Following a gluten-free diet is not just a fleeting health fad. Since first becoming popular a few years back, the diet that calls for eating no food that contains protein continues to be a popular trend among many Americans.

However, people are making the lifestyle choice to go gluten-free simply because they want to, not because they need to.

According to a new study, the percentage of of Americans who have gone gluten-free is three times higher than the percentage of Americans that have been diagnosed with celiac disease.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that involves damage being caused to the small intestine when a person consumes gluten, the protein that is found in wheat, barley and rye. Some people may have celiac disease with no symptoms at all, while some may experience bloating, pain, constipation, chronic diarrhea and other health complications like osteoporosis when eating a diet with gluten.

Those who have a relative with celiac disease are at a greater risk of having the disease themselves.

There are also other kinds of levels of severity when it comes to gluten intolerance, such as having an allergy to wheat.

As more people are aware and educated about gluten and gluten-free diets — as well as
seeing more gluten-free options hitting the shelves of supermarkets, with the rise of gluten-free restaurants and even gluten-free beer — many would assume more people are being diagnosed as being intolerant to the protein.

However, there's a good chance your friend is only asking for a menu option that don't have gluten because they think it's healthier not to eat bread, not because they have an allergy or intolerance to it.

To reach this conclusion, researchers from the Rutgers New Jersey Medical School analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, and looked at questions asking participants if they have been diagnosed with celiac disease and if they followed a gluten-free diet.

Interestingly enough, the rates of celiac disease have remained steady, whereas the rates of those cutting the protein increased.

According to the study, 0.7 percent of participants had celiac disease in 2009 to 2012, 0.77 percent in 2011 to 2012 and only 0.58 percent in 2013 to 2014.

However, the percentage of Americans who cut gluten went from 0.52 percent in 2009 to 2010, to 0.99 percent in 2011 to 2012, to 1.69 percent in 2013 to 2014.

Published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine on Wednesday, the study found that, while it estimated that 1.76 million Americans have celiac disease, about 2.7 million people were found to have either reduced or eliminated their gluten consumption despite not having celiac disease.

The study also found that white, young females were among the popular groups of people who willingly go gluten-free.

This could be because of the rising popularity of the diet trend after many celebrities go gluten-free, like Gwyneth Paltrow and Kourtney Kardashian. Not only is this diet trendy, but many may also assume it is healthier, since it consists of cutting out carbs like bread, pizza and cookies. However, gluten-free options can contain just as much sugar and fat as gluten options.

Many people may just self-diagnose themselves, tricking themselves into thinking they feel better when they avoid eating foods with gluten.

Photo:  Beckmann's Bakery | Flickr

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