Gluten-free beer, gluten-free bread and gluten-free potato chips have found their way into vending machines, bar coolers and grocery store shelves in high numbers throughout the past few years.
Nutritionists and marketing experts report that the gluten-free market is booming, with little explanation as to why.
Celiac disease, the autoimmune disorder that can damage parts of the small intestine with the consumption of certain nutrients, can only be cured by a completely gluten-free diet, yet according to celiaccentral.org, only 1 percent of the American population has the disease.
JACKIE RUNION The Marietta Times
Rossi Pasta employee Devan Benjamin stocks gluten-free items in the retail store’s special section, which offers eight different flavors of gluten-free pasta.
JACKIE RUNION The Marietta Times
Rossi Pasta Retail Manager Courtney Gollehon stocks gluten-free items in the retail store’s special section, which offers eight different flavors of gluten-free pasta.
Providers of gluten-free food said it is popular trend and a hot-selling product line, and that many patrons and customers cite everything from a desire for a healthier diet to full-blown sickness when they chomp down on gluten-free foods like bread, cheese and pasta.
"We offer a couple different gluten-free options, but primarily it's our 10-inch gluten-free pizza," said Kasandra Ruscitto, marketing manager for The Original Pizza Place. "It's nice because families will come in and if they have someone with celiac they can get that and something else."
Ruscitto said the Marietta location sells about 75 gluten-free pizzas per week, but the demand does not stop with the pies.
- One in 133 Americans have celiac disease.
- An estimated 83 percent of Americans who have celiac disease are undiagnosed or misdiagnosed with other conditions.
- Five to 22 percent of celiac patients have an immediate family member who also has celiac.
- There is currently no pharmaceutical cure for celiac.
- Gluten-free sales reached more than $2.6 billion by the end of 2010 and are expected to exceed more than $5 billion by 2015.
"We also started serving beer recently and we have gluten-free beer that is pretty popular, and we also have gluten-free salad dressings and gluten-free sorbet," she said. "You can come get a salad, dinner, dessert and a beer, all without gluten, and it draws people in."
Certified Nutrition Counselor Dave Hawkins, who also owns Mother Earth Foods in Parkersburg, said though celiac disease is fairly rare, people still can have gluten intolerances, though it is hard to determine if that is the exact cause of stomach irritations.
"Celiac is all genetics, and it triggers a response in the gut and is inflammatory," he said. "But some people may not have the genetic defect, they just have an issue with eating (gluten)."
Hawkins said people with belly fat problems or those who have stomach irritation issues can often kick gluten and notice a difference in bloating, which can speak to why it has become a popular diet trend.
"When you do remove gluten entirely, it can start helping with digestive issues," he said.
Rossi Pasta sells eight different flavors of gluten-free pasta and three different flavors of gluten-free pizza dough mix.
"We just started doing gluten-free, probably in the past couple years," said Rossi Pasta retail manager Courtney Gollehon. "In the beginning we offered three basic flavors, and then it increased in popularity."
Gollehon also said customers cite a range of preferences, from a general diet choice to celiac.
"On the retail end, I would say that one out of every eight shoppers is looking for gluten-free," she said. "The taste, flavor and texture are pretty similar to the real thing, and ours is pretty close to the regular products that I've tried."
Ruscitto also said The Original Pizza Place has a form that asks customers to specify the degree of the intolerance, along with making all dough, sauce and some salad dressings homemade to avoid preservatives that could have "hidden" gluten.
"It's all made in a separate and safe environment by a separate person, and though we're not a certified gluten-free kitchen...we take all precautions," Ruscitto said.
Gluten can be found in any product with wheat, barley and rye, and Hawkins said any food containing preservatives might not be safe, because different thickening agents often contain gluten, besides all the cheese, bread, spices and sauces that are also full of it.
In a WebMD article reviewed by Doctor Louise Chang, Peter Jaret wrote that going completely gluten-free when you do not have celiac disease does more harm than good.
"Gluten itself doesn't offer special nutritional benefits, but the many whole grains that contain gluten do," Jaret wrote. "They're rich in an array of vitamins and minerals, such as B vitamins and iron, as well as fiber."
The article also noted that because little is known about "non-celiac gluten sensitivity," the term people without celiac disease use to describe the sensitivity to gluten, it is hard to determine if gluten is actually the problem and how much it takes to cause it.
Hawkins argued that the diet, when done carefully, can have its health benefits.
"Be cautious, look at what you're buying, research the company...just because it says gluten-free doesn't mean it is," he said. "There's no national standard yet, but the FDA is working on it."
Nancy Hawkins, marketing director for Mother Earth Foods, said though it might not be clear why, allergies and intolerances to gluten seem to be increasing in children.
"Children with issues like ADD and that kind of thing, those kids are often diagnosed with a gluten intolerance because they can't digest things well," she said. "You do have to re-invent your whole lifestyle for it."
Mother Earth Foods caters to its market by providing not only food, but cookbooks and resource guides for a gluten-free diet.
"Some people do get really sick if they do have an intolerance, and when it comes to the health of kids, it becomes an even bigger issue," Nancy Hawkins said.