What Did Gluten Ever Do To You?

[twitter]This is real.

One of the Scooby Doo bad guys is a Gluten Demon. I know. Sounds ridiculous, but it’s real.

The Gluten Demon appeared in season 2 of Scooby-Doo Mystery Incorporated, a 2010 edition of the classic cartoon. It was a disguise used by Francilee Jackson to destroy all the restaurants in Crystal Cove so that there would be no competition when she opened hers.

Of course gluten would be cast as a villain in this modern era. When it comes to dietary trends gluten is the anti-kale.

But why? What did gluten ever do to you?

I’m not a dietitian or a scientist, but I’ll gladly play one for you on the internet.

I understand some people are celiacs, but honestly, you can rate the gluten-free movement right up there with the anti-vaccine crowd. It all seems like much ado about nothing, to be honest. That said, that was my headline bias. I have no reason to chase a gluten-free diet, and just see it popping up on menus like it’s a low carb, high protein, low fat, low sodium, low cal gimmick.

Why the gluten-free frenzy?

People responding to a survey from an online gluten-free retailer (consider the source and audience bias) say they have an upset stomach from eating food with gluten. I had a colleague yesterday tell me that gluten made her feel “itchy.”

The opposite, however, is actually true. If you are eating gluten-free, when you don’t have legitimate health reasons to do so, it actually does more harm than good.

“The market for gluten-free products is exploding. Many people may just perceive that a gluten-free diet is healthier,” Peter H.R. Green, MD, director of the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University, told WebMD. In fact, he continued, the opposite is true. “[U]nless people are very careful, a gluten-free diet can lack vitamins, minerals, and fiber.”

The explosion of the dietary trend gets even curiouser when you understand that only about 1% of the US population has celiac disease and of that, only 5%-10% are ever diagnosed because celiacs rarely exhibit symptoms.

That means 150 000 – 300 000 people out of a population of 313 million have been diagnosed with celiac disease. And yet here we are, with gluten free pizza dough advertised by huge national chains like Domino’s.

Why are they pushing a product that .05% to .1% of the population needs?

Because kale.

Going gluten free is trendy. It’s cool. It’s the new Atkins Diet.

There really is nothing more to it other than that. Going GF is the pet rock du jour of dieting.

As with other dietary trends, food manufacturers will highlight one benefit at the detriment of others. Making foods gluten free often results in higher fat, higher calorie meals. Yes, they will be labeled gluten-free and people buy it as healthier, but it’s no longer balanced. We saw the same problem with low fat was a trend. Fat was dropped, sugar was upped.

Gluten free is a feature, not a benefit

Then there are those that say choosing  gluten free diet doesn’t go far  enough. William Davis is the author of Wheat Belly and admits that gluten free foods are often made with “junk carbohydrate ingredients” — corn flour, rice flour, potato starch and corn starch — which he says raise blood sugar and are contributing factors to hypertension, cataracts, heart disease and cancer.”

He thinks going gluten free isn’t going far enough and advocates removing wheat entirely from your diet.

That doesn’t sit well with the Canadian Diabetes Association, the Heart and Stroke Foundation, and Canada’s Food Guide who all continue to recommend whole grains as part of a healthy diet.

Am I off base with the bias that the gluten free diet is little more than a trend? What are the reasons you’ve gone gluten free? 

WebMD – The Truth About Gluten
CeliacDisease.com – Why Do You Eat Gluten Free>
Womens Health Mag – Gluten Free Diet
MNN – Going Gluten Free: Why Most People Shouldn’t

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  1. Stephen Fung October 27, 2013 at 6:40 pm

    Link bait. But sure. I’ll chime in with one word: Eczema.

    Sure, it’s touted as a “diet” but the removal of Gluten from a diet takes care of other things. Physical symptoms that words cannot argue against. For example, for the treatment of Eczema. Removal of Gluten from the diet can make it more manageable and in some cases, completely clear it up. This is real Dr. Stuff. Not the Internet type we’re playing here today.

    Speaking from personal experience, and mine alone, I’m a chronic Eczema sufferer. It’s hereditary and painful in the winter. My Dad was off work from it at one point (for months) because his hands were a disaster and my mother suffers from it chronically. I know you know that I eat everything. I could go through a bakery with a stick of butter and demolish the place. But knowing that removing Gluten could, among other things that it can provide relief for, potentially fix my Eczema problem, I was willing to try it.

    For the first time in 30 years, the Eczema is actually manageable, and it looks like I might have a real solution. Normally, I’d have my hands dunked in lotion, and sometimes, when it’s really horrid, bags on my hands. But not this Winter. A time of year when it is the worst.

    Calling Gluten Free “bullshit”, at best, prevents people from finding possible relief/cure in the many things it does provide a bonafide solution to. But again, that’s why we’re not doctors.

  2. Buzz October 27, 2013 at 6:46 pm

    Thanks, Stephen. The headline may have some clickiness to it, but I appreciate you offering your experience. Like I said, my bias is that this is bogus, that said, I appreciate your perspective and am glad it works for you.

  3. Alli October 27, 2013 at 8:41 pm

    I think the issue is exactly what you wrote about. It isn’t healthier. And many people may be led into thinking its a fast fix and a healthy choice. Many times it’s not. Sugar is 100% gluten free, and it’s still bad for you (in excess)!

    I have heard, anecdotally and through cursory online research, that removing or limiting gluten can help clear up GI issues, bloating and headaches. I think it’s all about education. We should all strive to eat real, whole foods and avoid fad diets, and do our research about what we fuel our bodies with.

  4. Tom October 28, 2013 at 5:58 pm

    I would love to see more people respond to this post, because like you, I see it as necessary for the majority of people that are on the so called gluten free diet. I work at a hospital kitchen and it makes it confusing when the nurses orders a GF diet for the patients when in reality, it’s only the patient not wanting to eat it. There’s traces of gluten in so many food items now…

  5. The Contrary Athlete October 29, 2013 at 8:19 am

    I fall into a rare in between category…Am I Celiac? No. Am I on a Gluten Free diet? Absolutely. Why? Because I have Hashimotos Thyroiditis. When broken down in your body; the protein portion of gluten closely resembles that of the thyroid gland. If you are already prone to thyroid issues, this similarity can cause many problems…from GI discomfort, to brain fog, and even hives and severe allergic reactions. A gluten free diet improves these symptoms drastically. There’s scientific proof behind this. As for ‘Gluten Free’ being the ‘Diet Du Jour’ for those who don’t understand it…I won’t complain. That just means there’s more places out there where I can now actually eat! Let’s face it…whether Atkins, South Beach, Weight Watchers, or otherwise; There will always be people in the general population who are going to jump on the latest health craze. As a result, there’s also someone waiting around the corner to capitolize on that. If you don’t read up on something before trying it; that’s not my fault. It’s called personal accountability.

  6. Jonas Claesson October 31, 2013 at 3:27 pm

    I think the more importantant issue here is that we don’t know the true number of people who has gluten sensitivity – people have gotten used to feeling lethargic and don’t know that it might be because of gluten. For me, I have to call in sick for work if I have gluten by accident and I still don’t get classified as a celiac (which is the top 1% of most severe cases)! I think there is an exreme value for people to try out the gluten free diet just to see if their health improves… Things like feeling lethargic after a meal with gluten is really hard to diagnose but probably happens to a lot of people and they have no idea why. Hey, if you notice no difference after being on a gluten free diet for a while, I do agree it doesn’t make much sense…

    So seriously, if you have any sensitivity to gluten (which a lot of people do without never knowing it)… going on a gluten free diet will do wonders for you – your immune system will be a lot stronger, you will get better skin… and not to mention watch those pounds roll off too (I’m down to the weight I was in my early 20s … without really doing anything different).

  7. Kristi April 30, 2015 at 11:45 am

    My mom is celiac. As I live with my parents and help prepare meals, I often eat gluten free even though I don’t need to. However, having spent 10+ years learning how to be gluten free I can certainly say I would absolutely never choose that diet willingly. Through friends and family I do know that some other conditions (autism, fibromyalgia, etc.) can be improved with a gluten free diet. But that should only be undertaken under the advice of, and monitoring by, a physician because there can be a lot of other dietary concerns. Those who tout the GF diet as a way to loose weight are fooling themselves. People who don’t require the diet and have gone on it didn’t loose weight because they removed gluten. They lost weight because they stopped eating carbs. The diet is real and valid for those who need it. It is not supposed to be used as the newest weight loss fad. However, the one good thing I can say about it being a fad is that the amount of commercially available GF foods has gone up dramatically and that is incredibly helpful for my mom. At least now I don’t have to go to a dozen different stores to find something GF and the stuff I do find doesn’t always taste like cardboard.

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