On April 9, celebrity Miley Cyrus tweeted, “For everyone calling me anorexic I have a gluten and lactose allergy. It’s not about weight it’s about health. Gluten is crapppp anyway!” Cyrus further encouraged her more than five million followers: “Everyone should try no gluten for a week! The change in your skin, physical and mental health is amazing! U won’t go back!”
Gluten-free is on the lips of a lot of food industry folks right now, thanks in part to such celebrity advocacy. I spoke with Jane Dummer, a leading registered dietitian in Canada, about the gluten-free craze and she is seeing it over-recommended by certain groups of health professionals. This fact, coupled with celebrity endorsement have swelled the gluten-free market. There are now a number of people on a gluten-free diet in hopes of cleansing, eating healthier or losing wieght. These are incorrect notions currently held by a misinformed public, as my chat with Dummer confirmed.
A gluten-free diet is not inherently healthier than a well-balanced diet. On the contrary, people prescribed a gluten-free diet need to be extra cautious about getting all of the micronutrients they need, and not all gluten-free companies fortify their flour mixes. According to the Canadian Celiac Association: “Most gluten-free flours, breads, pasta products, breakfast cereals and baked goods available on the Canadian market are much lower in vitamins, mineral nutrients and fibre than the gluten-containing products they replace.” A gluten-free diet is not necessarily low-carb; do not consider it a low-carb offering for your customers. I have seen a chef quoting this very error in the mainstream media.
Gluten-free is a very difficult diet to maintain. It is unlikely that people who are not required to be on it will remain on it for the long haul. The popularity of gluten-free foods is set to taper off within the next two or three years, Dr. Elizabeth Sloan, president of Sloan Trends, recently asserted at a recent Research Chefs Association conference in Texas, reported www.foodnavigator-usa.com .
Celiac disease is a serious medical condition with no cure. The only treatment is avoiding gluten for life. I doubt celiacs would choose their fate. Many U.S.
media outlets were quick to crucify Cyrus’s tweets, quoting a battery of experts who discouraged people from being on a gluten-free diet unless they need to be. Perhaps this rebuttal by the media will be the beginning of a search for the next silver bullet.
Better diagnosis and doctor education has led to more confirmations of celiac disease, which requires a blood test and biopsy. Accurate diagnosis is growing what I would call the “real” market for gluten-free, which includes those who are intolerant or allergic. This is the gluten-free customer you will have for life. The Canadian Celiac Association quotes one in 133 Canadians as being celiac. There is a real niche market with a medical need, and pizzerias are doing a good thing when they provide a gluten-free crust for those requiring it. Cross-contamination is a serious issue and it’s important to become educated about how to minimize the risk. Be aware of letting the bandwagon be your leader; it could lead you to just short-term gains. When deciding how large the market is and if it’s worthwhile financially for you to enter it, do the math on the actual number of celiacs and potential celiacs living in your community. The others are likely to eventually move on.