Sales of so-called "free from" foods are soaring in Britain and elsewhere in the world, matching the huge rise in sales of these products in the U.S. They've gone up an estimated 329% over the past five years creating a market worth £90 million in 2005. Meanwhile, dairy-free products are valued at £32 million, with sales of products such as soya milk and yoghurts growing by 28% over the same 3 year period.
Why? Blame (or credit) celebritites. Orlando Bloom and ex-Spice Girl Victoria Beckham have to stay away from dairy products, say sources close to them (or tabloids or somebody equally respectable). Another ex-Spice, Geri Halliwell, and actress Rachel Weisz can't have wheat. (see http://www.nutritionpoint.co.uk/ for a UK-based gluten-free site.
There's an ongoing argument over whether these stars have raised awareness about a real problem ignored in the past or are merely creating false self-diagnoses by celebrity followers. Lactose intolerance is easy to misdiagnose, since so many foods create the same intestinal symptoms.
Life Style Extra quotes a Dairy Mail article concerning a report by the market research group Mintel:
One of the interesting characteristics of the market is the high level of "misdiagnosis", which stems from the public's willingness to self-diagnose at best or simply avoid a particular product based on little more than one bad experience, a news article or peer and family advice, says the report.
And consumer analyst Julie Sloan has much more to say:
The popularity of soya milk under high profile brands has certainly played its part in catapulting the free-from food sector into the mainstream away from the specialist dietary food field.
"The explosion of new product launches in the free-from market as a whole, as well as greater dedicated shelf space, have also had a significant role in the market's growth.
"High-profile cases of life-threatening allergies to products such as nuts have undoubtedly brought the problem of allergies and food intolerance into the limelight as well.
The "free from" market is expected to double in the UK between 2005 and 2010.
And elsewhere. An article by Lindsey Ord in the South African newspaper The Daily News has the following quote:
And South African dietetics experts predict that we're heading for a boom in "free from" foods here, too.
Dudu Mthuli, chairwoman of the KZN branch of Adsa, the Association for Dietetics in South Africa, says that "free from" foods are not as readily available in South Africa as in most first world countries, but she foresees an increase in their sales because of increased awareness and self-diagnosis.
But she adds a word of caution: "Omitting foods without proper supervision is not recommended and can compromise your health.
"It is important to consult your doctor who can determine if you are indeed suffering a food allergy, or whether it might be some other cause of your symptoms.
"Only after proper diagnosis should there be long-term dietary changes - and this should be under the supervision of a registered dietitian, who will be able to advise on a balanced diet by ensuring proper nutrient intake to maintain your health, while taking your diagnosis into consideration.
"Free from foods are usually much more expensive and sometimes not so well suited to our tastebuds and therefore should not be encouraged unless a proper diagnosis has been made."
If you truly have an intolerance or food allergy, this is all great news. If you just think you do, make sure you get checked by a reputable medical doctor (not a homeopath or chiropractor) before making this drastic a change in your diet.