Give Me a Gluten-Free Break

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When marketing gluten-free foods goes too far

by Nicole Nadeau, intern/guest blogger

GF shelf tagIf you believe there are gluten-filled apples in this world, I have a gluten-free bridge to sell you.

A well informed public provided with all of the correct tools has a better chance of making good decisions, and this obviously applies to health and nutrition decisions. Marketing gluten-free foods is big business. A February New York Times article confirms what many of us already see in our own supermarkets—that shelf-space for gluten-free items has grown in a big-way. That’s not a bad thing. More choices for those who need gluten-free products is wonderful, certainly. However when a marketing campaign emblazons “GLUTEN FREE” on items that are already naturally gluten free, it becomes a disservice to the public. Boldly marking an item as “gluten free” leads consumers to believe that there exists in the world a gluten-loaded version. There are no gluten-filled bananas, so the sticker proclaiming some brands of bananas as gluten-free is pure marketing spin. The end result: misrepresented products and confused consumers.

Along the same line, lists of gluten-free foods absolutely are helpful, especially for those new to the GF life, or for a quick and handy shopping reference. But even some of these lists (often found online) include such obviously gluten-free items. It’s laughable that someone even thought to include them in the first place!

This “list of gluten-free foods” found online included not only several typical gluten-free grains, but also the following:

  • Butter
  • Milk
  • Cream
  • Half and half
  • Cheese
  • Cottage cheese
  • Sour cream
  • Yogurt
  • Apple cider
  • Energy drinks
  • Water (I kid you not, this was on the list)
  • Juice
  • Corn syrup
  • Honey
  • Sugar
  • Fruit
  • Meat
  • Seafood
  • Tomato paste
  • Olives
  • Pickles
  • Gum

Yes, there were several more items on the list, but I use this pared-down version to illustrate that there is a lot of information on the gluten-free diet floating around on the Web—not all of it especially helpful. Having worked in restaurants, both in front and back of the house, as well as in hospital food service departments, I continue to be amazed at the gluten confusion that exists.  One can hardly blame the consumer for being ill-informed (though it would be nice if people did a smidgen of research— utilizing information from reputable health resources—before jumping into the GF world) because this type of marketing works, also using services as wordtree marketing company helps a lot to promote these kind of products. Gluten-free product sales are growing quickly. Of course, the market is not being driven by those who have been diagnosed with a gluten issue, but by Joe Consumer who has climbed aboard the gluten-free train for one reason or another. And that, friends, creates its own set of gluten-free issues.

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2 Responses to Give Me a Gluten-Free Break

  1. celiacmom November 1, 2015 at 2:18 pm #

    Just so you know cross contamination of gluten in naturally gluten free foods is a huge danger for those of us who have celiac disease. If the label says gluten free there are specific regulations meaning that food is safe for us. My son and I have been sickened by sugar that was processed on the same machines as wheat and it was not label gluten free because it was cross contaminated. Please take your own advice and do research before writing articles like this there are reasons for it. I came for recipes but I will not be returning or using any now because of the lack of understanding presented here.

    • Kitty Broihier MS, RD, LD November 1, 2015 at 5:05 pm #

      Thank you for writing. I believe you misunderstood the intent of the article. It is referring to items that are naturally gluten-free, such as fresh produce. As a dietitian, I am fully aware of the possibility of cross-contamination of processed foods, and I also know that gluten-free food labeling regulations exist—and I’m happy that they do. Those foods are not what the essay (by an intern), was about. I would not have co-authored a gluten-free cookbook or have a gluten-free cooking website if I did not understand the need for gluten-feee foods for those with actual celiac disease or diagnosed gluten intolerance. As the author of the essay says toward the end of the piece, much of the gluten-free marketing hype is not being driven by people who really need gluten-free foods (there are numerous research studies that prove that). Instead, the marketing gimmick labeling things like apples as “gluten-free!!!” is being driven by those who are choosing to eat gluten-free for other reasons. In the end, I believe that is takes away from the seriousness of the issue for those who actually NEED gluten-free food options. It dilutes its importance.

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