Nope, it's not just in your head: Gluten-free diets are more popular than ever, despite the fact that rates of celiac disease have stayed the same, a new survey says
You know that friend who just feels so much better when she doesn't eat pizza or cookies with evil gluten? Well, that friend is by no means alone: About 2.7 million Americans eat a gluten-free diet, but only 1.76 million have celiac disease, according to new research published in JAMA Internal Medicine.
This research basically says nah, girl to previous reports saying that celiac disease is on the rise. The study, which looked at data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys from 2009 to 2014, showed that the prevalence of celiac disease remained relatively stable over time. Yet, over the same period, the number of people who didn't have the disease but who avoided gluten more than tripled (0.52 percent in 2009-2010 to 1.69 percent in 2013-2014). Not surprisingly, gluten-free diets were most popular with those between 20 and 39 years old and females and non-Hispanic whites, as lead study author Hyun-seok Kim, M.D. told Live Science. (Related: Good News for Celiacs: Gluten Sensitivity Can Now Be Diagnosed with a Finger Prick)
Sure, gluten-free everything has become one of the hottest health food trends, but still, nearly a million people avoiding a whole lot of carbs seems like a lot! The study authors explain that there are a few reasons that may account for this increasing popularity of gluten-free diets. First, there's the public perception that gluten-free diets are inherently healthier overall. (Not the case, BTW. A gluten-free brownie isn't necessarily 'healthier' than a regular one.) Not to mention, while gluten-free products were difficult to come by in the past, they are now more widely available at most large supermarkets and online.
Another explanation is the increasing number of people with 'self-diagnosed gluten sensitivity' who feel they have improved gastrointestinal health when they avoid gluten-containing products, the researchers explain. (Psst: Why Do So Many Women Have Stomach Issues?) However, in a corresponding commentary letter, Daphne Miller, M.D., argues that for these individuals, it may not actually be the gluten to blame. It could be the grain itself, or FODMAPs, that are found in gluten-containing foods, she writes. (FODMAPs increase pressure in the large intestine and promote bacterial fermentation, which results in gas and bloating, Miller explains.) Another culprit is processed foods. Those who eliminate highly processed foods (including those that contain gluten) might also experience an improvement in stomach and overall health, Miller explains.
We suggest keeping this info in your back pocket when that friend refuses to go halfsies on those pancakes at brunch.