The Gluten-Free Fad

by Savannah Keller on March 28, 2014

Recently, gluten-free food products and diets have been trending throughout the United States.  Hollywood stars may have pushed this new fad into the media spotlight, but it has spread rapidly throughout society.  While some people reduce their wheat intake by choice, others must cut it out completely because of a dietary intolerance to specific gluten proteins.  Within the past decade, this gluten intolerance has spiked throughout the population and many more cases of Celiac Disease have been diagnosed.  According to his article in the Journal of Cereal Science, Cabrera-Chávez says that Celiacs Disease “is characterized by a life-long intolerance to undigested peptides derived from gluten proteins ..and from wheat endosperm.” Therefore, by eliminating all wheat and gluten proteins from their diet, someone with this intolerance can still enjoy plenty of other foods.
Due to the recent spike in gluten intolerances, people are wondering why this has become a problem food for an increasing percentage of the population.  There are several theories as to why gluten intolerances have been on the rise. Although none have been scientifically proven, researchers believe that the combination of both genetic and environmental factors are the most responsible.
In their article “Genetic and Environmental Factors Affecting Pathogenicity of Wheat as Related to Celiac Disease”, the authors believe that environmental and production factors were the initial change that could have triggered the rise in Celiacs.  Their main argument is that wheat has always been a major source of carbohydrates in the American diet.  Therefore, something must have changed recently that has caused people to develop an intolerance to the gluten within these food products.  One explanation could be that as a nation, we are simply consuming more wheat products than we ever have before.  In the past, wheat was only consumed through breads and other baked goods, but now nearly all food products contain wheat, especially cereals and other snacks (B. Prandi, M. Paola, G. Gianni, and S. Stefano).
Their second argument evaluates the production process of these food products.  The wheat used in these products could be of lower quality because of “the reduction of leavening time during the baking process or changes of the intestinal microbiota…Therefore, it is questionable whether there is a correlation between breeding practices and the increasing incidence of celiac disease.”  In simpler terms, because the products are being baked and manufactured quicker, there are higher contents of gluten proteins in food because they are not being baked away.
Finally, the authors believe that these differences in the properties of gluten are now triggering immune system responses of intolerance.  This relates to genetics because certain gene sequences are more susceptible.  In simple terms, an individual’s genetic make-up, specifically their T-cells, determine how they will be able to react to gluten proteins. With changing gluten, some people are unable to adapt and therefore will ultimately develop an intolerance to these products.

Sources

Cabrera-Chávez, F. “Trends in Wheat Technology and Modification of Gluten Proteins
for Dietary Treatment of Coeliac Disease Patients.” Journal of Cereal Science
52.3 (2012): 337-41. Science Direct. Web. 3 Mar. 2014. <http://
www.sciencedirect.com.ezproxy.bu.edu/science/article/pii/.

Prandi, Barbara, Paola Mantovani, Gianni Galaverna, and Stefano Sforza. “Genetic and
Environmental Factors Affecting Pathogenicity of Wheat as Related to Celiac
Disease.” Journal of Cereal Science 59.1 (2014): 62-69. Science Direct. Web. 4
Mar. 2014. <http://www.sciencedirect.com.ezproxy.bu.edu/science/article/pii/
S0733521013001677>.


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