Interest in eating gluten-free is rising faster than baked goods containing the wheat protein that's proving problematic for many Americans.
The past five years have seen U.S. sales of gluten-free foods double to more than $1.5 billion, according to the market research company Packaged Facts. And the growth spurt is expected to continue at least through 2012 as more Americans are diagnosed with celiac disease or wheat allergies.
Yet about a quarter of U.S. adults are trying to reduce or completely forgo gluten for reasons that can't be measured in medical terms, according to industry and health care experts. Gluten-free devotees who lack diagnoses may be imitating celebrities, reacting to mass-media and marketing messages or experiencing a generalized sense of well-being from reduced consumption of wheat and processed foods.
"I think it's a hot topic," says Central Point chef Sandy Dowling, who plans a Jan. 18 class on gluten-free cooking.
Dowling isn't just responding to the latest dietary trend, acknowledged at the International Association of Culinary Professionals' April conference in Portland.
About three years ago, her husband, 61-year-old Joe Dowling, confirmed he was allergic to wheat. The couple's 26-year-old daughter, Maggie Nicholson, made a similar discovery within the past year. And Sandy Dowling, 61, caters to numerous clients at her Willows bed and breakfast who request gluten-free foods.