfortunately, the article also perpetuates the common misunderstanding that celiac disease is the same as gluten intolerance: "As Celiac Disease Awareness Month gets underway in May, that’s good news for the three million Americans who have celiac disease. Also called gluten intolerance, celiac disease is actually a genetic disorder ...." Sorry, New York Daily News, but celiac disease should not be confused with gluten intolerance; they are not the same thing.

I'm also puzzled by this statement from the article: "The prevalence of celiac is on the rise, and there are many theories as to why," says Carol M. Shilson, executive director of the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center. "An important one is the hygiene theory. We’re getting so clean that our immune systems aren’t as strong as they were and we are more open to autoimmune diseases like celiac disease. In less developed areas of the world, celiac is much less prevalent." If, as the article states, celiac is a genetic disorder (and there is strong evidence for this, given that the prevalence of celiac among relatives is 1 in 22, compared with 1 in 133 for the general population), the hygiene theory as a cause of celiac seems a bit out of a stretch to me. Still, I agree that the corruption of our food supply over the past 50 years or so may well be increasing gluten intolerance. What do you think?

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