Growth of gluten-free snacks and baking mixes is pushing gluten-free further into the mainstream, according to Mintel. Sales of gluten-free cereal and snack bars, many containing ancient grains like quinoa, spelt or millet, rose 32% between 2010 and 2012 compared to a growth rate of 16% for non gluten-free products. In North America, new baking mix launches with gluten-free claims rose 14% between 2011 and 2013.
Nutrition experts say that although celiac disease patients require a gluten-free diet, others who may not should consider some potential drawbacks to the lifestyle. A gluten-free diet can leave people short on nutrients such as calcium, iron, fiber and niacin, so it is important to find healthy alternative foods that include them. "Some find that cutting out gluten helps them avoid the temptation of empty-calorie processed snack foods that they want to eliminate," said dietitian Janice Baker. But she noted those foods must be replaced with healthful alternatives to reap benefits from going gluten-free.
The Food and Drug Administration does not yet have guidelines for labeling foods as gluten-free. It recently held a comment period for a proposal made in 2007, which would allow foods to be labeled gluten-free if they contain fewer than 20 parts per million of gluten.
Companies are responding to growing interest in gluten-free diets with more than 1,000 gluten-free product launches in 2008 and another 552 through July 20, Mintel reports. Cereal bars, snacks and sweets had the most product introductions, with large companies such as General Mills moving gluten-free from niche to mainstream.