It's Time to Add Even More Space for Gluten-Free

August 15, 2016

Why you should be paying attention to wheat-sensitive shoppers.

By Al McClain, Contributing Writer  

Eating wheat-free and gluten-free is not the fad many thought it was. According to Statista, by 2020, the market is projected to be valued at $23.9 billion. So it seems the wheat-free diet is here to stay, and more shoppers might be jumping on the bandwagon. A new study from Columbia University sheds some light on why certain wheat-containing foods cause intestinal discomfort in some people even if they don’t have celiac disease or a wheat allergy.

We all know someone who claims that despite testing negative for celiac disease or a wheat allergy, does not feel well after eating wheat – symptoms often include fatigue, mood changes, bloating, diarrhea and stomach pain. So what’s really going on here?

According to the new study these people may have what’s called non-celiac wheat sensitivity (NCWS), which is currently diagnosable with a symptom frequency questionnaire and/or by eliminating gluten for several months to see improvements. Lead author Armin Alaedini is hopeful that his study, published in the Journal Gut  will lead to a test for NCWS in the near future.

What did they find? Alaedini and his team analyzed blood samples of 80 people with NCWS and compared them to 40 people with celiac disease and 40 healthy people. Those with NCWS did in fact have certain elevated markers in their blood that indicated intestinal cell damage and that their immune system was being activated.

Next, researchers asked a subset of those with NCWS to eat a diet free of wheat, rye and barley for six months. After the six months the group had lower blood levels of the biomarkers that indicated immune system activation and intestinal cell damage. Participants also reported significantly fewer symptoms. 

The takeaway here is that there actually are changes in physiology for those with NCWS, and retailers need to take the concerns and desires of shoppers seriously. Working to limit cross contamination, educating all employees on various wheat/gluten containing products, including beverages, and providing more healthy, nutrient dense products for this community would help elevate health and help shoppers feel more comfortable and trusting in your store.