Gluten-free diet becoming more common even if celiac disease isn't

More people in the U.S. are on gluten-free diets even though the proportion of Americans with celiac disease held steady from 2009 to 2014, according to a new study.

Despite the fact that gluten-free diets are not known to provide any health benefits for the general population, some people believe they benefit from going gluten-free, said lead author Dr. Hyunseok Kim, of Rutgers New Jersey Medical School in Newark.

"People may believe a gluten-free diet is healthier, and the diet is trendy," Kim said.

RELATED: 38 easiest diets to follow - US News

38 easiest diets to follow - US News
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38 easiest diets to follow - US News

#1. (tie) The Fertility Diet

Pro: Promotes fertility 

Pro: Encourages healthy pregnancy 

Con: Discouraged for those with blocked fallopian tubes

Con: It's strictly for women

[See fertility diet nutrition.]

(Photo via Getty Images)

#1. (tie) The MIND Diet

Pro: Blends two proven healthy diets

Pro: May boost brain power

Con: Details not fleshed out

Con: Recipes, resources lacking

[See MIND Diet nutrition.]

(Photo via Getty Images)

#1. (tie) Weight Watchers

Pro: Eat what you want; no foods off-limits

Pro: Flexibility to shape your own diet

Con: Tedious point-tallying

Con: Pricey

[See Weight Watchers menu.]
(Photo via Getty Images)

#4. Jenny Craig Diet

Pro: No guesswork

Pro: Prepackaged meals, delivered

Con: Home-cooked and restaurant meals largely off-limits

Con: Budget-buster

[See Jenny Craig Recipes.]

(Photo via Getty Images)

#5. (tie) The Flexitarian Diet

Pro: Flexible

Pro: Lots of (tasty) recipes

Con: Emphasis on home-cooking

Con: Might be tough if you don’t like fruits and veggies

[See Flexitarian Diet menu.]

(Photo via Getty Images)

#5. (tie) Mediterranean Diet

Pro: Nutritionally sound

Pro: Diverse foods and flavors

Con: Lots of grunt work

Con: Moderately pricey

[See more Mediterranean Diet photos.]

(Photo via Getty Images)

#7. (tie) Slim-Fast Diet

Pro: Convenient – grab and go

Pro: No math or guesswork

Con: Little "real" food

Con: Same old, same old, meal after meal

[See Slim-Fast Diet reviews.]

(Photo via Getty Images)

#7. (tie) Volumetrics Diet

Pro: Filling

Pro: Nothing off limits

Con: Lengthy meal preparation

Con: Fruit-veggie-and-soup burnout possible

[See more Volumetrics photos.]

(Photo via Getty Images)

#9. DASH Diet
Pro: Heart healthy

Pro: Nutritionally sound

Con: Lots of grunt work

Con: Somewhat pricey

[See DASH Diet menu.]
(Photo via Getty Images)
#9. (tie) Mayo Clinic Diet
Pro: Nutritionally sound

Pro: You shape your diet

Con: Lots of grunt work

Con: Somewhat pricey

[See Mayo Clinic Diet recipes.]
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#9. (tie) Nutrisystem Diet

Pro: Heat and eat

Pro: No foods off limits (not even carbs)

Con: Comeback of the TV dinner

Con: Eating out is limited

[See the Nutrisystem menu.]

(Photo via Getty Images)

#12. TLC Diet

Pro: Heart healthy

Pro: Not a fad diet; government endorsed

Con: On your own

Con: Must decode nutrition labels

[See more TLC Diet photos.]

(Photo via Getty Images)

#13. (tie) Biggest Loser Diet

Pro: Solid nutrition

Pro: No foods off limits

Con: Lots of grunt work

Con: Somewhat pricey

[See Biggest Loser Diet reviews.]

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# 13. (tie) HMR Program

Pro: Meals delivered to you

Pro: Phased approach for quick start on weight loss 

Con: Eating out limited

Con: Shakes could get humdrum

[See MHR Diet reviews.]

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#15. (tie) South Beach Diet

Pro: Yes to snacks and dessert

Pro: No calorie-counting

Con: Could seem awfully restrictive at first

Con: Lots of time prepping and cooking meals

[See South Beach recipes here.]

(Photo via Getty Images)

#15. (tie) Traditional Asian Diet

Pro: Diverse foods and flavors

Pro: Filling

Con: Rice-and-noodle burnout possible

Con: Few guiding resources

[See a traditional Asian Diet menu.]

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#17. (tie) Anti-Inflammatory Diet

Pro: Nutritionally sound

Pro: You shape your diet

Con: Moderately pricey

Con: Can be lots of work

[See Anti-Inflammatory Diet nutrition.]

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#17. (tie) Flat Belly Diet

Pro: Tasty menu recipes

Pro: Abundant guidance and resources

Con: Skimpy evidence that “good” fats are the magic bullet

Con: Fewer days of menus than other plans

[See Flat Belly Diet menu.]

(Photo via Getty Images)

#17. (tie) Vegetarian Diet

Pro: Nutritionally sound

Pro: Heart healthy (if you plan it right)

Con: Might miss the meat

Con: Can be lots of work

[See Vegetarian Diet nutrition.]

(Photo via Getty Images)

#20. (tie) Abs Diet

Pro: Indulging allowed

Pro: Frequent meals and snacks

Con: Lack of specific research

Con: Fewer days of menus than other plans

[See more abs diet photos.]

(Photo via Getty Images)

#20. (tie) The Fast Diet

Pro: Few rules to keep track of

Pro: Dieting only two days a week

Con: Unsafe for some people

Con: Hunger-pangs likely

[See Fast Diet menu.]

(Photo via Getty Images)

#21. (tie) Medifast Diet

Pro: Nutritionally sound

Pro: No counting carbs, points or calories

Con: Powdered, just-add-water food

Con: Might be tough to stick with

[See Medifast Diet nutrition.]

(Photo via Getty Images)

#23. (tie) Atkins Diet

Pro: Fatty food guilt-free

Pro: Quick weight loss

Con: Goodbye to sweets and bread

Con: More calorie-restricted than you might think

[See Atkins recipes.]

(Photo via Getty Images)

#23. (tie) Spark Solution Diet

Pro: Nutritionally sound

Pro: Fitness guidance

Con: Difficult to dine out

Con: Rigid daily guidelines

[See Spark Nutrition reviews.]

(Photo via Getty Images)

#25. (tie) Supercharged Hormone Diet

Pro: Restores hormonal health and metabolic function 

Pro: Long-lasting effects

Con: Starts with a rigorous two-week detox

Con: Somewhat pricey

[See Supercharged Hormone Diet recipes.]

(Photo via Getty Images)

#25. (tie) Zone Diet

Pro: All foods welcome

Pro: Frequent meals and snacks

Con: Tedious portioning

Con: Limited daily calories

[See Zone Diet reviews.]

(Photo via Getty Images)

#27. (tie) Eco-Atkins Diet

Pro: Less restrictive than Atkins

Pro: Filling; rich in high-fiber foods

Con: Little guidance

Con: Nothing for carnivores

[See more Eco-Atkins photos.]

(Photo via Getty Images)

#27. (tie) Glycemic Index Tie

Pro: Menu flexibility

Pro: Hampers hunger

Con: Little guidance, save for carbs

Con: Have to do homework

[See Glycemic Index reviews.]

(Photo via Getty Images)

#29. (tie) Acid Alkaline Diet

Pro: Heavy on fresh produce

Pro: Filling

Con: Lots of rules to remember

Con: Little research to back it up

[See Acid Alkaline Diet reviews.]

(Photo via Getty Images)

#29. (tie) Body Reset Diet

Pro: Short-term program

Pro: Should see results quickly

Con: Smoothies could get boring

Con: Weight loss may not last

[See Body Reset Diet menu.]

(Photo via Getty Images)

#31. Ornish Diet

Pro: Solid nutritionally

Pro: Heart-happy

Con: Not exactly easy 

Con: Not exactly cheap

[See Ornish Diet menu.]

(Photo via Getty Images)

#32. (tie) Macrobiotic Diet

Pro: “Real” food emphasized

Pro: Filling

Con: Lots of grunt work

Con: Somewhat pricey

[See more Macrobiotic Diet photos.]
(Photo via Getty Images)

#32. (tie) Paleo Diet

Pro: Carnivore approved

Pro: Very low in sodium

Con: Goodbye to grains and dairy

Con: Pricey

[See Paleo Diet reviews.]

(Photo via Getty Images)

#32. (tie) Vegan Diet

Pro: Fiber-rich and filling

Pro: Health and environmental benefits

Con: Really restrictive

Con: Can be lots of work

[See Vegan Diet recipes.]

(Photo via Getty Images)

#35. Engine 2 Diet

Pro: Health and environmental benefits

Pro: No calorie counting

Con: Complete lifestyle overhaul

Con: Considerable meal planning and prep

[See Engine 2 Diet nutrition.]

(Photo via Getty Images)

#36. Dukan Diet

Pro: All-you-can-eat

Pro: Filling

Con: Lots of rules

Con: Could fall short nutritionally

[See Dukan Diet nutrition.]

(Photo via Getty Images)

#37. Whole30 Diet

Pro: Short-term

Pro: No calorie-counting or exercise required 

Con: Goodbye to grains, dairy, sugar, legumes and alcohol

Con: Only the highly committed and organized need apply

[See Whole30 Diet nutrition.]

(Photo via Getty Images)

#38. Raw Food Diet

Pro: Fruits and veggies dominate the menu

Pro: Nearly guaranteed weight loss

Con: Tedious meal prep; equipment required

Con: Lots of rules

[See Raw Food Diet menu.]

(Photo via Getty Images)


To see whether the prevalence of celiac disease and the use of a gluten-free diets had increased over the past few years, Kim and his colleagues used data collected between 2009 and 2014 on 22,278 adults and children in the U.S. who were at least 6 years old and had been tested for celiac disease or interviewed about prior diagnoses.

About 0.7 percent of people were diagnosed with celiac disease, and about 1.08 percent were adhering to a gluten-free diet without being diagnosed with celiac disease.

The proportion of people in the U.S. with celiac disease remained stable during the study, the researchers found.

The popularity of gluten-free diets increased during that same time, however.

About 0.5 percent of people were on a gluten-free diet between 2009 and 2010, and that increased to 1.69 percent between 2013 to 2014.

Following a gluten-free diet is easier and less expensive than it was in the past, Kim said.

"Now there are gluten-free sections in most supermarkets," he said. "Also the prices dropped in recent years."

The findings of the new study are limited, the researchers caution.

For example, the data was pulled from the nationally representative National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, but a relatively small portion of the participants had celiac disease.

Additionally, Kim said, some people may have an unknown type of gluten sensitivity.

Just recently, an international team of researchers found that some people react to gluten even though they test negative for celiac disease.

In a commentary published with the report in JAMA Internal Medicine September 6, Dr. Daphne Miller of the University of California, San Francisco wrote that one reason people without celiac disease may think a gluten-free diet is beneficial is because it reduces the amount of processed foods in their diet.

The diet should not be dismissed as an unfounded trend, she writes.

"Instead, researchers and clinicians can use this as an opportunity to understand how factors associated with this diet affect a variety of symptoms, including gastrointestinal function, cognition, and overall well-being," writes Miller.

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