Celiac Disease: Fast Facts & Myths

Celiac Disease Celiac Disease

According to BeyondCeliac.org, which supports consumers with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity, here are some of the most staggering facts associated with commonly asked questions about celiac disease and the gluten-free marketplace.

• It is estimated that 83 percent of Americans who have celiac disease are undiagnosed or misdiagnosed with other conditions.

• Celiac disease is a serious genetic autoimmune disease that damages the villi of the small intestine and interferes with absorption of nutrients from food.

• An estimated one in 133 Americans, or about 1 percent of the population, has celiac disease.

• Celiac disease can affect men and women of all ages and races.

• Six to 10 years is the average time a person waits to be correctly diagnosed. (Source: Daniel Leffler, MD, MS, The Celiac Center at Beth Israel Deaconness Medical Center)

• Celiac disease can lead to a number of other disorders including infertility, reduced bone density, neurological disorders, some cancers, as well as other autoimmune diseases.

• Five to 22 percent of people with celiac disease have an immediate family member (first degree relative) who also has celiac disease.

• There are no pharmaceutical treatments or cures for celiac disease.

• A 100 percent gluten-free diet is the only existing treatment for celiac disease today.

What is the Retailer’s Role in Supporting Consumers Demanding Gluten-free Products?

According to Markets and Markets research, the global gluten-free products market is projected to reach $7.59 billion USD by 2020, at a CAGR of 10.4 percent from 2015 to 2020. Essentially, sales have not abated in a category that was often described as a fad; instead, it has become a trend, with one of the main reasons for this being attributed to the Americans’ fascination with what’s new and what’s novel.

As a responsive retailer, it stands to reason that you need to have a least a small percentage of your product mix be something that’s up to date and up to the minute. However, gluten free has now hung in with continued double-digit growth year after year. Novel is not enough to explain the fascination with the diet and the growth in sales. Recent research from Natural Marketing Institute (NMI) suggests that consumers really feel the gluten-free diet is better for them and the influence of family, friends and the media have been critical to the diet’s longevity.

Why are Consumers Going Gluten Free?

Top drivers behind gluten-free product decisions

Top drivers behind gluten-free product decisions

Why consumers buy gluten-free products

Why consumers buy gluten-free products

Who are the Biggest Influencers in This Decision?

As a retailer, how do you distinguish between fact and myth in this category that holds so much emotional and physical power for those that adhere to it for non-medical reasons?

Here is a compiled a list of some myths associated with the category and thanks to the help of the Gluten-Free Associations and support groups (www.celiac.org; www.beyondgluten.com; www.celiacscene.com), you have an additional resource when considering listing new gluten-free products within your stores.


Most commonly rated influencers for going gluten free

Most commonly rated influencers for going gluten free

Myths or Facts

• Is Gluten Sensitivity Real?

There is very little known about non-celiac gluten sensitivity (“gluten sensitivity”). At this point in time, most experts in gluten-related disorders do believe it is a real condition. However, there may be experts with differing opinions.

We don’t have a disease definition yet for gluten sensitivity, so right now it is what we call a diagnosis of exclusion.

A diagnosis of gluten sensitivity is given when people experience similar symptoms as those with celiac disease when eating gluten, but who test negative for celiac disease and wheat allergy. These individuals then undergo an elimination diet under the supervision of an expert health care team to determine if gluten is at the root of their symptoms.

People with celiac disease develop auto-antibodies to gluten and experience damage to their intestines. People with gluten sensitivity experience neither of these celiac disease markers; however, their symptoms can be quite debilitating and affect quality of life

• Do You Gain Weight Eating Gluten-containing Foods?

If you do not have celiaic disease or a gluten sensitivity, gluten is not harmful to your health and is not making you gain weight. Since so many foods now come in gluten-free versions, it’s easy to think that they are a better alternative—which would be wrong. Gluten is found in many whole-grain foods that have an array of vitamins, minerals, and fiber and are vital to a healthy diet.

Research has shown, that people who eat three servings of whole grains a day are 30 percent less likely to develop type 2 diabetes. The right mix of healthy carbohydrates, like whole-grain products, is the best way to control your blood sugar and avoid diabetes—plus fiber rich foods help to keep you full throughout the day.

Whole grains are also the vehicle for many of nature’s disease fighters, like phytochemicals. So when you’re cutting out gluten for no real reason, you’re losing many of the nutritional benefits found in foods with gluten.

• Do Gluten-free Foods Help You Lose Weight?

Weight loss comes from balanced, healthy diets—gluten free or not. When you’re trying to lose weight, the key is to make conscious choices about eating whole, real foods. If you need to go gluten free, consult your doctor or a nutritionist to determine the best eating plan for your lifestyle, but in general, select more fruits, vegetables, lean meat and more naturally gluten-free grains, like brown rice or quinoa.

• Are Gluten-free Foods Better For Your Health?

Gluten-free foods aren’t better for your health. Don’t be fooled—gluten free doesn’t automatically mean “low calorie” or “healthy.” In fact, gluten-free foods are full of extra calories and sugars to make up for taste and texture when alternative products are swapped. They also tend to have less fiber than their gluten-containing counterparts. Nutrition legislation has not caught up with this category and fortification is not always evident in gluten-free foods. Unless people are careful, a gluten-free diet can lack essential nutrients since a lot of the gluten-free products tend to be low in B vitamins, calcium, iron, zinc and magnesium.

A brand champion and trend expert, Tricia Ryan has more than 15 years of progressive experience in marketing and communications with a focus on food and consumer packaged goods in the food and beverage industry. She is a principal at the Gluten-Free Agency providing strategic and communication expertise on the gluten-free market. She also leads the Gluten-Free Certification Program in its marketing efforts across North America. She has an MBA in marketing and business, and has completed her internship as a registered dietitian.