I remember just a few short years ago how difficult it was to find gluten-free food in the grocery store. I have vivid memories of my mother buying various kinds of flour in order to create her own gluten-free baking mix, because there weren’t any on the market.
Fast forward to 2016 when I’ve written entire blogs reviewing the various brands offering gluten-free flour mixes!
But are there negative aspects of the booming gluten-free industry? For those of us with celiac and gluten sensitivity, is it helping us or hurting us?
Walk into any grocery store today and you will undoubtedly find a gluten-free section containing pastas, cookies, crackers, cake mixes, granola bars, flour blends… the list goes on and on. Is this massive boom in product availability, options, and awareness helping or hurting the celiac community?
Why It’s a Blessing
1. The Glorious Options!
I remember when first diagnosed with celiac how few options there were at the grocery store. And of the options available, there was a 50/50 chance it would taste something like gritty cardboard. My how the tides have changed! While I do try to keep the processed food to a minimum, it’s so nice to be able to easily find things like pie crusts, lasagna noodles, instant waffles, panko breadcrumbs; the list goes on and on! It really is a gluten-free smorgasboard out there.
2. Not only are the options greater – the food is BETTER.
With Americans spending over $4 billion a year on gluten-free products, there is now serious competition among companies vying for the attention of gluten-free shoppers. Not only do we expect more options, but we expect them to taste just as good as the gluten-containing version. Long gone are the days of one lonely brand of styrofoam textured bread at the grocery store. Now we have exclusively gluten-free bakeries, gluten-free pizza that is actually delicious, and lots of great restaurants catering to our needs.
3. Less Social Isolation
Being restricted to a gluten-free diet can sometimes be isolating, especially at social events like office parties and weddings. The gluten-free boom and the consequent awareness has really helped out with this issue. It’s now easier for hosts to change recipes to be gluten-free, it’s less complicated to explain a gluten-free diet to others, and kitchen and wait staff at places like hotels and banquet halls are well equipped to handle a gluten-free meal.
Why It’s a Curse
1. Lax Restaurant and Wait Staff
One of the biggest problems I face is waiters not knowing if my questions and requests are due to celiac disease or to a lifestyle choice. I often feel like the more prevalent the gluten-free diet becomes the less seriously my requests are taken at restaurants. The dramatic increase of the gluten-free movement has also led many critics to call it the “latest diet fad,” meaning that we have to fight even harder to make sure that people know that for those of us with celiac and gluten-intolerance it is a serious health issue.
2. Growing Cross-Contamination Issues
As more restaurants begin to cater to the growing number of gluten-free dieters, the risk for cross-contamination grows along with it. While some restaurants are careful to take extra measures like changing out gloves and preparing food in separate areas, many more restaurants don’t take the necessary precautions to avoid cross-contamination while still labeling their dishes as gluten-free.
3. People Not Taking Us Seriously
While an estimated 1% of the population has celiac disease, a whopping 29% of Americans are attempting a gluten-free diet. Unfortunately, this segment of the population who simply view gluten-free dieting as an easy health fix may be making life challenging for those of us who need to avoid gluten. Phrases like “cheat day” or “just a bite” when referring to a gluten-free diet diminish the seriousness and damage that gluten can pose to those with celiac and gluten-intolerance.
So what do you think? Do the benefits outweigh the risks? Do you think the gluten-free boom is a blessing or a curse? I guess we’ll all have to wait and see.