As I was reading through the latest medical headlines, I came across this one:
“The Most Popular Diet Ever: Why Going Gluten-Free Is Risky”
And I just knew you and I would have fun skewering it together. Shall we?
You might ask yourself, as did I, how it could possibly be risky to give up a substance that’s of zero use to our bodies. Good question. Let’s dive in to see how strong or (more likely) flimsy the case is.
The article was actually an interview with two pediatricians. The first, Alessio Fasano, M.D., chairs the pediatric gastroenterology and nutrition program at Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School. The second, Ivor Hill, M.D., is professor of clinical pediatrics in the department of pediatric gastroenterology at The Ohio State University College of Medicine. The interviewer, William F. Balistreri, M.D., is also a pediatrician — he’s a professor of pediatric medicine at the University of Cincinnati and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.
Dr. Balistreri asked his two panelists a series of questions about eliminating gluten. And with each question I kept waiting to hear what the risks are.
Spoiler alert: I’m still waiting.
I’m interested, of course, since I’ve been on a naturally gluten free diet for years. All that means is that I don’t eat foods that contain gluten. It does not mean that I eat foods manufactured to be “gluten-free.” I’m not a fan of that whole trend, and here’s why.
Processed foods are still processed foods, even if they have a gluten-free label on them. They are just as fake as the fat-free or carb-free foods I warn you against. And a lot of them are filled with as many bad ingredients and preservatives as candy bars.
So I guess if that’s what you consider a gluten-free diet, then sure. It’s risky. But that’s not what a real gluten-free diet is, as you and I know. So let’s see what the nutrition experts had to say about that.
Dr. Balistreri kicked off the interview by asking why the gluten-free diet is so popular. And he’s right, it is. Approximately 1 in 5 Americans have either cut gluten completely or reduced the amount they consume. That’s way more than the number of people with celiac disease (1 in 100), for whom gluten-free diets are an absolute necessity.
So more people are giving up gluten even if they don’t have to. But this team of pediatricians chose to cast that in a disparaging light.
Instead of acknowledging that people are starting to wake up to the fact that gluten causes countless health problems, and that those problems aren’t limited to people with celiac disease, they claim we’re foregoing gluten to be more like our idols.
They blame the rise in gluten-free diets on actors, actresses, politicians, and athletes who have all embraced this way of life.
The truth is, it often DOES take a celebrity to bring awareness to a problem few people knew about. So I don’t doubt that a lot of people have gone gluten-free because they heard about it from celebrities. But do you think they’d stick to it if it didn’t make them feel better?
The experts then went on to say that a decade ago no one even knew how to spell gluten. And that a gluten-free diet used to be hard to implement because there were no gluten-free foods commercially available.
I beg to differ with both those statements. I have been encouraging people to drop gluten for over 20 years. And they’ve been doing it. Without the “help” of those processed, packaged “gluten-free” junk foods I mentioned above.
Does any of this sound risky to you? It doesn’t to me.
The fact is, almost half of the people who give up gluten do it because they believe it’s a healthier way of life. One of the most common catalysts is relief from gastrointestinal symptoms. I see this literally every day in my practice. But the doctors interviewed here don’t seem to consider that a legitimate reason to adopt the diet.
In fact, they argue the only people who “deserve” to be on a gluten-free diet are those with diagnosed celiac disease.
Did you catch that? Deserve? Unbelievable.
The panelists went on to argue about whether people who cut wheat from their diets are actually feeling better because of the absence of gluten, or whether it’s another component of wheat that’s to blame.
My question is, what difference does it make? And again, where is the risk?
Ah, the “experts” finally got to those so-called “risks” at the very end of the interview. You’re going to love these.
The first: It’s more expensive.
Maybe it is…but I don’t know if I’d qualify that as a “risk.” Especially since the reason gluten-free diets can be more expensive is that they require higher-quality food. And good food should cost more than junk.
The second: It’s higher in calories.
That’s just plain false. At least if you do it correctly.
The third: It’s higher in sodium.
Who cares? As I’ve said a thousand times before, sodium is a non-issue for most people.
And finally: It’s low in fiber and B vitamins.
These claims are questionable, at best. If you’re eating vegetables (as you should be), you’ll get all the fiber you need. As for B vitamins, animal proteins and vegetables are a better source of those than any “fortified” grain.
So, after keeping us waiting all that time to finally tell us how “risky” gluten-free diets are, we discover that their whole premise is wrong to begin with.
Somehow, I’m not surprised.