Friday, September 16, 2016

Healthy Eating Department - Gluten-Free is Not a Fad

By: Cecily Costa

Though an estimated 1% of Americans have celiac disease (about 3 million people), US News & World Report believes approximately 6% of the US population have “gluten sensitivity” (headache, eczema, tingling of extremities, iron deficiency, allergies, internal discomfort...the list goes on). That means about 7% of customers, twice the amount of people who eat vegan, eat gluten-free. Gluten sensitivity is even believed to be linked to autism and other autoimmune diseases. 

Until recently, people with gluten sensitivity did not test positive for celiac. But, this past July, UPI reported that researchers at Columbia University Medical Center confirmed that people without celiac disease can experience a body-wide immune response to wheat thought to be related to intestinal cell damage and a weakening of the intestinal barrier. Translation—people with a wheat sensitivity, but not celiac disease or a wheat allergy, are not imagining symptoms they feel after eating wheat, according to this new study.

It wasn’t long ago that most restaurants didn’t even have a vegetarian option on the menu. Vegetarian dishes were done on the-fly without much thought or finesse. Now there are all sorts of great meatless options on menus everywhere and most of these dishes are more profitable for operators too! Hello 2016. 

How many of your menu items reflect gluten-free options? If the answer is zero, you might want to consider adding a few gluten-free options, or better yet, tweaking some of your existing recipes by just switching out one item (see below for some easy ideas). 

A 2015 Gallup poll found 20% of Americans were including gluten-free foods in their diet and a 2014 Consumer Reports survey found ⅓ of adults where trying to cut gluten from their diets. And if that is not enough to show what a strong trend the gluten-free market is, the US retail packaged food market has grown to $1.77 billion in 2014. That’s a huge number! Regardless if you think gluten free is a fad, or that some items are just marketing themselves as gluten free for publicity, you can’t deny the powerful impact this is having on our economy. 

Speaking as a gluten sensitive person, I can’t tell you how challenging it can be to dine out at a restaurant where there are few to none regular menu options and the wait staff is uninformed . I went to one restaurant recently where they had a totally separate menu for gluten and dairy allergies! This took the stress off me and the waiter, and I can’t help but think of the relief the kitchen feels from not have as many special orders—hat’s off Stark Restaurant Group!! 

So get on board the gluten free train, it will satisfy the needs of your customers, and also your bottom-line!