WASHINGTON — The swelling ranks of Americans adopting gluten-free diets have given rise to another hot trend: people calling the whole thing a bunch of baloney. And then requesting that the baloney be sandwiched between two pieces of white bread. Served with a cookie for dessert.
David Klimas has a friend who recently went gluten-free, a development that the 46-year-old real estate sales manager in Alexandria, Va., greets with a slow eye roll. He thinks that the gluten-free thing is just a fad, promoted by food companies "as a way of making money."
"In the '50s, everyone had ulcers," he says. "Then, it was back problems. Now, it's gluten."
Gluten abstinence has grown dramatically over the past several years. According to a survey by the NPD Group, a market-research firm, nearly a third of adults say that they're trying to either eliminate or cut back on gluten, a combination of proteins found in wheat and other grains. And this movement has spawned a burgeoning food industry valued at at least $4 billion and perhaps more than $10 billion — and climbing.
Entire aisles at grocery stores are dedicated to the diet. Restaurant chains including Bob Evans, Hooters and Uno Pizzeria and Grill, offer gluten-free menus. Trade shows devoted to gluten-free products have popped up nationwide. Bars use menu icons to denote gluten-free beers.
All of which makes some people want to bang their heads against a flour mill.
"I don't get it," Klimas says of his friend's decision to cut gluten from his diet. "How can you all of a sudden be gluten-free? He's 45. . . . Sometimes, I think it's just for him to be cool in front of the waiters."
About 1 percent of the American population suffers from celiac disease, according to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness. This is a confounding affliction in which gluten consumption causes damage to the small intestine and interferes with the body's ability to absorb vitamins. Other people are sensitive to gluten and have negative reactions to consuming it but don't have celiac disease.