Gluten-free Goes Mainstream. What About Paleo?

September 20, 2012

Photo by stevendepolo

Whenever I eat out, I’m pleasantly surprised by how mainstream gluten-free has become. I’ll be the first to say that gluten free doesn’t equal healthy, and I know that a lot of restaurants still have work to do in terms of cross-contamination and not making gluten-related mistakes, but a) it’s a start and b) it gives me hope for paleo catching on.

Many restaurants now offer entire gluten-free menus. A large number list gluten-free options. And at the ones that don’t, the majority of servers now know what gluten is and can suggest gluten-free dishes. If they don’t know, they at least aren’t flabbergasted by the question, and can find out from someone in the kitchen.

I’ve seen the words “gluten free” on menus many times now. But I still catch myself being  amazed at how many people must be avoiding gluten for restaurants to bother adjusting their menus. I know it’s good business and marketing and such, but if gluten avoidance was not common, they would not have bothered. And I don’t remember ever seeing anything about gluten on menus a few years back.  Gluten-free has gone from being obscure to very mainstream relatively quickly.

What also surprises me is the number of people working at restaurants who eat gluten-free. And it’s not because I choose restaurants that cater to this preference. I’m saying randomly pick a restaurant, and I’ll bet you there’s someone there that’s avoiding gluten. The server tells me they know for sure that the dish I’m ordering doesn’t contain gluten because the server/bartender/chef/owner is Celiac/sensitive/allergic. Perhaps it seems so widespread in the restaurant industry simply because the topic comes up when I’m ordering? For example, it probably wouldn’t enter the conversation if you were out clothes shopping. Or are people in the restaurant industry simply more knowledgeable about food and more likely to know about the dangers of gluten? Or are they just lying to me to make me feel better? :P I don’t know, but I do find it interesting.

I guess the fact that Celiac is a diagnosed disease has fast tracked gluten avoidance into the mainstream (even though most people who avoid gluten have not been diagnosed as Celiac). There’s no equivalent one disease for which the recommended medical treatment is to eat paleo (which is funny, since in reality it’s a myriad of conditions and diseases). And thus it’ll take longer for paleo to go mainstream. But since gluten-free is an aspect of paleo, I still consider it a win.

What are your thoughts on gluten becoming mainstream?

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Aaron September 20, 2012 at 4:30 PM

At the store, we’re expanding our gluten free section again. Of course it’s all prepacked stuff, but to your point, it certainly is popular.

I agree that it’s mostly driven by celiac/wheat sensitivity issues. Just take a look at peanut butter. Hardly anybody was ‘allergic’ to it a generation ago, and now you can’t even bring the stuff into schools. They’re both just being ‘diagnosed’ a lot more by doctors and the like.

I have hopes that paleo becomes more mainstream, but it’s likely going to be a bottom up, rather than a top down phenomenon. It’s gonna take a long time for dieticians and doctors to eschew grains and seed oils, and recommend butter and red meat. A long time.


[email protected] September 20, 2012 at 9:03 PM

I agree about the bottom up. But the great thing is that we’re getting dieticians and doctors that are paleo, and so that sort of bottom up approach may speed things up a little (one can hope).


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