By Mike Pomranz
Updated October 28, 2014
Credit: © Clare Gainey / Alamy

The debate over gluten rages on, but recent statistics show that a lot of people have already made up their minds: One-third of Americans say they are trying to cut gluten from their diets.

The revelation comes in an article in the current issue of the New Yorker. Author Michael Specter takes an in-depth look at the much maligned protein, with the article’s title asking, “Against the grain: Should you go gluten-free?” His eventual choice for himself is crystal clear: “I am certainly not going to live without gluten. That just seems silly.” But a surprisingly high number of people disagree with him.

“Nearly twenty million people contend that they regularly experience distress after eating products that contain gluten,” Specter writes, “and a third of American adults say that they are trying to eliminate it from their diets.”

What makes the statistic so remarkable is that only 1 percent of Americans have celiac disease. That leaves a disproportionate number of people who are giving up gluten with little scientific evidence supporting their decision. (It’s worth noting that the number of celiac cases has grown since the 1950s—up to 1 percent from 0.2 percent—but even at that rate, we’re nowhere near a third of the population.)

Specter spoke with doctors, scientists, bakers and a wide-range of others about what’s driving the anti-gluten sentiment. He even reveals how the way we make bread has changed. But there’s one other eye-opening statistic he reports: “Sales of gluten-free products will exceed fifteen billion dollars by 2016, twice the amount of five years earlier.”

Whether scientifically valid or not, going gluten free is big business.