In recent years, a gluten-free movement has swept through the UK, changing the way millions of us eat. Once only known for being a medical necessity, today eating gluten-free has become a major food trend and a popular lifestyle choice, with the UK market forecast to be worth over half a billion by 2017.
A key reason for this surge in demand is the growing popularity of the gluten-free diet by people without a physical intolerance. This new breed of gluten-avoiders report numerous health benefits after maintaining gluten-free diets, including less bloating, weight loss and increased energy levels. Sceptics, however, have been quick to dismiss these claims and have labelled the diet as simply another health fad, along the same lines as juicing, raw and carb-free diets. So has being trendy been a help or a hindrance to the gluten-intolerant?
Arguably the answer may be the latter, as the risk is that being fashionable may mask the real dangers faced by coeliacs and intolerance sufferers. It’s sometimes easy to forget the real health issues when magazines are plastered with celebrities claiming that going gluten-free helped them lose weight, or when TV shows such as the Great British Bake Off dedicate shows to cooking elaborate bakes with alternative ingredients.
The real facts are that gluten is formed by the combination of two proteins, which although are predominantly found in wheat, they are also present in other cereal grains. Most common foods that use gluten are breads, pasta, cakes/biscuits and beer. Many people assume gluten just means flour or wheat, but this isn’t the case, with many coeliacs claiming there is still a serious lack of understanding over what it means to be gluten-intolerant.