We seem to fear gluten these days like we used to fear fat and carbs. At a recent women’s conference I attended, the buffet line included four large signs declaring the salad, vegetables and chicken were all gluten-free. The people standing in line next to me wondered if that was a good thing?
Gluten-free diets seem to be the latest fad, yet new research shows the number of people being diagnosed with celiac disease hasn’t increased.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder, in which foods containing gluten trigger the immune system to attack and damage the small intestine, according to the Celiac Disease Foundation. Gluten is a protein found naturally in grains like wheat, barley and rye.
People with celiac disease have no choice but to avoid gluten in their diet. If they don’t, their small intestine is damaged every time they eat something with gluten. And that can be serious. But for most of us, gluten isn’t a bad thing. Foods with gluten typically have fiber, which we all need to increase our daily consumption.
Yet, gluten-free diets appear to have become a trendy way to address any sort of gastrointestinal problem, said lead author of the study, Dr. Hyun-Seok Kim, an internal medicine resident at the Rutgers New Jersey Medical School in Newark, N.J.
“People may have a gluten sensitivity or non-specific gastrointestinal symptoms, and simply assume that a gluten-free diet will help their symptoms,” Kim wrote in the study papers.
The number of Americans following a gluten-free diet tripled between 2009 and 2014, but diagnoses of celiac disease remained stable during that same period, the researchers found. The study was published as a research letter in the Sept. 6 online edition of JAMA Internal Medicine.