Approximately 1 percent of the population in America has celiac disease, an autoimmune disease. Compare that to 8 percent with diabetes or 12 percent with heart disease. Celiac disease is four times more common than it was 50 years ago, probably because it was undiagnosed until recently.

If you have been diagnosed with celiac disease then avoid eating gluten. The problem is that a large population of Americans are on a gluten-free diet even though they have not been diagnosed with the disease.

The condition damages the lining of the small intestine when a person eats gluten found in wheat, rye, barley, bulgar, and some oats.  It’s a lifelong diet. The symptoms include abdominal pain, bloating and diarrhea.

There are theories that we use way too much processed and genetically modified wheat compared to pre-world war II, and that the wheat has higher gluten content. Gluten helps dough rise and provides structure to baked goods.

Doctors have also coined the term “gluten sensitivity” when a person suffers from symptoms and feels better when off dietary gluten… but doesn’t actually have celiac disease. Can this be a placebo-effect?

It is not easy to confirm a diagnosis of celiac disease and requires blood testing, genetic testing, or biopsies of the small intestine.

At a recent lecture presented by Dr. Alessio Fasano, the top researcher in this area and very Italian, he believes 6 percent of the population have gluten sensitivity. But that’s based on a review of his patients, not the general population.

According to Mintel, a market research company, Americans spend an estimated $7 billion on foods labeled gluten-free. And more than half the consumers buying these products don’t have any reaction to gluten. They buy gluten-free because they think it helps with weight loss— and that is a misconception!

In fact, celiac patients want to gain weight and most gluten-free products have less fiber, more fat, more calories and more processed ingredients. While conventional bakers use wheat flour, gluten-free bakers use millet flour, sorghum flour, rice flour and tapioca starch.

The gluten-free food market is exploding and those with celiac disease are grateful. Those without, read the label before assuming that gluten-free is better!  To learn the best types of wheat to include in the diet, read my book Beyond The Mediterranean Diet: European Secrets Of The Super-Healthy.