CHICAGO — About a third of U.S. adults are saying they want to reduce or eliminate gluten in their diets, according to The NPD Group. This is the highest level since NPD began asking the question in 2009.

“For as long as NPD has been tracking the eating habits of Americans, which is since 1976, they have been expressing a desire to eat healthier foods and beverages,” said Harry Balzer, chief industry analyst at NPD. “It’s not that we want health and wellness more but that we are constantly changing how we address health and wellness.  A generation ago health was about avoiding fat, cholesterol, sugar and sodium in our diet. While those desires still exist for many, they no longer are growing concerns. Today, increasingly more of us want to avoid gluten in our diet, and right now it is nearly 30% of the adult population, and it’s growing. This is the health issue of the day.”

Interest in gluten-free menu items at restaurants also is growing. The incidence of consumers ordering food labeled as gluten-free or wheat-free on the menu has grown and is more than double what it was over four years ago, representing more than 200 million restaurant visits in the last year.

“The number of U.S. adults who say they are cutting down on or avoiding gluten is too large for restaurant operators to ignore,” said Bonnie Riggs, NPD restaurant industry analyst. “Restaurant operators and marketers can find opportunities to address consumer needs when it comes to their growing interest in cutting down on or avoiding gluten, like training staff to accurately answer customer questions and using symbols on menus and menu boards to highlight items that are gluten-free as a way to extend consumer awareness and confidence in ordering.”