by Marion Nestle
May 30 2009

My latest San Francisco Chronicle column: Gluten Intolerance

My once-every-three-weeks column for the San Francisco Chronicle is set up as a Q and A.  I don’t get many questions through the column, but the few that do come in are often quite challenging.  This one is from a school chef wondering how to deal with kids who might be gluten intolerant – and whether gluten intolerance is becoming more common.  Interesting questions!  Here’s what I had to say about them.  If you have questions about food and nutrition that you’d like me to answer, send them to (put Marion Nestle in the subject line).

  • Thank you so much for the article. And thank you for acknowledging how difficult it is for kids and parents to navigate the system. I am gluten intolerant and wheat allergic, and my daughter is peanut allergic. We have to be vigilant about food 24/7. It is exhausting sometimes. Also, I get so tired when people call awareness of food allergies a “trend.” It’s certainly not a trend in our house–it’s a matter of life and death (literally).

    Again, thank you.

  • tmana

    Related to the increase in celiac is the increase in autoimmune diabetes. A recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine ( ) showed that some genes implicated in T1DM are also implicated in celiac disease.

    It is difficult to predict whether or not the projected increase in autoimmune diabetes (and related autoimmune disorders) and the perceived increase in anaphylactic food allergies (peanut allergy is probably the best-known of these) will require school facilities to require allergy-free-diets-for-all and prohibit students from bringing in any outside food (e.g. home-packed lunches), or whether school budget issues will require de-mainstreaming (or homeschooling or teleschooling) students with allergic and/or medical restrictions.

  • Hi Marion,

    I have 3 of your books and thoroughly enjoy your knowledge, expertise and “take” on food trends. I check your blog periodically, but have never commented.

    Just wanted to thank you for your care with answering the gluten question. I did want to point out an editing error though. With all due respect (and I know this was just a simple slip), your sentence below says “glucose” rather than gluten.

    “With diagnosis so difficult, it is not easy to estimate trends. Surveys suggest that 1 out of every 133 people in the general population is glucose intolerant. If so, in a school of 1,330 students, you might expect about 10 to require gluten-free diets.”

    I’m a nutrition therapist with celiac disease and am on a mission to increase awareness. This is my passion and I’ve been on this GF path for many years. Thanks for helping out!

    Nutrition Therapy & Exercise Science

  • Anthro

    Your answer was, as always, thorough and science-based. However, I am still suspicious about the sudden surge in gluten intolerance (first two comments not included as it seems they are cases verified by medicine). I have personally met or talked with a number of people lately (mostly at the co-op) who claim to be gluten intolerant because they “read about it in a book” or got the “diagnosis” from a very questionable “alternative practitioner”. I noticed there were gluten-free dog treats at the pet store! This all leads me to think there is a fad element to all this, even though I accept that better testing and diagnoses account for some of it.

  • Kat

    Great article, Marion, as always.

    Forgive me for what may be an ignorant question, but since gluten intolerance is an autoimmune disorder and not an allergy, does that mean it is something one will have trouble with from birth, or can it show up at any time?

    I, too, have noticed increasing numbers of people adopting gluten-free diets, seemingly regardless of whether or not they actually have an intolerance. (I am in no way minimizing the seriousness of the problem for those of you who are actually affected). This leads me to wonder: is there anything about glucose that regular people might want to avoid? Is there such thing as “too much”?
    Maybe I’m just highly susceptible to marketing gimmicks, but the “Gluten-free!” and “No Glucose!” labels do seem to scream out at me to buy them…

  • Sheila

    I have lived with celiac disease for many years. At first, the diet was a pain, because our society has become so dependent on processed foods containing some form of wheat or gluten. Then, I made the decision to simply not eat commercially processed foods. I now eat fresh fruit, fresh veggies (raw or steamed or grilled), lentils, beans, rice, yams, nuts, skim milk, and fresh fish or chicken seasoned with garlic, lemon juice, fresh herbs from my garden. I feel great, my celiac disease symptoms are gone, my lipid panel is excellent, and this collection of food is something I can feed to all members of my family and friends circle. I just have to spend a little more time packing a meal for myself when I will be attending a meeting or traveling. I see no problem packing a meal like this for children attending school if that is what it takes to keep the children healthy.

  • Jon

    Wonderful article. Celiac disease is more a problem culinarily speaking, because of course we rely so much on wheat for cooking. It’s not really a nutritional problem per se, since there are better sources of every nutrient than grains in general.

    If it’s becoming more common, it might be because of increased diagnosis, or increased awareness. But there is a fad part to it. Exhibit A, gluten-free dog treats.

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