The Independent in London this week reported that the gluten and dairy-free retail sector is experiencing “meteoric growth” in new food products. Sales are expected to grow more than 70% by 2016. The UK is the leader in “free-from” foods in Europe. That says something about awareness and validation that people think they could get sick or might feel better or even lose weight if they stopped eating certain foods. However, is the food industry jumping on another diet fad much like sugar-free foods of decades past?

When Ernie and I found out we were gluten-intolerant, he ran out and bought every gluten-free cookie he could find. We never ate so many cookies in our lives (except maybe when Girl Scout Thin Mints were available). We also bought, and ate, every gluten-free pasta and bread available. Now, we have friends who gave up gluten and dropped five pounds the first month they stopped eating gluten yet somehow we seemed to gain as much. The problem is, you can’t replace one refined carb with another. Highly refined overly processed gluten-free foods offer the same empty calories as their gluten counterparts.

Once we backed off the free-from refined carbs our bloating went down and we looked younger, or so we’ve been told. We still eat gluten-free pasta, just not as often. I’m trying hard to adapt recipes for gluten, egg, dairy, soy and yeast-free bread (not there yet), pancakes and pizza using whole grains and flax seed. It’s a challenge but the good thing about growth in the industry is as free-from ingredients become more mainstream finding gluten-free ingredients will make it easier to control what we eat.

That said, I worry that many of the new products being developed are going to contain processed corn, soy and other ingredients that do all the same things gluten-refined carbs do. That is contribute to increased insulin resistance which can make you fat or sick along with eating a bunch of empty calories. How does that happen?

When you eat foods you are intolerant to your immune system reacts by attacking the substance it thinks is harmful. Continuing to eat foods you are intolerant to overactivates your immune system which leads to inflammation and makes you susceptible to illness and weight gain. It’s taken a year for me, but having given up foods I am intolerant too I can finally manage my weight more easily and that’s a huge plus for me.

And while awareness about food intolerance is good, there has also been some concern that people who have not been clinically tested and are giving up gluten to lose weight, might be giving up foods that could impact their health in different ways. For instance, does giving up wheat, barley and rye lead to lack of fiber? Hey, people aren’t eating enough fiber as it is. Whole grain fiber can come from brown rice, quinoa, corn (not the GMO kind) millet, sorghum and more, not to mention a bounty of fresh vegetables and fruit.

Personally, I’m all for reputable clinical tests if you can afford it or you can do the Elimination Diet (costs nothing) to determine what your intolerances might be.  Otherwise, you won’t know if you have a  compromised digestive system that can lead to inflammation or enables overgrowth of bacteria, yeast and parasites. Gluten-intolerance symptoms or conditions are not always digestive. Gluten-intolerance can in fact manifest as headaches, arthritis, eczema, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, anemia and many more.

Trust me, I would never have made a decision to give up baquettes with goat cheese and a slather of butter if I didn’t have a lab test tell me it was compromising my health.  I look forward to the new products but will keep a watchful eye on labels and strive to eat more whole, unprocessed foods and fresh, organic vegetables, fruit, fish and meat whenever possible.