Americans Spend Over $4.2 Billion Per Year on Gluten-Free Food

First Posted: Jun 10, 2014 11:47 AM EDT

About a month ago, Jimmy Kimmel started a big Internet conversation over gluten-free people, what it means to be gluten-free, and what gluten's detrimental effects are. The unearthing of fraudulent "gluten-free" people has upset those with Celiac disease.

Celiac disease is a rare condition where an individual experiences an immune reaction to eating gluten - a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye - which is completely reasonable to consume unless one has this condition. But many people declare themselves "gluten-free" even if they don't suffer from Celiac.

One percent of the U.S. population actually has Celiac, according to Food Allergy Research and Education reports, which doesn't seem to justify the $4.2 billion spent annually on gluten-free foods. Common misconceptions include, "gluten makes you fat" or "gluten is an unhealthy part of your diet." In fact, some gluten-free foods are unhealthier than gluten-filled foods because they sometimes contain more calories or sugar to make up for the loss of gluten.

"You're on nothing more than a high-powered Atkins diet, and while it's great that you're feeling healthier, it's not great that you blame the discrepancy between your previous and current state of health on a fictional allergy," said an anonymous waitress on the social media site Tickld.

But maybe those who are actually gluten intolerant shouldn't be too mad at these faux gluten-free advocates. Apparently there are a lot more gluten-free foods to choose from now that so much money is being spent on their consumption each year. They've effectively helped raise awareness for gluten-free foods, which is an advantage, but many believe it's more difficult to convince people of Celiac disease's veracity because so many people claim to have a gluten allergy.

For those who actually have a gluten allergy, the protein can cause inflammation in the lining of the small intestine, damaging the organ and resulting in malabsorption. Otherwise, gluten is perfectly reasonable to consume, and contrary to popular belief, does not contribute to obesity, cancer, heart disease, or any other ailment. So for all of those consuming gluten-free foods without an allergy, it's encouraged because more are becoming aware of those with Celiac disease, but don't claim you have an allergy when you don't.

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