Why are we all avoiding gluten? What are the implications?

Why are we all avoiding gluten? What are the implications?

Yesterday both the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph (links below) ran long articles on the stratospheric growth in the gluten free food market. This is a subject that hospitality and foodservice operators need to understand for its implications on their businesses – now, and in the future.

It is already clear that the gluten free market is large – estimates for the UK market suggest £200 million a year, which is likely to be a considerable under-estimate – and growing fast.

Here, Michelle Berriedale-Johnson, editor of the largest global resource for food intolerance and ‘freefrom’ foods – www.FreeFromMatters.com  and director of the FreeFromFood and Eating Out Awards (links below) – addresses the issue, and has two suggestions.

1. Gluten intolerance is not just about coeliac disease

Earlier this year gluten expert Dr Tom O’Bryan ran a massive online gluten ‘summit’ involving almost every big name in coeliac disease research and clinical care. Although they were not all in agreement, the general consensus was that:

• Gluten related illness affects far more bodily systems than just the digestive system. (Conventionally coeliac disease was only thought to affect the small intestine which was damaged by a gluten fraction called gliadin).

• Gluten related illness may be more likely to be a neurological than a digestive problem e.g. to affect the brain rather than the gut. So it is possible that conditions such as headaches and migraine, ataxias, brain fog, fatigue and IBS may all be gluten related.

• There may be a genetic element to gluten illnesses. In very simplistic terms, if you are genetically predisposed to be gluten sensitive (which many people may be) once your sensitivity has been triggered by eating gluten then that sets off a whole train of events in the body which may end up with you succumbing to an auto-immune disease. Classic coeliac disease itself is an autoimmune disease but of course there are many others (such as diabetes), the incidence of all of which is growing alarmingly.

For a brief introduction to the summit see Gluten Related Disorders: Our Knowledge Expands on the CoeliacsMatter site; for the full proceedings of the summit see Theglutensummit.com.

So – gluten sensitivity would appear to affect many, many more people than the 1% who are currently diagnosed as coeliac. And, in defiance of conventional medical thinking, many of us may just have logged into that fact and are taking action…

2. Going ‘gluten-free’ has far wider implications that just not eating gluten

Feeling off colour, tired, headachy, depressed? Got digestive problems – bloating, indigestion? Overweight and can’t seem to lose it? Joints aching for no good reason? Brain a bit foggy? Been to the doctor but he/she says there is nothing wrong.

‘Wonder if I am gluten sensitive. Loads of other people seem to think it helps. Look how great Gwyneth Paltrow looks on a gluten-free diet! Maybe I will try it…’

It is possible that that person is indeed gluten sensitive but it is also very likely that they are eating a less than perfect diet (far too many processed foods and takeaways), drinking too much, smoking, not taking much exercise and leading a fairly high stress life – any or all of which could contribute to their health problems.

If they put themselves on a gluten-free diet:

1. They are going to have to think about what they eat as opposed to just grabbing the first thing that comes to hand.

2. Once they go gluten-free they will, by definition, cut out many of the highly processed (and sweetened) cakes and biscuits, endless plates of pasta or pizza which may have made up the majority of their diet.

3. Even though there is very much wider range of gluten-free/freefrom food available now, they will still have to prepare more food from scratch which will probably mean using more fresh fruits and vegetables.

4. Having decided to go gluten free they will be more focused on their health so instead of ‘intending’ to join that yoga class or that gym, they may actually do it and, at the same time, may cut down on that binge drinking or those cigarettes.

5. Doing all of those things will definitely impact on their stress levels so they may feel less stressed.

As a result, their overall health will improve. This improvement will have a number of causes but they will put it down to the gluten-free diet – so will continue, if not on a totally gluten-free diet, at least on a gluten reduced diet.

Note: pictured top is Focaccia Per Tutti’s Focaccia Mediterranea, winner of the Best FreeFrom Product 2014 in this year’s Freefrom Food Awards.

So – going on a gluten-free diet can improve your overall health and well being, regardless of whether or not you are gluten sensitive.

  • Michelle Berriedale-Johnson has edited the FreeFrom Matters sites for over 20 years. She has written over 20 books on food related subjects and is a recognised industry expert on freefrom food.
  • The FreeFrom Matters sites have over half a million unique global visitors each year.
  • The FreeFrom Food Awards, now in their 8th very successful year, are the industry’s only award for ‘freefrom food’ – gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free, soya-free etc.
  • The FreeFrom Eating Out Awards are launching this year to coincide with the new allergen regulations affecting t he food service industry.
  • Click for the Daily Mail and Telegraph articles on the growth in the gluten free food market


Michelle Berriedale-Johnson

Director: FreeFrom Awards

Editor: FreeFrom Matters sites

5 Lawn Road, London NW3 2XS

Tel:  020 7722 2866


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