An innocent enemy

REBECCA VANDER VEERGuest Columnist

You may be feeling confused in the wake of the recent gluten-free craze or wondering what all the fuss is about. What is gluten, anyway?

Gluten is a protein. It is found in grains like wheat, barley and rye. It is also used as a thickener in some processed foods, toiletries and cosmetics. Gluten is one of the substances that helps dough rise and makes bread chewy.

The gluten-free craze started with books like Dr. William Davis’ “Wheat Belly.” Gluten has essentially been demonized and has often been blamed for many common disorders, like diabetes, obesity and cancer.

For most people, gluten is not such a bad thing. A small percentage of the population does not digest gluten normally. However, for the vast majority of people, gluten is a normal component of certain foods with no negative effect on digestion.

Though many people advocate the elimination of gluten in order to lose weight, a gluten-free diet does not equal weight loss. Many processed, gluten-free foods are actually high-calorie due to high fat or refined sugar content, which can prevent weight loss.

Nancy Patin Falini, a registered dietitian, explained in an interview with the Huffington Post that weight loss on a gluten-free diet may stem from the change itself.

Cutting gluten out of the diet is a major change, and such changes can lead to other behavior modifications, like increased physical activity. A recent decision to make a change in their diets can inspire people to think twice before going for a second helping.

Others find that eliminating gluten from their diets makes them feel healthier, but that is not necessarily a result of cutting out gluten. It may happen because those that cut out gluten have also increased their intake of nutrient-dense foods and decreased intake of processed foods. Simply increasing physical activity and consuming fewer processed foods may accomplish what these individuals intended to do in the first place.

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, no published research has shown that gluten-free diets promote weight loss. In fact, some research has suggested that in healthy populations, gluten is beneficial for cardiovascular and immune health.

Gluten-free diets will eventually be forgotten and replaced with a new fad. Americans frequently latch on to the latest diet trend without thinking twice about it.

Before you do the same, do your research. Talk to a dietitian and evaluate multiple options. Don’t blindly trust someone who makes a claim, even if he or she does wear a white coat.

9 comments

  1. There are major factual errors in this “report.”

    First of all, Wheat Belly does most definitely not advocate a “gluten free” diet. It advocates a diet free of the products made from high-yield, semi-dwarf strain of wheat created by genetic research. These new strains have multiple new components, including new sequences for the gliadin protein, glutenins, wheat germ agglutinin, alpha amylase inhibitors, and others.

    There are indeed studies demonstrating weight loss with wheat elimination and it has nothing to do with gluten. There are a number of reasons this develops, including loss of the amylopectin A of wheat, the loss of gram negative lipopolysaccharide endotoxemia with removal of the intestinal “leakiness” generated by the gliadin protein, and the loss of appetite stimulation of the gliadin protein.

    In other words, to reduce this down to a discussion of gluten is overly simplistic. I would advise reading the book and considering its arguments before you bash it.

  2. Joan Hackel says:

    Please sign up for this FREE program, Rebecca. Get educated before you give out your uninformed opinion.
    http://theglutensummit.com/registration/

  3. Joan Hackel says:

    Here is a good article with medical references:
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-mark-hyman/glute

  4. Elizabeth says:

    You wrote “some research has suggested that in healthy populations, gluten is beneficial for cardiovascular and immune health.”

    Where is the link or mention of how the actual research can be viewed? What you wrote is extremely vague. You gave no mechanism of action for how gluten works on the cardiovascular and immune systems and with no references you statement is highly suspect.

  5. Julie Church says:

    You didn’t mention that some people eat gluten-free to treat celiac disease. You need to correct your article or write another one about the 1 in every 133 people in the United States that suffer from this plus those that have a gluten sensitivity. Check out the information from these national organizations: http://celiac.nih.gov/OrganizationResults.aspx?ca

    My son graduate from Samford! He is being tested for celiac disease tomorrow, because I was diagnosed in February of this year. Who is at risk? What are the symptoms? The only treatment is a gluten-free diet for the rest of our lives! That’s the part of the story you left out!

  6. kkennedy says:

    Yes I eliminated bread and dairy from my diet and felt better. Then was told by an ND to eliminate gluten and I felt no more pain, bloating or digestive issues. This has saved my life and now I can live normally.I have always “looked” healthy and held down a job but felt sick every week of my life due to an auto immune problem caused by gluten. In my opinion your article does a disservice to humanity. You should be ashamed.

  7. Julie Church says:

    A wonderful interview about 1/3 of the way down the page is embedded. It is with CBS News chief medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook who explains what celiac disease is and whether people who don’t have it would benefit from a gluten-free diet. http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-204_162-57608072/bact… Please watch.

  8. Happy Dodson says:

    Gluten sensitivity is not a whim or a fad idea, it’s medical misery. And the more advanced gluten problem of celiac disease is very serious illness.

    Gluten causes internal damage long before its damage can be recognized and identified. The idea that “the vast majority” of people are not adversely affected by gluten is likely not true.

    My husband and I follow a gluten-free diet but that has nothing to do with our weight, which was normal when we made that change and remains normal.

    Your article begins with general information about gluten but develops as criticism of using a gluten free diet as a weight loss gimmick.

    Your closing paragraphs summarizing your conclusions sound as though you mean to criticize the gluten free diet in general. I think you meant to be criticizing only using the gluten free diet as hopefully an aid for weight loss but that is not the message your summary imparts.

  9. Yvonne says:

    I can’t believe you don’t have tons of people writing to tell you how much better they feel with gluten out of their diets! Maybe they’re just not bothering because they’ve got better things to do with their new-found health. I am one of the thousands (or is it millions now?) of people who have experienced incredible health benefits from removing gluten from my life. Do a little research yourself into the connection between autoimmunity and gluten. Some day you will eat your words–and they better be gluten-free!

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