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Food & Beverage Reporter Jan-Feb 2016

By Marika Sboros A ccording to market research firm Mintel, global sales of foods labelled “gluten-free” surged by 44% between 2011-13, reaching an estimated $10.5 billion. But critics say it has now reached its peak and sales are likely to start declining because of the over-hyped benefits of eating gluten-free. Believe it or not, even today the medical jury is still out on whether there actually is such a thing as gluten sensitivity, and whether or not gluten- free products have any real benefit. Among the criticisms are that many people who follow gluten-free diets do so blindly without really understanding the issue and that many gluten- free products are actually junk foods high in sugars and additives, creating health challenges worse than those allegedly caused by gluten. What isn’t controversial is the existence of a genuine medical condition for a gluten-free diet: anyone diagnosed with celiac disease (approx. 1% of the population in the USA), a serious auto-immune condition in which people cannot tolerate gluten because it damages the inner lining of their small intestine and prevents nutrient absorption. The controversy is over the existence – or not – of gluten sensitivity, or non- celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) to give its full name, along with claims of benefits of a gluten-free diet. The US Celiac Disease Foundation appears to be on board with the idea that gluten sensitivity is real. The foundation says it has symptoms in common with celiac disease, such as brain “fog”, depression, ADHD-like behaviour, abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhoea, constipation, headaches, bone or joint pain, and chronic fatigue whenever foods containing gluten are eaten. One of the problems with NCGS is that there is currently no blood test for it. The only way to get a diagnosis is simply to see if symptoms reduce or disappear when gluten-free products are eaten, and return when gluten is reintroduced into the diet. Some experts say NCGS is not just over-hyped, it may not even exist. Among them is the leading global researcher who initially identified NCGS but who has now done a complete U-turn - Australian gastroenterology professor Peter Gibson, of Monash University in Melbourne. Back in 2011 Gibson was the lead author of a study which appeared to show that NCGS actually existed, although it gave no clues as to its causes. The study was hailed as was one of the strongest pieces of evidence to date that gluten sensitivity was real. It boosted the growing popularity of gluten-free products. But, like any good scientist, Gibson continued to do research to confirm his original findings - and changed his mind when it did not: Gibson’s follow- up study published in 2013 showed no improvement in symptoms of NCGS when participants ate certain gluten-free foods. Instead, his study showed that short-chain sugars known as FODMAPS (fermentable oligo-di-monosaccharides and polyols) - not gluten - are a more likely trigger of NCGS symptoms and that a low-FODMAP diet can be helpful. If Gibson has stopped blaming gluten, US cardiologist Dr William Davis is in no doubt about the damage it can cause. Davis is author of the best-selling book ... continued on Page 18 At FIE Europe 2015 in Paris in December, the grains/gluten-rich sector was prominently on display, though there was also a large contingent of exhibitors waving the gluten-free flag. NUTRITION Gluten-free: is it over-hyped?

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