Myth: Gluten is Bad for You

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Most people who avoid gluten are wasting money.

Gluten Free

Gluten Free

Low and no gluten foods are a huge market right now.  Just a few years ago, you could not find a gluten-free product on the shelves, but now, you see the label almost everywhere.  The number of folks who feel that everything that ails them is due to the gluten content in their foods is growing.   In recent years, Chelsea Clinton made press because her cake was gluten-free.  Does she need gluten free cake?  I have never been her physician, but most of the folks who buy gluten-free products do not need them.  The bottom line is that nearly 30% of Americans admit to trying to avoid gluten[1].  

So, what is gluten?  Gluten is a normal part of many grains.  It is protein found primarily in the grains such as wheat, barley, and rye. Most of us unknowingly love the flavor of gluten.  Without gluten, many of our favorite foods would not be as enjoyable.   Try a few of the gluten-free products and you will quickly understand.  Pizza dough is not as flavorful and stretchy.   Bread is less spongy.   Personally, I would rather eat my shoe than many of the gluten free products.

Who needs to avoid gluten?  People who suffer from a chronic digestive disorder called celiac disease should avoid gluten.  Celiac suffers cannot even have a small amount of this natural protein that our taste buds desire.  Consumption of the protein results in an immune reaction that results in damaging the lining of the small intestine.  This damage causes both gastrointestinal distress and nutritional deficiencies caused by malabsorption.  There are other conditions that might be related to gluten sensitivity or immunologic response to gluten consumption([2],[3]), but this is very controversial.  

Symptoms of celiac?

  • Abdominal pain and bloating
  • Anemia
  • Chronic Constipation – usually intermittent with diarrhea
  • Chronic Diarrhea – usually intermittent with constipation
  • Fatigue
  • Infertility
  • Unexplained weight loss
Glutein Free

Gluten Free

How common is celiac disease?  Many believe the incidence is increasing, but the fact is that it is likely just more diagnosed due to increased recognition of the symptoms.  In the past, it was probably misdiagnosed.  The incidence is 1 in approximately 133 people. 

Gluten Free is not easy.  Trying to remain gluten-free is a major challenge even for those that have a high level of discipline, especially considering that gluten-containing foods are very widespread.  Tn order to go gluten-free, you need to start reading labels on everything you eat and even that is not enough because many foods do not list gluten content.  You may need to make research your favorite foods online and make significant changes to the foods you eat.

The Hype: I ready labels all the time that claim to be gluten-free.  Remember some of this is hype.  It is especially ridiculous when someone put gluten free on the label fo a food that could never have gluten to start with unless someone added it.  Recently, I saw a label for a steak at a local grocery chain.  It was organic, antibiotic, and gluten free.  It was on the shelf with another label that was organic only.  The gluten free steak was about $1 more per pound.  The funny thing is bother are gluten free, so you are paying for the label.  

The bottom line:  If you think you have a serious condition like celiac disease or another gluten sensitivity, please consult with your medical provider before consider going gluten-free.  Medical providers can diagnose celiac and gluten sensitivity, but it may not be possible to diagnose the disease if you’re already stopped eating gluten.  Gluten is not bad for most of us and gluten free diets are expensive and do not taste the same.  It will take a significant adaptation for most of us.  Instead of buying the hype and suffering through a change that may not be needed, considering being screened by a medical professional first.  If it works for you and you have already made a change, who care if it is placebo or real.  Enjoy the benefit whether real or perceived.  

Footnotes
[1]“Percentage of U.S. Adults Trying to Cut Down or Avoid Gluten in Their Diets Reaches New High in 2013, Reports NPD.”
[2]Sapone et al., “Spectrum of Gluten-Related Disorders: Consensus on New Nomenclature and Classification.”
[3]Fasano et al., “Nonceliac Gluten Sensitivity.”
Fasano, Alessio, Anna Sapone, Victor Zevallos, and Detlef Schuppan. “Nonceliac Gluten Sensitivity.” Gastroenterology. Elsevier BV, May 2015. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2014.12.049
“Percentage of U.S. Adults Trying to Cut Down or Avoid Gluten in Their Diets Reaches New High in 2013, Reports NPD.” NPD Group, March 6, 2013. https://www.npd.com/wps/portal/npd/us/news/press-releases/percentage-of-us-adults-trying-to-cut-down-or-avoid-gluten-in-their-diets-reaches-new-high-in-2013-reports-npd/.
Sapone, Anna, Julio C Bai, Carolina Ciacci, Jernej Dolinsek, Peter HR Green, Marios Hadjivassiliou, Katri Kaukinen, et al. “Spectrum of Gluten-Related Disorders: Consensus on New Nomenclature and Classification.” BMC Medicine. Springer Nature, February 7, 2012. doi: 10.1186/1741-7015-10-13
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About the Author

ChuckH

I am a family physician who has served in the US Army. In 2016, I found myself overweight, out of shape, and unhealthy, so I made a change to improve my health. This blog is the chronology of my path to better health and what I have learned along the way.

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