Gluten-Free Diets: Useful Tools or Harmful Trend?

“Claims [about gluten-free diets] seem to increase daily, with no adequate scientific support to back them up. This clamor has increased and moved from the Internet to the popular press, where gluten has become the new diet villain.” — Celiac researchers Antonio Di Sabatino, MD, and Gino Roberto Corazza, MD, Annals of Internal Medicine

If you avoid gluten, you are far from alone. Research shows that about 25 percent of Americans avoid gluten and only 10 percent of people following gluten-free diets have a physiological need. In 2010, Americans spent $2.64 billion on gluten-free prepared foods. And gluten-free package claims have more than doubled since 2006. So it comes as no surprise that many health experts and food manufacturers are calling gluten-free diets the low-carb diet trend of the 21st century.

Any time we make a dramatic shift in our diets, we open ourselves up to potential risks and benefits. And since many gluten-free dieters have fallen pray to the mad marketing machine known as the diet industry—and we all know the risks dieting can pose—I couldn’t keep my mouth shut resist highlighting some vital information. Before making the decision to avoid gluten, unless you’ve been medically advised to do so, I feel there are several questions worth answering.

What is gluten?
Gluten is a protein that occurs naturally in grains, including wheat, barley and rye. It’s also prevalent in grain-based foods, like breads, cereals, crackers, cookies and cakes, and in less obvious foods and products, like soy sauce, meat marinades, malt vinegar and certain dietary supplements.

When does it cause problems?
While most people digest gluten with ease, your immune system sees it as toxic if you have celiac disease—an inherited autoimmune disorder that damages the small intestine lining and disrupts nutrient absorption. It affects less than 1 percent of the population, according to the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center, tends to run in families and can coexist with other diseases, like diabetes. Symptoms may include severe abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, anemia, joint pain, delayed growth (in children), skin rashes and unintentional weight loss. Treatment involves lifelong adherence to a strict gluten-free diet.

Gluten sources also cause serious problems if you have a wheat allergy, which also triggers immune system reactions. Wheat is one of the eight most common diagnosed food allergies, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center, which collectively affect about 2 percent of adults and 8 percent of children.

If you have celiac disease or a wheat allergy, a gluten-free diet is vital.

You can also have a gluten sensitivity, or “celiac lite.” In this case, your body reacts negatively to gluten, without any autoimmune reaction. Symptoms are similar to celiac disease, but milder: diarrhea, bloating, indigestion, fatigue and abdominal cramping.

Gluten sensitivity is tougher to pinpoint because many people claim to react adversely to gluten, but show no diagnosable symptoms. This doesn’t mean that the condition isn’t legitimate. Some thorough investigation, however, can help ensure that your nutritional needs are met and save you the time, money and stress that often accompanies gluten restriction.

Here are some examples of a misdiagnosed/misperceived gluten sensitivity:

  • You feel better after cutting gluten solely because you end up eating fewer processed foods.
  • Your “carb sensitivity” is actually a case of poor blood sugar control. (Carb sensitivity isn’t an actual condition; you can be sugar or insulin sensitive, but we all need more carbohydrates than any other macronutrient.)
  • The placebo effect: Believing we are doing something healthy for our bodies can go along way toward feeling better and vice versa; negative beliefs about foods can trigger physical symptoms. Put another way, fearing gluten can cause sensitivity symptoms.
  • You experience less gas and hunger after switching to a high-protein, low-carb gluten-free diet not because of you’ve eliminated gluten, but because starchy foods naturally cause gas during digestion—a normal/good thing—and because protein-rich foods are less likely to cause blood sugar spikes than, say, sugary sweets and breads.
  • You feel gassy and bloated after reintroducing grains into a grain-free or low-carb diet. This is not generally proof that your body is intolerant to gluten or grains. More often it’s a sign that you’ve been lacking fiber-rich, starchy foods. (To avoid this, gradually reintroduce grains and other fiber-rich foods. In healthy individuals, the digestive system readjusts.)
  • You follow the diet as a means of restricting your food intake, establishing a sense of control, as a coping mechanism for non-diet-related stress and/or to lose weight. These factors often reflect disordered eating: a range of disordered eating thoughts or behaviors not affiliated with a full-fledged eating disorder, like anorexia or bulimia. Though less life-threatening than eating disorders, it’s no way to live and no less worthy of addressing.

What are the benefits of a gluten-free diet?

  • If you are legitimately intolerant or sensitive to gluten, a gluten-free diet relieves most or all of your symptoms, leading to a comfier life. The diet that seems restrictive to many, brings freedom.
  • While the jury is still out and research mixed, some experts believe that avoiding gluten may benefit children with autism and other brain-related disorders.
  • If a GF diet heightens leads you to eat more nutritious foods in better balance, you’ll reap the benefits of most healthy diets: strong immune, brain and digestive function, improved energy, moods and sleep quality, healthy weight control and more.

What are the gluten-free diet risks?

  • Many people avoiding gluten avoid whole grains and other nutritious foods. This is a major reason many gluten-free diets often lack iron, calcium, B-vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and folate) and fiber. Many studies support this. Research published by the Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition, for example, showed that gluten-free diets worsened nutrient deficiencies in teens with and without celiac disease. Nutrient deficiencies* can cause a slew of complications, such as fatigue, muscle weakness, headaches, dizziness, weak bones, depressive moods, sleep problems, foggy thinking, dry skin, brittle hair and digestive problems.
  • If you replace gluten-containing foods with gluten-free substitutes, like GF breads, cakes, flours, cereals, chips and pancakes, you may spend a lot of money on products that are equally or less nutritious than the original. You may also find yourself buying and eating more chips, cakes and breads than you used to, simply because the “gluten-free” label leads you to believe it’s healthier. (Remember the fat-free days? Fat-free ice cream can seem so much healthier. It’s actually higher in sugar than conventional ice cream and more likely to trigger overeating.)
  • If your GF diet is also low in carbohydrates, you hold heightened risks for constipation, gallstones, kidney stones, bad breath, headaches, reduced metabolism, weight gain and ketoacidosis—a dangerous condition in which your body uses fat as energy.
  • Deprivation, frustration and surrender. A GF diet can be difficult to follow, particularly if many of your staple or favorite foods are eliminated and you lack the support of a qualified professional. You may feel deprived and frustrated and fall of the proverbial wagon, all of which increases your risk of binge eating, weight gain, poor body image, increased stress and depression, according to the National Eating Disorders Association.

*Dietary supplements are a valuable option if you struggle with nutrient malabsorption, which is common with celiac disease, or can’t eat a healthy diet for other reasons. Otherwise, whole foods are your best bet.

So are gluten-free diets useful or a harmful trend? Both. I believe that GF-diets are a saving grace to people with a medical need and a potentially harmful—or at least needless—trend for others.

If you believe you have a gluten sensitivity, I recommend seeking guidance from a qualified health care professional, such as your physician, dietitian or gastroenterologist, who can conduct medical tests and guide you through an elimination diet, as needed.

I want you all to feel and be as healthy as possible while getting not only nutrients, but joy, from your food. Whether you avoid gluten or not, the following foods can help fill in the nutrient gaps common in GF lifestyles:

Calcium: Canned salmon, tuna and sardines, tofu, yogurt, fortified milk (rice, soy, cow’s, almond), kefir, kale, almonds
B-vitamins:  Fish, seafood, GF fortified corn/rice/oat cereals, eggs, lean meats, enriched long-grain rice, enriched GF breads and tortillas
Iron: Fish, seafood, lean meats, beans, lentils, beans, tofu
Fiber: Beans, lentils, chickpeas, green peas, sweet potatoes, skin-on baked potatoes, kale, broccoli, raspberries, popcorn, GF oatmeal, flaxseeds, prunes, pears

For more information, check out these fantastic resources:
Forbes Magazine: What We’re (Not) Eating: A Potential Danger of Gluten-Free
Today’s Dietitian: Putting the Healthy into Gluten-Free
MayoClinic.com: Food Sensitivity Vs. Intolerance: What’s the Difference?
EatingWell.com: Healthy Gluten-Free Lunch Recipes

Do you avoid gluten? What benefits or challenges have you faced? Do you see gluten-free diet popularity as a trend or progression in the nutritional world? I welcome your thoughts!

Leave a comment

81 Comments

  1. I don’t have the energy to avoid gluten. Avoiding the carbs is hard enough. I reach for the multi-grain breads and pastas and just try to eat less. But I don’t have any type of allergy or sensitivity to it, so I can use the “in moderation” rule.

    Great post. Thanks so much for putting all this info together for us!

    Reply
    • My pleasure, Stacy! As you know from my recent post, I’m not a fan of avoiding carbs either. But it sounds like you’ve incorporated nutritious carbohydrate sources into your diet and practice moderation—big time keys for healthy living. 🙂 So glad you’re on a happy, healthy path!

      Reply
  2. Great post, August! My best friend has Celiac (her whole family does), so when she and I traveled to Mexico, I ate gluten free for the most part. Being in another country where we didn’t exactly have a Whole Foods down the street, we ate “normally” (i.e. we didn’t eat gluten-free products, we just made different choices that were still balanced). Your list of what TO eat if you are going GF-Free sounds a lot like how we eat in our house, even though we aren’t a GF-Free household! 🙂

    Reply
  3. Perfect timing on this topic in so many ways. We’ve been discussing this in our household for several weeks. Last week, Hubby heard a doctor lecture on the evils of gluten and the need to do a paleo diet. That’s a popular one as all the books/cookbooks in the library are checked out for weeks!

    Reply
    • Hi Stacy, I’m familiar with the Paleo Diet. Like all diets, it poses potential risks and benefits. I and many dietary professionals disagree with its principles——particularly eliminating nutritious foods like legumes and whole grains.

      You brought up a terrific point. There are doctors with little dietary background and nutritionists with little educational background. (Not saying this is the case with your doc, just something for us all to consider.) If your hubby is still considering going gluten-free, I’d do a bit more research and perhaps get a second opinion. In either case, best of luck!

      PS If you have any questions on the Paleo or other plans, feel free to shoot them my way. 🙂

      Reply
  4. I am so glad you brought this up, August! I have been seeing more and more people adopt a gluten free diet and I always wonder why. I have a wheat allergy, so I have to do it. But, if I didn’t have to, I wouldn’t. And I just basically cut wheat out of my diet. I don’t eat bread or cookies, or pretty much anything with flour. Every once in a while I will get some better buns (delicious gluten free biscuits) but I know they aren’t really healthy because they are not whole grain. I have also noticed that some people think gluten free eating will help them lose weight. I have to say that is not the case, especially if you start eating gluten free baked goods. Rice flour isn’t exactly whole grain. If you don’t have to go gluten free, I would suggest you don’t. It is a whole lot easier to eat a healthy diet with gluten involved.

    Reply
    • Excellent points, Emma. And I love your approach to healthy eating.

      Cutting gluten leading to weight loss is an increasingly popular myth. And like cut most fat or carbohydrates, avoiding gluten in order to slim down usually leads to the opposite. Thanks for sharing your insight!

      Reply
  5. I bought some bread and tortillas after reviewing “Eating for Your Type.” -a book about diet and blood types. What can I say except honestly they both made me gag since they tasted like spit.

    Reply
    • Susie, don’t beat around the bush. LOL!

      Reply
    • LOL I almost referenced the blood type diet in reply to Stacy’s comment. Like the Paleo Diet, it’s an interesting read, but more like horoscopes than nutritional science. My room mate in NYC loved it because it told her to eat her favorite foods: broccoli and chicken. I, on the other hand, would have to avoid some of my favorite foods, including tomatoes. (No thanks!)

      Our bodies have evolved to enjoy a wide variety of foods, miraculously so. And we live a whole lot longer than people in prehistoric times. This is a blessing, but it also means we should consider factors how our diets impact chronic, long-term diseases. Everything impacts our diets——our activity level, geographical location, age, our overall lifestyle… Taste and enjoyment should also factor in, IMHO. 😉

      Reply
      • Well that’s how I roll too….as long as I eat too many of them or start putting them on…(rolls)

  6. Extremely informative and interesting post, August, full of valuable information.

    I have dermatitis herpetiformis, which is the skin form of Celiac’s disease. in truth, it is getting worse as time goes on, in spite of consistent careful attention to everything I eat. I have learned I can’t have gluten in skin care products (think make up shampoo, body wash, soap, and makeup). I recently found out that my dry cracked heels are the result of this allergy. when I shifted to a gluten free body lotion, my heels healed. who knew?

    and for those people who don’t seem to recover properly, I would encourage them to check their toothpaste – many of them are made with gluten.

    Reply
    • Who knew indeed? One of the great things about these informative posts is the amazing information we also learn from the comments. Thanks Louise, I wasn’t aware of this condition at all! *sending healing karma*

      Reply
    • Fantastic tip, Louise. I thought of you as I wrote this post. 🙂

      The growing fad of gluten-free hurts my heart a bit, knowing how much people with true medical reasons to avoid gluten often suffer. I’m also inspired by people with DH celiac and other forms——you included. Once it’s treated properly, most heal fully and go on to live and eat with joy. The longer it goes undiagnosed, typically, the longer it takes to get there. I hope all of that and more is in store for you.

      Reply
  7. August, thank for all of this information. I hadn’t paid too much attention to the “gluten” issue until one of our sons began experiencing problems that may be related to it. I’m forwarding this post to him.

    Reply
  8. Thanks for this August – most interesting – read a lot about helathy diets etc but everything seems to contradict itself – your post made perfect sense. Thanks

    Reply
    • You pinpointed one of the main reasons I began studying nutrition in the first place. It can be really confusing to sort it all out. So glad you found this helpful!

      Reply
  9. After a year and a half of gluten-free, I can’t imagine anyone pursuing this kind of diet if it is not required. Like with so many “diets,” people seek substitutes, low-fat, low-sugar, low-carb, when a whole foods diet still serves us best. It’s a head shaker.

    Having had lupus and Sjogren’s Syndrome for over thirty years, I do wish I had educated myself about nutrition, as it would have helped considerably, in particular understanding sugar. For me, food allergy blood tests put gluten, yeast, dairy out of range for probably the rest of my life, not an uncommon occurrence for many lupus patients but many do not know or accept that, which I do understand.

    That said, I rely on whole foods, have lost 64 pounds in 18 months and found a whole new world of cooking: almond butter cookies with Stevia, the wonders of kale, broccoli, greens, peas, green beans and any vegetable not too high in starch; tuna, shrimp, salmon, cod, eggs; buckwheat, especially wheat-free soba noodles (thanks to another post of yours), flaxseed, amaranth. I can no longer eat fruit but I can eat organic yogurt made from goat’s milk.

    Whole health is there, if we want it, but it isn’t in a plastic package. Thanks, August, for providing this forum.

    Karen

    Reply
    • “Whole health is there, if we want it, but it isn’t in a plastic package.” Love that, Karen. And I couldn’t agree with you more.

      My heart really goes out to you. I wish you didn’t have to travel such a rocky path to wellness, but commend you for finding it. I hope you’re experiencing the freedom and joy that can stem from developing a dietary lifestyle that works well for you physically and (I hope!) emotionally. Also glad you’re enjoying those soba noodles!

      Reply
  10. Great post and information, August. I know people with legitimate illnesses that avoid gluten. I’ve been amazed at everyone else hopping on it too. Stacy’s point of everything in moderation is true. I think severely limiting certain foods as a fad is a slippery slope.

    Reply
  11. Way back in the day there was a little girl in my daughter’s class who had celiac and that was my first introduction into gluten free. I was shocked at how many things she couldn’t eat and researched the disease so I would know what I could provide for her to have as a snack (I was the room mom and wanted to make sure she was never left out). Since then, I’ve met many new friends who have either gluten intolerance or celiac and I know it’s a struggle for them to find nutritious foods that won’t harm their bodies. I can cook GF, but don’t because no one in my family needs it and I can’t help but wonder if I take gluten out of our diets, if that would somehow make us intolerant to it later if we wanted to put it back. Knowledge is key with nutrition and posts like these (as I’ve said before!) as so valuable because you break down a difficult subject into easy to understand parts. Thanks again, August. You’re so fabulous. 🙂

    Reply
    • You are a super mom through and through. 🙂 Inquiring about and addressing friends’ and loved ones’ dietary needs are such thoughtful moves!

      Knowledge really is essential when it comes to nutrition, and sorting out facts and fiction can be brutal. If I can help ease that process at all, I’m stoked. Thanks for your wonderful support!

      Reply
  12. I was recently tested twice for celiac, and both times the results were negative, phew! The second test was through endoscopy biopsy. Actually the doctor ran tests for various conditions that could be a culprid of my wheat sensitivity. I got a clean bill as the result, but still can’t eat wheat. I don’t miss it though. In general I don’t eat a lot of starches now – I simply stopped craving them when I went on the wheat-free diet.

    I bake my own GF bread and freeze it after it is sliced. This way I can just grab one slice, toast it and not overeat

    Reply
  13. Fantastic, informative and interesting article, August 🙂 I love your nutrition advices.

    I was recently tested twice for celiac, and both times the results were negative, phew! The second test was through the upper endoscopy biopsy. Actually the doctor ran tests for various conditions, taking several biopsis, that could be a possible cause of my wheat sensitivity. I got a clean bill as the result, but still can’t eat wheat. I don’t miss it though. In general I don’t eat a lot of starches now – I simply stopped craving them when I went on the wheat-free diet.

    I bake my own GF bread and freeze it after it is sliced. This way I can just grab one slice, toast it and not overeat. I take calcium, Vit B12, Vit D3, and a few other supplements on daily basis, as prescribed by my naturopathic doctor. But you are so right about many people simply misunderstanding the bigger picture behind GF diets. Going off gluten is not a green light to binging on chips and other starch-filled foods. Moderation is a key, no matter what diet we choose to be on 🙂

    Reply
  14. inkspeare

     /  March 19, 2012

    I guess you have to be there to understand the pain that foods with gluten in it cause. I always thought that it was just indigestion, gas or acid reflux, until I decided to cut all gluten foods from my diet. I was tired, in pain, with a foggy head that made me cranky because I could hardly think, unbalanced and a mess. Many of my symptoms were pointing to sensitivity to gluten, so I decided to cut all gluten foods from my diet – anything that contained wheat, barley, or rye. Immediately, I felt relief, my energy level went up, my foginess lifted, and I have not have a bloated or sick stomach since, my belly for the first time in so long is flat – I even went down two belt holes in the first week. I don’t have celiac disease but that little bit of sensitivity was causing me much trouble. I don’t eat meat, so much of my diet is veggies and carbs, fruits, and as long as I abstein from the gluten I am fine. For me, it wasn’t that hard because I only had to make a few changes and I usually don’t eat out much. I have heard from people who had been misdiagnosed as gluten sensitivity is not easy to spot, especially because it is hidden in many forms, even some spices contain it. For other people who had celiac disease, it has been too late, as they have developed cancer in the intestines. Many times, celiac disease runs in the family.

    Thank you for writing this post because for many people, gluten problems are real; however, many other take it as another fad and follow it blindly, without even learning what it is all about. It happens with everything, from foods, to fashion, to God knows what, people follow blindly, without questioning. Hopefully your post will ring a bell to readers and will educate and inspire them to continue to educate themselves before jumping into this not so easy lifestyle just because everyone else seems to be doing it.

    I enjoyed your post 🙂

    Reply
    • Gluten sensitivity and intolerance symptoms are often hard to pinpoint, since they also stem from so many other conditions—GERD, ulcers, IBS, colitis, anxiety disorders, poor sleep habits… The list goes on and on.

      I’m thrilled for you and the healing you’ve found. Thanks for sharing your story here. You never know who it might touch or inspire. Glad you enjoyed the post!

      Reply
  15. My mother was diagnosed with Celiac when I was in high school, I have experienced problems off and on through the years that have had me going on and off the diet. I never go by the front of the box, but by the ingredients. We have also found that just because a product is gluten-free doesn’t mean it hasn’t been contaminated at the processing plant. It can be an ugly mess for those that have to avoid it and aren’t doing it by choice.

    Wonderful resources, August. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Going by the ingredients list is a great habit, whether a person is avoiding gluten or simply wants to make the healthiest choice. Too many of us focus on calories, carbs or fat grams, all of which tells us relatively little about a food’s nutrition.

      I hope you continually find more health and happiness regarding your health and diet, Debra. You so deserve it!

      Reply
  16. If I went gluten free, I wouldn’t have many options left. I already don’t eat bread, pasta, rice or desserts. I eat lots of oatmeal for my whole grains though, and I do eat popcorn and nuts. I don’t eat red meat, and I try to eat mostly whole foods. Gluten free would leave me…without a lot of my yummy foods! And I don’t have any sensitivity to it, thank goodness. Thanks for the info, though! It was very interesting to read, actually, even though I have no interest or need for the lifestyle myself.

    Reply
  17. Thank you for this, August. I wish that we had a real food culture in this country, more like Italy or France, so that we wouldn’t rely so much on gimmicks and quickie solutions to regulate our diets. There is so much misinformation out there, it’s great to see a resource like yours that offers a more balanced approach. I, fortunately, don’t have any food allergies, so I strive to follow Michael Pollan’s advice (from In Defense of Food): Eat food, not too much, mostly vegetables.

    Reply
  18. Kourtney Heintz

     /  March 19, 2012

    This is great information! I don’t have a gluten issue. And I don’t know why gluten is so hated. It’s hard enough to avoid pastries and sugars and try to eat fiber, fruits and veggies. How do people find the time to jump on a trend like this when they don’t have a gluten sensitivity? Sounds like so much work.

    Reply
  19. As always, I so appreciate the helpful information you provide on health topics 🙂 I tend to be a slow adopter to any new trend because of my personality, but lately I’ve been wondering about whether or not gluten-free might be the way to go because my husband has a lot of digestive issues. What this has convinced me of is not to go gluten-free unless the doctor tells us that’s what’s causing his problems. In other words, I have a feeling you just saved me a lot of time and money, and I’ll keep our healthy eating patterns as they are.

    Reply
  20. Amazing post August. So informative and interesting. I can’t imagine living a gluten-free diet. I have a BFF who has Celiac disease and…it’s just insane!
    My step-dad is a huge Aitken’s diet follower and I gotta say, it drives the entire family nuts. He’s been eating that way for about 3 years now and he loves it because he gets to eat copious amounts of the food he loves (steak, beef, cheese etc) and he avoids all whole grains, pasta, potatoes etc. It makes hosting a dinner at home insane! LOL!
    He believes in the science and that’s fine for him but I don’t. I think finding a well balanced diet of whole foods is the best we can do for our bodies. We need a little bit of everything to make this ol’ machine run like a well fuel sports car and I do my best to stick to it. It’s hard cause I have a slight addiction to restaurant food but hubby and I keep pushing forward and are getting there slowly but surely!
    Keep up these AMAZING posts!!! Woot woot!!
    P.S. LOVED Karen’s blurb about “Whole health is there, if we want it, but it isn’t in a plastic package.” DELICIOUS!!!

    Reply
  21. Coleen Patrick

     /  March 19, 2012

    I went vegan for a couple of years to help with digestion problems and then learned that I have a gluten sensitivity. I tried to do both, but it was exhausting both physically and mentally. Thru trial and error I’ve found I do well with no dairy and no gluten, but including some eggs and fish. It’s interesting to note that I never noticed any food issues until I got closer to 40. Thanks for the information August! 🙂

    Reply
  22. journalpulp

     /  March 19, 2012

    My work makes unavoidable exposure to all the latest dietary trends, and I’ve been dealing with the gluten-free fad for almost a decade now — have watched it explode these past three years, despite the fact that true celiac sprue is exceptionally rare and gluten sensitivity more fashionable than fact. Not to say that neither exist, of course: they do, and I am sympathetic to both.

    This much, however, is undeniable: calls for gluten-free spirits, calls for gluten-free beer, calls for gluten-free food have become commonplace, and as hip as hair-styles, while the actual chemistry behind gluten and gluten intolerance remain essentially unknown to most riding on this hyped-up bandwagon.

    One man’s opinion.

    Reply
  23. malindalou

     /  March 19, 2012

    Thank you so much for pointing out that some people chose gluten free diets because they have too, not because they want to. My hubby is a celiac. The worst time in our lives was when he had severe intestinal issues almost 24/7 with no discernible cause. It took a voluntary abstinence from wheat (and then a single cracker) for doctors to pinpoint his problem.

    Reply
    • I’m so sorry you and your hubby had to endure all of that. Thank goodness you had the wherewithal to seek answers and found them. Though gluten-free diets have become trendy, celiac disease is no joke.

      Reply
  24. ‘Believing we are doing something healthy for our bodies can go along way toward feeling better and vice versa.” Amen! I think people can make themselves sick simply by believing they are sick. Power or suggestion.

    My motto – everything in moderation. Well, maybe not every single thing, but you know what I mean. I understand there are those who are truly allergic, but in many, many cases, people just jump on any band wagon because it sounds good and maybe someone will feel sorry for them for their “ailment.”

    Very nice way to explain the pros and cons of this new craze!

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

    Reply
    • So true, Patricia. Our minds are more powerful than we realize, which is positive and negative——depending on how we use them. If the gluten-free kick continues as it has been, greater masses will fear gluten the way fat-free diets taught us to fear fat and low-carb diets taught us to fear carbs. Moderation and balance. Two keys that unfortunately aren’t typically as profitable. They can, however, make US rich in some of the most important ways.

      Reply
  25. Hey August! You know I just went gluten-free. I’ll admit I tried it because I couldn’t figure out why I’ve been steadily gaining weight since my baby was born. Mind you, I actually lost body fat being pregnant – the baby ate my blood clot weight and I was delighted. After she was born, everything changed and the scale became my enemy.

    The thyroid got whacked, then fixed. The menopause has begun and the needle on the scale was going only to the right. I was ALWAYS hungry, creaky and low on energy.

    After one of my rants about how out-of-control I felt about my body since I had a baby,
    Kristen Lamb asked me if I thought I might be gluten intolerant. I read through a book she sent me and all the hair on my body stood up. Out of 15 symptoms, I had 10.

    My plan was to cut food types one at a time until I figured out if something was irritating my system. I cut gluten first and was shocked to go through a full withdrawal syndrome – a week of migraines, shakes, brain fog – it was awful.

    BUT, now I feel SO. MUCH. BETTER. My skin is better, I’m less hungry, I have more energy. Is it gluten? I don’t know yet. But I’m going to be careful about adding it back in after those crazy withdrawal headaches.

    Thoughts?

    Reply
    • Hi Jenny! It’s tough to give you a detailed answer without knowing more——the ins and outs of your current and previous diet, etc. But you could look at it this way: If your diet is nutritionally sound——sufficient in calories, fiber, vitamins, minerals, etc.——and you feel fantastic, why change?

      If you think you have celiac disease, you could be tested, but you must have gluten in your system for most tests to be accurate. Your best bet may be meeting with a gastroenterologist or dietitian who specializes in celiac disease and food sensitivities… In the meantime, you could keep a food journal. That way you’ll have a detailed log to examine on your own and/or with a professional.

      In either case, I’m THRILLED that you’re feeling so much better. You’re obviously doing something, likely many things, right. 🙂 If I can support in any way, say the word!

      Reply
  26. I completely agree with every word in this post. I watch with increasing alarm as “gluten-free” food starts popping up in the health food section of our supermarket shelves and I ask myself how would removing the protein in say flour make something a health food? Fair enough if there is a true allergy or sensitivity but otherwise seems very much like a fad to me.

    Reply
    • Excellent point, Elaine. I get the sense that most people avoiding gluten don’t know what it is, much less that it’s a protein. Glad this struck a chord with you!

      Reply
  27. I never really take too much notice of ‘food’. I just eat whatever I feel, then go on the step machine 🙂

    I am, however, feeling really unhealthy after reading your ‘health’ blogs, lol.

    Reply
    • Sounds like you’re an ‘intuitive eater,’ which is a GREAT way to be. Listening to our bodies and staying active are key for wellness. And taking too much notice of food is often harmful. (In other words, you have lots to feel ‘healthy’ for… ;))

      Reply
  28. This is a wondeful post. I get really weary of all these “diets” and trends. I understand the need for special diets when you are dealing with health issues, but I think a lot of times people just want a quick fix or a quick weight loss solution and they embrace whatever the latest diet is. It is so great you are educating people about this. I love reading your articles, they help keep me on track!

    Reply
  29. I’m gluten sensitive, my reaction is not being able to absorb iron. There isn’t as much research in this, but I went from just above transfusion level anemic to healthy in 4 weeks when I removed gluten from my diet, I also reduced my migraines by 80% However I don’t conciser it a ‘diet’ gluten free products are higher in calories and frequently fat (to make them taste better).
    People are so weird, I use to work in a health food store I’ve seen tons of diets come and go over the years. The one thing all of them have in common- removing processed foods, fried foods, and sugars.

    Reply
  30. I don’t avoid gluten, but I know people who do. Thanks for the informative post, August. If it had been posted earlier, I’d have included in my health and nutrition mashup on Sunday. But your blog was well represented by the post about carbs 😉
    Have a great week!

    Reply
  31. good to see this all brought together

    Reply
  32. I’ve been reading a lot about gluten. There is a lot of conflicting information, and a lot of passion on both pro and con sides. This is very helpful. Thanks.

    Reply
  33. August, thank you for refuting the widespread misinformation about gluten in our diets. Fortunately, I am not one affected by this protein. About a year ago, I started diet that includes whole grains as part of my regular diet.

    I appreciate your focus on fact based articles.

    Reply
  34. Hi August! I’m late to your gluten-free party. But my SIL is gluten-free and she has some fabulous recipes that you wouldn’t even know are gluten-free. She is an amazing cook! If you are looking for some awesome recipes, let me know!

    Meanwhile, I’m not big on carbs but something is causing some major colon blows about 40 minutes after I eat. I’m thinking butter and/or oil. Just thought you should know. 😉

    Reply
  35. Author Kristen Lamb

     /  March 20, 2012

    Great blog and wonderful information. Yet, I will say from experience that gluten is poison. Sorry. Gluten in and of itself is not evil, but I don’t know if you are aware that other countries refuse to import our wheat because it is so Frankensteined. Gluten is a protein that is very difficult to digest in its natural state. Remember, humans were hunter-gatherers before agriculture was invented. But what food manufacturers realized is that gluten–especially undigested gluten–seeps into the blood stream and stimulates dopamine response centers just like cigarettes or alcohol.

    They don’t call it “comfort food” for nothing.

    So the growers now have wheat that is 12 x higher in gluten than the biblical grain–the wheat we used to eat years ago. Additionally, they have added gluten to ALL KINDS of foods, as filler in lunch meats and hot dogs and flavor “enhancers” in other products. Gluten is in soy sauce, spices, dressings, chips, you name it! Thus, back in the 50s, we knew when we were getting into wheat. We had to eat something with a coating or a baked good.

    No more. They hide it in EVERYTHING.

    So basically we have an allergen…that is added to EVERYTHING to stimulate hunger. I’m sorry, weren’t they all over the cigarette industry for the same thing?

    Thus, we have a population that is tremendously overexposed, especially with the growing popularity of fast foods and processed foods.

    Going gluten free saved my life. I had health problems my entire life and had more than enough medical doctors tell me I was a hypochondriac looking for attention. I lost my career in sales because I was diagnosed with epilepsy and all it was was a SEVERE gluten and casein allergy.

    I see nothing wrong with going gluten free. It keeps people out of the crap they shouldn’t be eating anyway. No fast food, processed food, or junk food. We eat GF and none of us are ever sick because it will force you to eat far healthier.

    And frankly, everyone needs to supplement. The nutritional value of ALL food–GF or not–is just depressing. But I always tell people to go GF for 3 days. If you can’t tolerate it you will know because you will feel like you have been hit by a TRAIN. I still think of all the years I lost being sick ALL THE TIME and it only had to do with me trying to “eat healthy.”

    Reply
  36. Hi Kristen,

    Thanks so much for weighing in here. I’m so grateful that you’ve found a way to restore your health!

    When you have a gluten allergy, the protein IS poisonous; that’s the very nature of allergies. Having studied gluten from chemical, physiological and overall dietary perspectives pretty extensively, I’m not aware of any research that shows it’s toxic for everyone. I have heard the notion touted by diet books, however, which concerns me and many other professionals.

    From what I understand, gluten triggers immune system responses (which does appear in the blood and cause loads of health problems) if you are intolerant—which, as you know, is a very real thing.

    A gluten-free diet can absolutely be nutritious, and if it serves as a path to wellness for anyone, celiac-affected or not, I say go for it. My goal here was to present factual information so that others can learn and make their own decisions. I respect your passion and opinions regarding gluten-free living and the universal need for supplements and always appreciate some healthy (pun ;)) discussion!

    Reply
  37. Author Kristen Lamb

     /  March 21, 2012

    LOL. It is certainly better than the Hollywood Juice Diet or the Cottage Cheese and Cayenne Pepper Diet :D.

    Reply
  38. Karen McFarland

     /  March 21, 2012

    August, another great post!

    But I’m glad that Kristen weighed in here. I was just going to bring out the same thing she said. (Ditto) Europe won’t buy our wheat because it has been genetically attered. That certainly says something about how our government allows the chemical companies to poison us!

    Over 15 years ago my doctor told me to stay away from non-organic wheat because of the spraying. And now with this horrible gluten laidened wheat that they’re manufacturing/growing, we have too much gluten in our food and that’s why there are so many people that are sensitive right now. We’ve been over-exposed. I can eat bread over in France, but not here. What’s up with that?

    Really we need to be balanced. But how many people know how to do that? Thank you for these healthy discussions. 🙂

    Reply
    • Genetically modified food is such a hot topic, Karen, with interesting perspectives on both sides. Proponents believe that engineering wheat will cater to the growing population and improve the nutritional value and quality of the grain. Opposers fear that the alterations will cause problems. Some believe they’ll help people with celiac disease, others fear the opposite.

      As far as I know, GM wheat hasn’t been approved for production in the U.S. If or when it is, it wouldn’t be available for some time. (Corn, soy and rice, on the other hand, have been modified for decades.) For more information, you can try these links:
      Washington Farmers Back Labels for GM Foods
      GM Labels Don’t Sit Well in the U.S.
      GM Wheat Means Hope for Celiac Sufferers

      We’re getting into a whole new topic. LOL Healthy debate is a great thing, as is dietary balance. And Europe certainly is ahead of us in terms of natural foods. So glad you dug the post!

      Reply
  39. sweetopiagirl

     /  March 22, 2012

    Reblogged this on Inspiredweightloss.

    Reply
  40. As a Home Economist I was very impressed by your article on the pros and cons
    of a gluten free diet. More and more I listen to people talking about the ‘evils’ of grains.

    There is certainly a new wave of food fascism spreading like wildfire among people with a little knowledge gleaned from weekend nutrition courses. They talk about the ‘evil’ of grains, as though they were discussing a plague.
    It is potentially dangerous to omit food groups like grains and dairy without extensive knowledge of what constitutes a balanced diet. You have dealt very well with this point, August.

    Of course for people with a genuine gluten intolerance, they can enjoy a new lease of life by restricting wheat. My new website features some very healthy recipes at http://www.goddessmeca.com
    Inspired by your article, I will certainly experiment a little more and post up some gluten free dishes. Keep posting.

    Reply
    • Thanks so much, Mary Elizabeth. As you know, this type of work can feel like an uphill battle. I’m dually inspired by your note to forge on with gusto. 🙂 Best of luck with your gorgeous website.

      Reply
  41. Karina

     /  March 24, 2012

    I’ve had a gluten free diet since 1997 thanks to horrible wheat sensitivity. I don’t find it restrictive at all, neither do I buy “gluten free” products at the store – they tend to be over-processed, over-packaged, and fairly tasteless. I eat mainly Asian dishes that I cook for myself, with rice, rice noodles, and wheat-free soy sauce, and that’s all gluten (and dairy) free. It’s only European and North American diets which revolve around the intake of wheat. Quinoa is a fabulous gluten free grain that you can turn to a lot of different uses (I have quinoa and fruit for breakfast). I eat a lot of pulses – gluten free and rich in nutrients – plus fresh vegetables. I’ve never felt my diet was inadequate or restrictive. On the contrary, finding out I needed to avoid gluten helped me take control of my food intake and got me cooking most of my food myself, from basic, unprocessed ingredients – much, much healthier and more nutritious in the long term.

    Reply
    • Great insight, Karina. Food sensitivities certainly can lead to an overall healthier diet. You’re nearly forced to look closer at your food choices and have at least general knowledge regarding food prep. Sounds like you’ve done a spectacular job of honing a nutritious, freeing lifestyle.

      Whether one has a wheat intolerance or not, I recommend eating a variety of whole grains. This way, we get a broad range of micronutrients; each is unique in what it offers. If anyone is interested in learning more, the Whole Grains Council provides valuable information on grains with and without gluten here.

      Reply
      • Karina

         /  March 27, 2012

        That’s a brilliant link – thank you. I had never even heard of Teff and Montina – I shall have to source some and try some recipes.

  42. I had cancer in the early 80s. At the time, I had a side effect from a maintenance med that the docs had not come across. So, of course, I didn’t know anything, and it was all in my head, because that side effect was not listed in the PDR. What did I know? I was just the patient so why listen to me instead of the “scientific evidence”?About twenty years later, that side effect was added to the PDR. Bottom line is that I trust my body to know what’s going on more than I trust my doctors.

    I have exactly no scientific evidence to back up the notion that my current “heckifikno disease” is in any way related to the ingestion of gluten. However, I quite eating gluten a few weeks ago, and I feel better than I have in a very long time. It only makes sense to me that if it makes me sick to walk through a wheat field, it can’t be that much better to ingest it.

    Thanks for your post.

    Reply
    • Trusting our bodies and being our own first advocate when it comes to health is so important, Piper. And wow—my hat is off to you big-time for beating cancer.

      As far as gluten goes, personal experience is the diagnostic criteria for non-celiac sensitivities. Sounds like you got your proof! So glad you’re feeling better.

      Reply
  43. Thanks for the amazing resources! I’ve been largely gluten-free for about 6 months. It has stabilized my moods, which used to be all over the place, and keeps my blood sugar from spiking and dipping. I used to have the worst time with keeping my energy up. I don’t think I have the actual allergy but I definitely have a sensitivity and overall feel better when I don’t eat gluten. But I will take a look at some of these other articles you gave us because I’d like to read more about what’s out there on this subject.

    Reply
  44. BoJo Photo

     /  March 31, 2012

    Very interesting August. Only your writing could get me to read something about gluten! 🙂

    It is interesting how so many try to get us to avoid a naturally occurring protein.

    I kind of listen to my body as you stated above in reply to one’s comment.

    Thanks August for such an amazingly well written and researched post!

    Reply
  45. August, I don’t avoid gluten but this is a very informational summary detailing everything about it. Wonderful post, August!

    Reply
  46. Sasha

     /  September 1, 2012

    I think it is odd that so many people seem offended by people choosing to adopt a gluten freerily diet if they don’t have a proven medical need. There seems to be an imo location that if you don’t have a medical problem with gluten then you must eat end enjoy gluten containing foods. I do not go out of my way to exclude gluten, but I do avoid as many processed foods as possible (which includes cookies, bread, pasta, crackers, etc). I am considered “obese” in medical terms and dropping processed foods has allowed me to lose 16 lbs in 6 months. I personally feel that many people are choosing “gluten free” as a way to lose weight because it forces them to eliminate most processed foods. So what’s wrong with that? I’m willing to bet most of the people who are choosing this way to eat aren’t following it as strictly as someone who has a real medical necessity. If it helps them eat healthier by cutting out the crap why should anyone be negative about it? It doesn’t take away from the seriousness of the actual medical illnesses. I think it’s a lot less harmful than MOST fad diets so I really don’t understand the negative press.

    There really is so much misinformation soit there. Americans are told in once breath to lose weight and in the next breath not to use any sort of diet that restricts anything. It is ridiculous. The fact is most overweight people have a hard time laying off the processed junk that is pushed at us. Giving people a hard time for trying a diet that cuts those foods out is completely backwards.

    Reply
    • Hi Sasha,

      I agree about the plethora of misinformation in the diet world. (I’ve been working as a nutritional professional and anti-dieting advocate for over a decade.) I can’t tell you how much my heart aches over that misinformation, which is driven by profit and feeds off of people’s hopes and insecurities. I say whatever dietary lifestyle you enjoy that you can follow healthfully, go for it! I hope my efforts to clear up misinformation hasn’t come across as my being offended or offensive. I prefer we all know the facts before making dramatic lifestyle changes.

      I’m happy for you and your progress, and anyone who ends up healthier by eating fewer processed foods. Unfortunately, there are many who’ve gone gluten-free without benefits and with complications. That’s why I wrote this post.

      Thanks for stopping by. I wish you the best and appreciate your thoughts.

      Reply
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