The market for gluten-free products has grown from essentially unmeasurable to a multi-billion-dollar industry over the last 20 years. Estimates of the value of the global gluten-free market range from a projected $4.7 to $7.9 billion in 2020, up from $1.7 billion in 2011, according to Financial Times.
Gluten is a collective name for proteins found in wheat, rye, barley, and triticale as well as derivatives of these grains, such as barley malt and wheat germ. These proteins are present in a wide variety of ingredients commonly used in food production, and play a vital role in a food product’s volume, texture, and appearance. Gluten can easily hide in foods such as malted milkshakes, herbal teas, artificial flavors, candy, bouillon cubes, and lunch meats.
Some individuals have a severe intolerance to consuming gluten called celiac disease, a hereditary autoimmune disorder. When they eat gluten, damage to the small intestine occurs and they can’t properly absorb nutrients into the body—resulting in nutritional deficiencies. Other symptoms might include chronic fatigue, osteoporosis, anemia, and reproductive health issues, says Alice Bast, CEO, Beyond Celiac, Ambler, Pa., a non-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness of celiac disease. If undiagnosed or untreated, celiac disease can lead to further complications such as the onset of other autoimmune diseases and some cancers. Go.BeyondCeliac.org says approximately 1 percent of Americans have this condition; diagnosis rates continue to rise as awareness of the disease grows.
“Individuals with celiac disease can only tolerate small trace amounts of gluten, so any presence must be low enough to be undetectable by scientific methods,” points out Genelle Chetcuti, senior director of marketing, RW Garcia, San Jose, Calif., which manufactures gluten-free snacks.
A 100 percent gluten-free diet is the only existing treatment for celiac disease, says Sue Newell, education manager, Canadian Celiac Association, Mississauga, Ontario. Drug treatments undergoing testing by the U.S. FDA are designed to supplement a gluten-free diet, not replace it.
Up to 6 percent of Americans, or 18 million people, exhibit similar symptoms to those with celiac disease when consuming gluten, according to Go.BeyondCeliac.org.
About Karen Appold
Karen Appold is an award-winning journalist based in Lehigh Valley, Pa. She has a BA in English (writing) from Penn State University and has more than 20 years of editorial experience. Karen has been a full-time freelance medical writer and editor since 2003. She works for various medical organizations, businesses, and media. Karen has also worked in a variety capacities, including newspaper reporter, editor of a daily newspaper, and editor of a monthly magazine. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.