Few food trends have taken off as quickly in recent years as the push for gluten-free products. In fact, as many as one in 10 new food products launched in 2014 were gluten-free, nearly double the rate of two years before. In the United States, where the trend has truly taken off in full force, some researchers believe that close to 30% of buyers opt for gluten-free foods. A new report from Technavio projects that the global gluten-free packaged food market will grow by 6% in the next four years.
Why have buyers suddenly turned away from gluten and what does it mean for future food industry professionals? Read on to find out!
The Medical Need for Gluten-Free Products
For approximately 1% of the population, going gluten-free isn’t an optional dietary choice. In fact, it’s a doctor-prescribed necessity for people with coeliac disease. That’s because unlike the rest of the population, their immune systems wrongly flag down gluten as a foreign contaminant. Their bodies try to eliminate it – causing damage to the small intestine instead.
This condition often leads to uncomfortable symptoms like bloating, diarrhea, anemia, and even vitamin deficiencies. That’s why people with coeliac disease are told to avoid foods like breads, cakes, cereals, beer, pasta and cookies, which usually contain plenty of gluten.
But if only 1% of the population can’t eat foods with gluten, why are 10-30% of households going gluten free?
Why the Trend Towards Gluten-Free?
Although there has been a rise in the number of people suffering from coeliac disease, the sudden surge in gluten-free products has less to do with a rise in diagnoses and more to do with healthy people opting to cut out gluten.
Why are people who can eat gluten choosing not to? Part of the reason is because some diet books and celebrities have begun to make the claim that cutting out gluten can be beneficial. They claim that cutting out gluten can help clear up skin, promote weight loss, and might even be beneficial for people with diabetes and autism.
What Professionals with Food Technology Training Think of the Rise of Gluten-Free Products
While people with coeliac disease undeniably benefit from a gluten-free diet, there’s little evidence that cutting out gluten benefits otherwise healthy individuals.
In fact, it might even have the opposite effect. That’s because to give gluten-free products a similar consistency and taste, R&D professionals with food technology training need to add extra fat and sugar to products. For someone with coeliac disease who has carefully planned their diet, these additions aren’t a huge concern. But, for healthy buyers expecting to lose weight, going gluten-free might not offer all of the health benefits they had hoped for – and might even lead to weight gain.
Designing Gluten Free Products: The Challenges for Food Technology Studies Students
For people who suffer from coeliac disease, the rising popularity of gluten-free diets has brought both benefits and drawbacks. On the one hand, many might feel as if their medical condition is often dismissed as nothing more than a fad. On the other, it has led to an impressive rise in tasty gluten-free options – many of which are being developed by professionals with a master in food technology.
Developing a gluten-free product takes time and needs special consideration. That’s because gluten plays an important role in the consistency of a product, and customers will expect a similar consistency in gluten-free substitutes.
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