In 2019, the estimated total market value of gluten-free products was $4.3 billion. The fastest-growing market segment in the gluten-free industry is baby food. Experts anticipate the gluten-free industry to be worth around $7.5 billion by the year 2027. Clearly, this is a big and rapidly expanding market. What though, is gluten, and what is gluten-free?
How Big Is the Gluten-Free Industry?
Gluten is a Protein
Gluten is a protein naturally found in certain grains such as rye, wheat, and barley. In bread wheat, 75 – 85 percent of the protein content is gluten. The problem, as with other food allergies, is that the immune system can mistake gluten or other proteins found in wheat for a disease-causing agent, such as a bacterium or a virus. Consequently, the immune system generates an antibody to the protein, which then prompts an immune system response. This can result in breathing problems, congestion, or other conditions. Although mainly thought of as wheat proteins in some grains, research has shown that a combination of prolamin and glutelin proteins, found in all grains, can trigger celiac disease.
Celiac disease, also known as celiac sprue or gluten-sensitive enteropathy, is an autoimmune disorder. It is an immune reaction to eating gluten, which triggers an immune response in the small intestine. Over time, the lining of the small intestine is damaged and therefore prevents the absorption of some nutrients. In children, malabsorption can affect their development and growth. Furthermore, the damage to the intestine can cause bloating, diarrhea, constipation, weight loss, anemia, and fatigue. Other gluten intolerance symptoms include rash, headaches, and a foggy brain. Serious complications can arise in children and adults. The autoimmune disorder gluten ataxia affects some nerve tissues and can lead to issues with muscle control and voluntary muscle movement. People can be gluten sensitive without suffering from celiac disease. While it is thought that there is no cure, a gluten-free diet can help to manage the symptoms and encourage the intestine to heal.
A gluten-free diet is vital for those with celiac and gluten allergies. Gluten-free products help the digestive system, improve cholesterol levels, and boost energy levels. Today, gluten-free food products are widely available. Doctors at the Mayo clinic have devised a gluten-free diet for people with gluten intolerance. There are a lot of naturally gluten-free foods that can be used in a healthy diet such as eggs, beans, seeds, nuts, legumes, and fresh fruit and vegetables. Lean, non-processed poultry, meat, and fish also form part of the diet, as do many low-fat dairy products.
On the menu
Grains and starches that people with gluten intolerance may eat are buckwheat, arrowroot, amaranth, flax, and corn – if labeled gluten-free. There are also gluten-free flours made from corn, rice, soy, beans, and potatoes. Millet, quinoa, hominy (corn), sorghum, soy, tapioca (cassava root), and rice/wild rice, are also on the menu.
Not on the menu
Grains are not allowed and neither are drinks containing rye, barley, and wheat. Also excluded are some types of oats. Although oats are gluten-free by nature, there is a risk of contamination if produced in the same factory near products containing barley, rye, and wheat. While there are some oats that are labeled as gluten-free, these should be avoided by celiac sufferers.
The gluten-free diet has other benefits such as weight loss, improved health, and more energy. Consequently, the gluten-free market has expanded and continues to evolve. The global gluten-free products market continues to grow to meet the demands of millennials, active marketing of gluten-free products, as well as improved distribution channels. Gluten-free baby food is a big seller with an estimated worldwide value in 2022 near $447 million. This represents a $318 million increase in value since only 2017. Other popular gluten-free foods are porridge, pasta, snacks, ready meals, and cookies. Gluten-free cereals which are also grain-free, are highly popular as well. The worldwide gluten-free baked goods market was worth $33.4 billion alone in 2021. Based on these figures, and with an ever-broadening product range, the market for gluten-free products is looking healthy and will continue to grow.
Additional helpful reading: Gluten and Food Labeling (FDA.gov)
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