Let’s start at the beginning (literally). The first recorded description of the coeliac affliction goes all the way back to the 2nd century AD, when the Greek physician Aretaeus of Cappodocia wrote a chapter on the topic called ‘The Coeliac Diathesis’. Unfortunately this wasn’t translated until 1856. For the next 90 years the auto immune disease was studied closely but no major breakthroughs were made until the Second World War had ended in 1945. Doctors studying the disease had been astounded by the improvement they observed in young coeliac children’s health, during a time when the general population were malnourished because of the lack of food. It was only after the war that the penny dropped. The children’s health had been improving because wheat, rye and oat had been excluded from their diets. And so the gluten free diet was invented.
Fast forward to the present day where every store you enter has a rather large section completely dedicated to Gluten Free products, but this wasn’t always the case. My mother was diagnosed in 2009 and even then you had to buy the staples like bread and biscuits in a pharmacy, they were even considered medicine. Thankfully this changed within a year or two ensuring the coeliac population of today have access to a wide range of products that taste like real food, Hurrah!! Looking to the future it is expected that the prevalence of coeliac disease is set to increase. Over the last 40 years alone the percentage of people with coeliac disease has gone from 2 cases per thousand (0.2%) to 10 cases per thousand (1%).
However the increase of people with coeliac disease doesn’t quite explain the explosion of the gluten free market. It has been reported that although only 1% of the Irish population are coeliac over 20% are consuming gluten free products. Some have taken to this lifestyle because they have a sensitivity to gluten, others do so because celebrities like Miley Cyrus and Novak Djokovic are reporting major health benefits from adopting the diet. But the majority of people are eating gluten free products because of their family members. When someone in your family is diagnosed with coeliac disease it will take some time for them to adjust to their new lifestyle, and it is always nice when they can eat the same meal as everyone else. So there you have it, there is no secret ingredient that reverses the effects of aging or a miracle cure for weight loss that is driving the gluten free ‘fad’ as it has been branded. The main reason people have cut gluten from their diet is because they want to make the whole process as easy as possible for their loved ones, how great is that.