The well-known American sandwich bar Jersey Mike’s announced that they will offer a gluten-free sandwich after positive results on the test markets. Since December 2017, buying this roll has been possible at more than 1300 branches in the US. Jersey Mike’s works together with Udi’s for the gluten-free sub rolls (Jersey Mike’s, 2017). This company is not the only one that decided to offer one or more gluten-free options. It’s obvious that there’s a wide selection of gluten-free products. Good for people who have NCGS (gluten sensitivity) or coeliac disease, but where does the rise in gluten-free product suddenly come from?
More and more people follow a gluten-free diet, even though they can eat products that contain gluten without getting health problems (McCarthy, 2018). Aside from that, many people suddenly eats quinoa (Statistics Netherlands [CBS] , 2018). Is this because quinoa doesn’t contain gluten? Eating gluten-free is rising, just like veganism. The important difference is that veganism is a lifestyle and eating gluten-free a diet. People eat vegan because of their values about animals and the climate. But… why would you eat gluten-free if you can eat gluten? There aren’t animals harmed for gluten and it isn’t harmful for the climate either. To understand this, I asked expert Willeke Poeliejoe. According to her, it’s because people think gluten-free is healthier and additionally it is affected by social behaviour. Let’s talk about the first argument. Gluten itself isn’t unhealthy, but the products that contain added gluten mostly are. Products like biscuits, bread, sauces and spaghetti contain, besides fat, also many carbohydrates, sugars and other additions. As a result, people are confused and think that the protein gluten is bad, while mostly it is the product that contains gluten. Gluten-free bread is even less healthy than bread with gluten, because to make the bread tasty, it’s necessary to add many processed ingredients. Something you shouldn’t eat if it isn’t necessary. Of course, gluten-free bread is healthier for coeliac disease patients, because otherwise they would actually have health problems.
If a gluten-free diet isn’t that healthy, why is it popular? Is it because people start with this diet like a headless chicken, without doing research (and without finding out it actually isn’t healthy)? In America, around 3.250.000 people have coeliac disease. 28% of the gluten-free eaters says it’s because they are diagnosed by a doctor. 36% has not been diagnosed, but has other reasons to not eat gluten (Statistic Brain Research Institute [SBRI], 2017). Which reasons do they have?
Poeliejoe thinks social behaviour is also a cause, as famous people who don’t eat gluten tend to share their story or pictures of their food on social media and many people copy this. For example, Victoria Beckham doesn’t eat gluten to stay ‘in shape’. People think: she looks good, maybe should I try that gluten-free diet too!
The physical complaints of coeliac disease or NCGS are vague: having a headache, a bloated feeling, experiencing fatigue, vomiting and diarrhoea (Celiac Disease Foundation , n.d.). Exactly: complaints everyone sometimes experiences. Many people that have these complaints think they can solve them with a gluten-free diet, because the complaints are similar.
A few years ago, the knowledge about coeliac disease increased. This is great for the coeliac disease patients who got officially diagnosed, but on the other hand, some people only gather half of the information. People often think it is an allergy with unpleasant complaints that will pass when you eat gluten-free, instead of an autoimmune disease where your body create antibodies against your own tissue. In other words: people have complaints and think they can solve it with eating gluten-free food, thus Poeliejoe.
All these subjects are related to the need of freedom of choice, ignorance (following the mass without real knowledge) and following influencers (and copying their behaviour). People want to have the freedom to choose what they eat and what they don’t eat. This is also linked to individualism, people want to differentiate from other people. On the other hand, people follow the group, in this case the gluten-free eaters. Speaking of influencers: 90% of consumers trust peer advices in contrast to 33% that trusts in adds (Nielsen, 2012). The behaviour of famous people is adopted indiscriminately, without really delving into the subject.
I think gluten-free will stick to being a hype and will pass within a few years. As I said: eating vegan is a lifestyle but eating gluten-free is a diet. In addition, it’s a diet that isn’t even healthy. As soon as people know this, the amount of gluten-free eaters won’t increase and then restaurants and supermarkets won’t respond to it anymore.
But who knows, maybe many other people will start eating gluten-free and you can choose vegan, gluten-free, sugar-free and lactose-free food in all the restaurants soon. Everyone happy?
Celiac Disease Foundation . (n.d.). Celiac Disease Symptoms. Retrieved February 10, 2018, from Celiac Disease Foundation : https://celiac.org/celiac-disease/understanding-celiac-disease-2/celiacdiseasesymptoms/
Jersey Mike’s. (2017, December 5). Jersey Mike’s Introduces Gluten Free Sub Rolls Nationwide. Retrieved April 12, 2018, from Jersey Mike’s: https://www.jerseymikes.com/news/jersey-mikes-introduces-gluten-free-sub-rolls-nationwide
McCarthy, N. (2018, January 17). The Rise Of The Gluten-Free Diet . Retrieved March 1 2018, from Statista: https://www.statista.com/chart/7639/the-rise-of-the-gluten-free-diet/
Nielsen. (2012, October 4). Nielsen: Global Consumers’ Trust in ‘Earned’ Advertising Grows in Importance. Retrieved May 9, 2018, from Nielsen: http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/press-room/2012/nielsen-global-consumers-trust-in-earned-advertising-grows.html
Statistic Brain Research Institute [SBRI]. (2017, May 10). Gluten / Celiac Disease Statistics. Retrieved February 10, 2018, from Statistic Brain Research Institute [SBRI]: https://www.statisticbrain.com/gluten-celiac-disease-statistics/
Statistics Netherlands [CBS] . (2018, January 8). Quinoa trade has tripled in four years. Retrieved May 18, 2018, from Statistics Netherlands [CBS] : https://www.cbs.nl/en-gb/news/2018/02/quinoa-trade-has-tripled-in-four-years
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