Gluten FEAR: Should You Go Gluten-Free?


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
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It's blamed for a host of ailments: headaches, digestive distress, weight gain, poor immune function, hormonal disruption, and even behavioral problems in children. But does gluten, the natural-occurring protein found in wheat, barley, rye and some oats, really the cause of all these health evils? Many health-conscious consumers believe so.

Oprah Winfrey tried a 21-day "cleanse” in 2008 where she eliminated meat, dairy, sugar, caffeine—and gluten—from her diet for three weeks. Grocery shoppers are seeing more food packages plastered with "gluten-free" logos on their faces, too. And specialty stores like Whole Foods offer gluten-free shopping lists and place little flags next to the gluten-free products on their shelves. As it turns out, gluten-free is a booming business. That's great for people who need to avoid gluten, but what about the rest of us?

We're all getting the message that gluten must be bad for us—why else would Oprah avoid it and our foods need to be "free" of it? Gluten-free foods are all the rage these days, but is gluten-free (or wheat-free, for that matter) the way to be or is it just another food trend?

Here are the real facts about gluten-free diets and gluten sensitivities, starting with the basics.

What is Gluten?
Put simply, wheat (all types, including durum, einkorn, faro, kamut, semolina and spelt), barley, rye and certain processed oats all contain a protein called gluten, and all foods made from these grains (most flours, cereals, breads, pastas, crackers and cookies) contain gluten, too. For a pretty comprehensive list of gluten-free and gluten-containing foods, click here. Not all grains contain gluten, however: Amaranth, arrowroot, buckwheat, cassava (manioc), corn, flax, indian rice grass (montina), Job's tears, millet, finger millet (ragi), potatoes, quinoa, rice, sago, sorghum, soy, tapioca, tef (teff), wild rice and yucca are naturally gluten-free. Oats are gluten-free, but the processing of oats usually contaminates them with other gluten-containing foods, so only oats that are specially labeled as gluten-free are safe for people with sensitivities.

What makes foods that contain gluten so desirable (besides the nutritional benefits of protein) is its texture. What makes bread so elastic and chewy? Gluten. What gives bread structure so it can rise before it is baked? Gluten again. This protein also helps bread retain its shape and acts as a binder, thickener, and stabilizer—not only in bread, but also in many processed foods, including ice cream, ketchup and salad dressing, and other products like toothpaste and medicines. (Unfortunately, for people with gluten sensitivities, you won't always find the word "gluten" on an ingredients label.) Because of all of these properties, gluten can often be found in meat analogs (vegetarian meat substitutes like seitan, veggie burgers and other faux meats) and specialty diet foods that are designed to be higher in protein. Because gluten is cheap, rich in protein and has so many great properties, it's found in a plethora of processed, fast food and restaurant foods—you know, the kind of foods we probably shouldn't be eating a lot of anyway. That doesn't mean that gluten itself is bad for you (it occurs naturally in many health-promoting whole grains), but it does mean that it's hard to avoid if you really need to.

Why Avoid Gluten?
Some people, from alternative health practitioners to some mainstream integrative doctors, blame gluten and wheat for a variety of health problems, such as depression, fatigue, weight gain and behavioral problems. It's true that people with gluten intolerance and celiac disease (present in 1% of the American population) may experience a wide array of symptoms or nutritional deficiencies that could lead to these problems. But this is not the case for gluten in general, nor is it true for everyone else who eats it. None of the theories that gluten directly causes health problems in the other 99% of the population have ever been proven. You may hear some convincing stories, though: your aunt who gave up gluten and finally lost 50 pounds, or a stranger who blogged about feeling more energetic and less depressed after going gluten-free. Many people might feel better, experience less digestive distress or actually become healthier by giving up gluten-containing foods, but that doesn't necessarily mean that gluten itself was causing those problems in the first place. In addition, personal experience is not the same thing as a well-designed research study; as you probably learned in high school science class, correlation does not prove causation.

It's impossible to know whether giving up gluten (or wheat) itself may have improved one's health or if those improvements resulted from a combination of factors. For example, a person who adopts a gluten-free diet will suddenly avoid most (if not all) processed foods, fast foods and restaurant foods. These foods are also notoriously high in fat, sodium and calories and low in nutrients anyway. A gluten-free diet also involves cooking more meals at home and eating more unprocessed foods like fruits and vegetables. Certainly, these healthful dietary practices would result in many positive health outcomes. But can you attribute the health, weight, or mental improvements directly to gluten itself? Can you blame the gluten in your Big Mac for the health problems you've faced in the past (rather than the Big Mac itself)? No. Gluten-free diet or not, we could all benefit from eating more fresh, unprocessed foods, cooking more at home, and dining out less often. A multitude of factors are at play here.

In the article "Putting the Healthy into Gluten-Free," published in the trade magazine Today's Dietitian, Registered Dietitian Earline Griffith commented, “I am seeing people who don’t need to be on a gluten-free diet choosing gluten-free products because they think [they’re] healthier. It’s kind of comical, as it is healthier to eat conventional 100% whole grain products rather than [ones that are] processed.” So why avoid gluten if you don't need to? Or more importantly, what's the big deal if you want to eat a gluten-free diet anyway?

Downsides and Challenges of a Gluten-Free Diet
Giving up gluten is not easy to do. It involves a complete overhaul of one's diet, cooking techniques, kitchen set up (crumbs inside a toaster could contaminate your gluten-free bread, for example) and eating habits. And it's not without its downsides. People who need to avoid gluten due to celiac disease and people who are simply avoid because they think it's unhealthful can run into a variety of problems.
  • Misdiagnosis and self-diagnosis. Reading about the symptoms of celiac disease online and then deciding your have it is not the same as medical diagnosis from your doctor. Many people assume they have gluten intolerance when the symptoms they experience could actually be caused by other serious conditions that giving up gluten will not solve. Only a doctor can test for and rule out other conditions. If you think you have a sensitivity to gluten, see your doctor first. By avoiding gluten before you've actually been tested for celiac disease, you could mask the markers of the disease. Like an allergy test that exposes you to an allergen to see if your body develops a reaction, you have to have eaten gluten for these markers to show up when you are tested. People who may have celiac disease but start a gluten-free diet before diagnosis or testing may receive a false negative on their test results.
  • Nutritional deficiencies. People who follow gluten-free diets, especially without instruction or supervision from a registered dietitian or doctor, may develop vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Because so many healthful and nutritious foods contain gluten, it can be difficult to get those same nutrients when eliminating these foods from your diet. You may also fall short of meeting your body's needs for carbohydrates, the preferred fuel source for exercise, brain activity and so much more.
  • Cost. An increasing selection and variety of specialty products make it easier to enjoy your favorite foods and still eat gluten-free. But it is going to cost you more than standard products, especially if you're buying processed foods that are gluten-free. You may expect to pay two to three times as much for gluten-free breads or crackers, for example.
  • Gluten-free doesn't mean healthy. Gluten-free foods are not always nutritious. Just because a cookie or bagel is gluten-free does not mean it's healthful, low in calories or nutritious. Many gluten-free packaged foods are highly processed and are best avoided.
  • You can't trust every label. As mentioned above, the word "gluten" will rarely appear on a food package or nutrition label. Some foods can legally be labeled as gluten-free but still contain gluten. In addition, food manufacturers can change their products at anytime without warning. The wheat-free pretzels that were on your safe list may suddenly change, and unless you're reading labels every time you shop, foods that were once gluten-free might suddenly contain gluten. This doesn't even get into the list of other products and medications that contain gluten.
These are just a few of the reasons why you should not self-diagnose or avoid gluten unless necessary. So who does need to avoid gluten? Only people with diagnosed gluten sensitivities.

Gluten Sensitivity and Celiac Disease
Gluten sensitivity is an umbrella term for a collection of medical conditions in which a person experiences adverse reactions to eating gluten.

According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, fewer than 1 out of 133 people (less than 1%) in the United States have celiac disease (also known as celiac sprue, nontropical sprue, and gluten-sensitive enteropathy), a condition in which the body cannot handle gluten. This condition is even less common worldwide (1 out of 266). Unlike allergies, which can develop over time, celiac disease is a genetically determined condition, the cause of which is still unknown.

When a person with celiac disease consumes gluten, an autoimmune reaction occurs in the small intestine, resulting in damage to the surface of the small intestine and painful stomach bloating, cramps, gas, diarrhea, and constipation. Fatigue, weight loss, and malnutrition are common symptoms, too. Celiac disease may also present itself in less obvious ways, including irritability or depression, stomach upset, joint pain, muscle cramps, headaches and migraines, anemia, skin rash, mouth sores, dental and bone disorders and tingling in the legs and feet. However, because these symptoms are common to many other conditions and can range in severity, celiac disease is often overlooked or misdiagnosed, as irritable bowel syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia. If you exhibit any of these symptoms, talk with your doctor to discuss them and get tested.

Screening for celiac disease involves a simple blood test that your doctor can perform. A complete panel (antigliadin antibody (IgG and IgA), tissue transglutaminase (tTG IgA), anti-endomysial antibody (EMA), and total serum IgA) will yield the best results. The gold standard of celiac disease diagnosis is an intestinal biopsy. Because of a known genetic component, it is recommended that family members of a diagnosed celiac be tested, even if asymptomatic; people with other autoimmune diseases are at a 25% increased risk of having celiac disease, says the Celiac Disease Foundation.

Individuals whose test results do not exhibit the markers of celiac disease, but still experience similar symptoms when eating gluten, may have gluten intolerance. Intolerance to gluten may develop or worsen over time, but there is no research to show that individuals with gluten intolerance will develop celiac disease. It should be noted that gluten intolerance has not been well researched, but it is generally accepted that gluten sensitivities do exist in varying degrees for some people. While people with celiac disease need to avoid gluten to prevent unwanted symptoms and additional damage to the intestines, some people with gluten sensitivities may tolerate varying amounts of gluten without negative effects. It is recommended (and beneficial) that people with gluten intolerance and celiac disease both work closely with their health care providers to manage their symptoms and prevent complications.

Going Gluten-Free
Just 1/8 teaspoon of wheat flour can prevent healing and exacerbate symptoms, according to some studies. So people with celiac disease need to avoid gluten permanently. Within days or weeks of abstaining from gluten, inflammation in the small intestine will begin to subside. There is no cure for celiac disease, but you can effectively manage it through strict dietary changes and the adherence to a gluten-free diet.

The following resources, selected by SparkPeople's Head Dietitian, Becky Hand, may be beneficial for people who must follow a strict gluten-free diet.

WEBSITESBOOKS & COOKBOOKSMAGAZINESThere are many challenges to eating a gluten-free diet, and adherence to this strict diet is the only way to avoid unwanted symptoms. Fortunately, America's growing interest in gluten-free foods has encouraged food manufacturers to make even more gluten-free products for those who need them. "The best thing that has happened with all the 'gluten fear' is the improvement in product quality and the number of products now available on the market for those folks who really have to avoid gluten for their life," says SparkPeople nutrition expert and Registered Dietitian, Becky Hand. cannot provide gluten-free meal plans because it is a multifaceted disease that requires individualized attention and nutritional education. We recommend that anyone with celiac disease meets with a Registered Dietitian to receive the necessary education, individualized meal planning and supplementation necessary to avoid symptoms and prevent nutritional deficiencies. Your dietitian can advise you on how to best maintain the nutritional quality of your diet and help you come up with gluten-free baking, cooking and shopping tips.

Once you are familiar with your gluten-free diet and the special gluten-free food products on the market, you are ready to combine this information with the tools and assistance at SparkPeople. You can use SparkPeople's general meal plans and make appropriate substitutions with gluten-free products or track your own foods as recommended by your Registered Dietitian. Upload your gluten-free recipes to your SparkRecipes cookbook to analyze, save and track your favorite recipes while monitoring your calories and nutritional intake. And post often in our gluten-free SparkTeams for support and tips from other members.

This content has been reviewed and approved by SparkPeople nutrition expert, Becky Hand, Licensed and Registered Dietitian.

Celiac Disease from Harvard Health Publications
Gluten (for information about gluten's properties) from
The Gluten-Free Diet: An Update for Health Professionals by Carol Rees Parrish, R.D., M.S. accessed from University of Virginia (
Gluten-Free Diet Information Sheet from the Vegetarian Society (
Gluten-free diets gaining in popularity by Kim Painter from
Gluten Sensitivity from the Gluten Intolerance Group (
Gluten Sensitivity (for information on the definition of gluten sensitivity) from
The Gluten Sensitivity Spectrum by Danna Korn from
Putting the Healthy into Gluten-Free by Sharon Palmer, RD from
Understanding Celiac Disease by John Libonati and Cleo Libonati, RN, BSN from

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    My husband died in 2008 from refractory celiac disease. That is celiac that does not respond to a gluten free diet. He was very conscientious about his diet, but the diagnosis was so long in coming that the damage to his intestines could not be reversed. He had osteoporosis, steroid-induced diabetes and was on TPN for the last year of his life. This disease is serious, and it is so important that celiacs adhere to the gluten free diet. Our son has tested positive for celiac, and even though he presently exhibits no obvious symptoms, I am very concerned about everything he eats. I presently have him drinking a nutritional supplement so that his body gets the vitamins and minerals he needs. Supplements are more readily absorbed when in liquid form. Thank you for the information provided here. - 2/3/2010   11:00:26 AM
    I have Celiac Disease and MUST follow a gluten free diet. Although I feel much better, it is a really annoying diet to follow because I can never cheat. I understand the reasoning of "if you dont have to, then dont do it" but I know many people that choose a gluten free/ casien free lifestyle for their autistic children. There isnt really a medical reason for it, but many children respond well and "recover" from many of the symptoms of Autism. I dont think these people are creating "bread fear". I think they are happy to have a "cure" and want to share the knowledge with others. - 2/3/2010   10:23:58 AM
  • 151
    Instead of bashing the article as biased, or throwing out claims that gluten causes a myriad of unrelated diseases, how about this: if you don't want to eat gluten - don't. Celiac disease is something that is quite serious and has symptoms that are awful and can be life threatening. Let's not belittle that disease by trying to add in 40 others that people claim are "caused" by gluten. Those claims of other diseases being caused by gluten are bogus. Legitimate, peer reviewed studies have been done and those claims have been disproven. If you think gluten is the devil, that's fine, but stop fear-mongering. - 2/3/2010   9:29:30 AM
  • 150
    Thank you for this in depth and very informative article! Many of my friends have been asking me if they should give up gluten and I get frustrated and tell them NO unless they have a gluten allergy! And of course they don't listen to me! Gluten (wheat) is so much better for the rest of us in comparison to white flour. Now i am going to print this article out and give it to all of them- so thank you for saving me the frustration :) - 2/3/2010   7:53:59 AM
  • 149
    I learned so much from this blog, thank you for all the facts. - 2/3/2010   1:00:53 AM
    I’ve only skimmed through most of the comments for this newsletter, so please forgive me if others have already posted some of this info in their responses. While I think Nicole’s intentions were good, i.e., don’t live in fear of the bread aisle at your local market, I think she leaves out some very important point about the nature of the gluten in today’s foods as well as gluten’s possible connection to many other diseases.

    An up front fact about me -- I was diagnosed with Celiac disease a few years ago. At the time, I didn’t know what gluten was, nor did I care. I had lots of unrelated health complaints, but no intestinal or digestive disorders. Then, I hurt my foot and went in for an x-ray. The good news was, no break. The bad news was, I had bullet holes in my toe bones. My doctor was stumped and sent me to endocrinologist who ran, among other tests, a Celiac Panel. My test results were so bad that, combined with the demineralizing of my bones and a patch of dermatitis herpetiformis (another stealth symptom of Celiac disease), she diagnosed me with Celiac Disease. So, gluten is off the menu permanently in my case, and even if they found a “cure” for Celiac Disease tomorrow (and I hear they are working on one), I don’t know that I’d ever eat gluten again and here’s why.

    While gluten does make baked goods fluffier and that creamy soup a little thicker, the farmers producing those grains have a little secret. Here’s a direct quote from “Even if you were consuming the same amount of grains today as you did last year or 10 years ago, you would be ingesting more gluten. That’s because bio-engineers continually work to improve gluten and make it a larger and more potent part of edible grain. It is estimated that today’s wheat contains nearly 90 per cent more gluten than wheat did from a century ago.”

    Doctors are also seeing links between gluten consumption and illnesses. In fact, a review paper in The New England Journal of Medicine listed 55 diseases that can be caused by eating gluten, including osteoporosis, irritable bowel disease, inflammatory bowel disease, anemia, cancer, fatigue, canker sores, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, and almost all other autoimmune diseases. Gluten is also linked to many psychiatric and neurological diseases, including anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, dementia, migraines, epilepsy, and neuropathy. There is also a possibility that gluten consumption may be linked to autism. Interesting side note, on my last trip down the gluten-free baking aisle at Whole Foods, the woman next to me was collecting ingredients to bake cookies for her autistic son. She said that since she’d eliminated gluten from his diet, his symptoms had improved dramatically.

    The incidence of Celiac Disease has increased 400 percent over the last 50 years, and the number of people with other types of autoimmune disorders is also increasing at an alarming rate. And while there might be a genetic component in some Celiac cases, there is none in mine. In a family numbering well over 100 members (if you include second cousins, etc.), I am the only one with the disease, and I was not diagnosed until I was 50. So, my advice to anyone reading this who has not been diagnosed yet with gluten sensitivity or Celiac Disease, think twice about gluten. After all, how do you imagine your body will react in the long term to all of that extra gluten in all of those genetically modified grains?
    - 2/3/2010   12:58:28 AM
  • 147
    Really enjoyed this blog.

    Remember if you are worried you may have celiac disease you should get tested before you eliminate gluten from your diet. - 2/2/2010   9:50:05 PM
  • 146
    I really don't know why anyone would follow a truly gluten-free diet unless they had a real medical reason to do so. It is not easy to cook that way and I find it expensive and usually higher in calories. I know, I cook for three who need gluten-free foods. - 2/2/2010   9:11:53 PM
    I do have do be gluten free--I become very toxic from eating high-gluten products--all sorts of stomach problems, night-sweats, bloating, fog-brain, etc. - 2/2/2010   9:04:00 PM
  • 144
    I understand the concept of not restricting a food when you have no medical reason it do so. However, if it makes you feel better and is not all protien, fat, or carbs, there is no harm. You can be health on a gluten-free diet. You can get fiber (whole non-gluten grains, fruit, veggies) and all your vitimans and minerals. Everyone should eat more whole foods regardless of any diagnosis.

    At one time type 2 diabetis was considered rare, as were heart conditions for women. Who knows what the numbers will be for celiac in 10 years time now that the medical community is starting to realize it is more wide spread then they thought.

    - 2/2/2010   8:56:17 PM
    If I didn't have Celiac disease I would be on 'glutten' overload, much like I was prior to getting a very bad illness and then the onset of celiac. Prior to this I ate a glutten enhanced diet and was in a very healthy way. I was not over-weight, had a nice balance of all nutrients and enjoyed eating. Now it is extremetly difficult as I have an allergy to beef as well. Someone should avoid glutten if they are intolerant or have celiac. Which is common sense anyone who has a sensativity to any kind of food should avoid it. This may be a 'fad' diet because now so many companies are labeling 'glutten free.' Prior to this no one really even knew they weren't supposed to eat glutten. I say if not allergic, intol. or a celiac go for it! - 2/2/2010   7:48:14 PM
    I, like many others, found the article to be biased against a GF lifestyle. I have had various digestive symptoms for 30+ years. I was diagnosed with IBS because nothing else fit. A friend told me about Celiac last spring. I went GF right away. My digestive symptoms improved dramatically . I did seek medical attention and had an endoscopy. Thank goodness it was NOT Celiac. Considering the improvement in my digestive system, however, I am convinced that I am intolerant. I eat a little now and again, but find I do better without.

    Back to the bias of the article. I do get the reason why. The mainstream diet programs and medicine have a hard time adjusting to the impact of a GF requirement in the diet. My employer is currently sponsoring Weight Watchers at work program. I did not sign up because I knew it would be impossible to meet the whole grain requirements. I also noticed in a recent health survey sponsored by my employer that the computer generated information indicated I should eat more "whole grains." It did not take into account that I eat limited grains and processed food because of my reduced gluten diet. It did praise the number of fruits and vegies I eat. I get to talk to a real person about the results soon. Hopefully, that person will understand the issue and have good suggestions like those in the comments here.

    For those that have digestive issues. Eat a little less bread, pasta, and cookies and add and extra vegie and some mixed berries with a touch of whipped cream instead. I am willing to bet you will start feeling better quickly.

    . - 2/2/2010   6:33:35 PM
    This article wasn't bad, but after nearly watching my baby die of starvation at the age of 2 due to gluten, the slightly negative approach to GF ways of living strikes a nerve. For one year we knew something was wrong with our baby, and even the doctor said he looked sick but that he couldn't find anything wrong. When I asked if it could be gluten (how many kids scream at getting cheerio's or PB&J?) I was told it couldn't be it and that to try getting away from wheat would be risky for a growing child. I forced the issue and demanded a blood test; he had a very high level of anti-bodies. We were told to continue giving him gluten while waiting 1 month for a "consultation". 2 days later he lost all speech, sucked his thumb and stared at the ceiling, not even crying. He even quit eating blankets (yes, he ate holes as big as his head in everything, and I know he ate it because I changed his diapers!). We made the decision to remove all gluten and wheat from his diet. It took 2 months to get him to eat solid food, and 2 years to regain speech and fine motor control. 1 year ago he was considered 2 years behind, and today he is at age level. We never got the biopsy, and the doctor treats us with respect. He is strong and healthy with the change, and the diet is only costly if you need packaged foods. I feed our entire family of 4 for less than $100/wk, and we eat bread and cookies and crackers, all GF. The idea that Sparkle cannot help with menu's for GF living is ridiculous. I really needed help when I started, but it's so easy now! I often help my friends who also have celiac sprue with menu's as they start out, especially since many have limited budgets. I think the real reason menus are difficult to make is that for many Americans, eating foods that do not contain sugar, food coloring, artificial flavor, and that are so refined as to not taste the item itself, is almost impossible. The pallet must adjust to real foods, and most will not like it for 2 or 3 weeks. I would still encourage Sparkle to attempt a menu plan for GF living, as it would improve health and be very helpful for those that need to live GF. - 2/2/2010   6:01:16 PM
    I agree with a lot of the people responding to this article. It was biased and until I got to the part that explained celiac I felt it was putting down the fact that going gluten free as just a fad diet. I was just recently diagnoised with celiac and I had none of the obvious symtoms. I just wasn't absorbing my thyroid meds. An endoscopy revealed that I had significant intestinal damage and my blood test was very high. Over the last 20 years I have had the classic symtoms but never connected it to anything. Just in the past few years I have been iron and Vit. D deficient but I was never tested for celiac. Just told to take extra Iron and Vit. D. But I've had the mouth ulcers, the hives, the dermatitis, the easy bruising, gas and bloating and many more but just not at the same time so no doctor ever connected the dots and tested me for celiac. So now I'm gluten free for the last month and learning every day. SP probably doesn't have a gluten free diet plan because then it would have to have plans for all the allergies. It's up to us as individuals to take our lives in hand and make the necessary adjustments and do the necessary research. Just for you celiacs that aren't aware, there is a celiac Spark team. Just go to Spark Teams and type in celiac or gluten free. I found two teams listed. - 2/2/2010   5:33:27 PM
    As a celiac, I have mixed emotions about this article. On the plus side, I am excited to know that there is finally more awareness about the gluten-free lifestyle - especially because it means more products are available to those of us who suffer from it! But, on the other side, I don't think that people who are not celiacs should use the gluten-free lifestyle as a means to lose weight. First of all, many celiacs GAIN weight when they begin a gluten-free lifestyle. When you can't eat certain foods, you tend to over-eat the ones you can, especially if you're feeling deprived, as I was. Also, many of the substitutions made in gluten-free products are loaded with sugar and fat (they have to do something to make up for the lack of flavor and texture!) And as a word of caution: a gluten-free existence is NOT a diet - it's a lifestyle - and a VERY difficult one at that. If you're wanting a healthier lifestyle and CAN eat whole grains, I would do it. But, stick to small amounts of bread and pasta. Bottom line, before you choose a gluten-free lifestyle, be aware of the hazards. Do the research first. - 2/2/2010   5:02:29 PM
  • 138
    I appreciate that Spark is relying on the science of nutrition in their articles, not just on fads. Celiac disease is a real condition but it's a huge jump from that to announcing that all people, everywhere should avoid gluten forever. From the article, this bears repeating: "None of the theories that gluten directly causes health problems in the other 99% of the population have ever been proven."

    That's not biased. That's not an opinion. That's fact. Unless you've been diagnosed with a medical condition by an actual doctor - save your money. Oh, and pass the bread rolls, please. - 2/2/2010   4:34:20 PM
    This is a pretty good article, but a well-researched article should not include two sources that are from wikipedia. But it is a pretty good summation of other articles/websites I have read regarding gluten intolerance. - 2/2/2010   4:20:22 PM
  • 136
    People often look at me strange when I tell them I am allergic to wheat, but I know when I abstain from eating wheat I feel so much better. When I eat products with wheat, I itch constantly, I am bloated, I have headaches, I am lethergic and the list goes on. - 2/2/2010   4:02:34 PM
    I've been GF for almost 10 years now--long before it became a fad! I can tell you, the amount of products on the market now, compared to when I started has increased a thousand times. And I was glad to see in the article that a GF diet is not a weight loss plan--it can be far from it. Usually newly diagnosed folks lose a lot of weight, because you go into a bit of shock over the things you can't eat anymore. Then, as you get more comfortable doing your own GF cooking and baking, the weight comes right back on! It all comes down to calories. For those just starting out (and old hands perhaps) I recommend Great place to buy snacks, GF flours, and other good products. - 2/2/2010   3:41:10 PM
    Interesting but definitely biased article.
    And GFREEBOY, 1 out of 266 is obviously less common than 1 out of 133. Do the math. - 2/2/2010   3:08:42 PM
  • 133
    I whole-heartedly agree with MZZCHIEF. This article kind of upsets me on a number of levels, so I won't even get in to it.
    Being on a gluten-free diet has changed my life, 100% for the better. A year and a half ago, I was tired, lethargic, unable to concentrate, severely anemic and ready to drop out of school because no one could tell me what was wrong. I was misdiagnosed with depression and chronic fatigue syndrome before I pushed to find a doctor who would believe me. After 8 months being g-free, I feel back to my old self again.
    I think this article severely down-plays the benefits of a gluten-free diet for those it helps, has a sort of skeptical sound to the whole thing. I don't need ANOTHER person to tell me there's nothing wrong with me.
    Also, being on a gluten-free diet WILL NOT HURT ANYONE, and I believe it will help a great many people who don't even realize how crappy they feel now. Gluten is not an essential part of anyone's diet....good source of protein? How about a piece of lean meat, dairy, or beans? fiber? Fruits and veggies, anyone? Most gluten-containing foods (let's face it, the majority of the country isn't eating whole grain anything) are so processed that they're missing the fiber and vitamins/minerals anyway!
    Okay, so I lied about the whole "not getting in to it" part, this just really ticked me off. - 2/2/2010   2:32:58 PM
    I give the article mixed reviews. More factual than some; laughably biased (nutritious foods contain gluten?!? Which ones?!?). If you want a great source of accurate information about the science behind gluten sensitivity and celiac disease (they're different), as well as how to live a gluten-free lifestyle, you have to get any of Danna Korn's books, especially "Living Gluten-Free for Dummies." It's part of the "For Dummies" series -- not dumbed down at all -- quite the opposite -- yet easy to read and filled with valuable information. Every word was approved by the world's leading researcher on celiac disease (Alessio Fasano MD) and Cynthia Kupper of Gluten Intolerance Group. BTW, 1 out of 266 is MORE common than 1 out of 133, not less. Definitely check out the book. It addresses the barriers this author talks about (nutrition, cost, etc.) -- it's as upbeat and accurate as you'll find. - 2/2/2010   2:10:43 PM
  • 131
    Wow! This blog has caused a lot of activity....interesting to read. Thank you to all. - 2/2/2010   1:35:48 PM
  • 130
    Its an interesting article that I appreciate. I also generally agree with it. I think it states things a little too strongly since future research may show that there is more of a problem than is currently though (by the scientific community).

    On the other hand, a surprising number of comments here make me a little depressed. There is a lack of tolerance of difference of opinion. "Righteous" anger does help us to come to a better community understanding of anything. It polarizes the conversation and no one listens because people have gone from thinking to feeling. - 2/2/2010   1:35:10 PM
  • KAZDEN2008
    Hi I am from the UK, and a parent of a 14 year old son with Aspergers Syndrome, I researched the benefit from GF foods for quite some time, then decided to embark on a challenge. This time last year my son was quite uncontrollable, he had only been diagnosed since July 2008. I changed my parenting skills which had a huge impact on his behaviour, and the transition from normal to GF was far from easy. But I persevered and slowly I learnt to cook with the things I was allowed on prescription, and I have devised some of my own creations, the change in my son is now incredible. He has calmed down a lot and is more easy to talk to rather than lashing out at anything and everything. His concentration has greatly improved although it is hard to get him to do school work. He is now nearly 15 and is well a lot bigger than a child of his age at nearly 6ft2 so I have to be careful with his behaviour as he is very clumsy and forgets his strength and size. I am very proud of how he has grown and believe it is through a whole lot of things and not just diet, but it certainly helped. - 2/2/2010   1:30:28 PM
    DBCLARINET..... Exactly! - 2/2/2010   1:24:28 PM
  • 127
    I thought the beginning of the blog sounded a bit biased, even if the author did have some good points. One example: if someone just cuts out food with gluten, they will have to replace them with more fruits and vegetables. So while you can't necessarily attribute the change in health to gluten itself, is that really so bad? I just went ahead and cut out ALL grains, breads, pasta, rice, etc., because compared to fruits and vegetables, they're nutritionally void. Why do you think everything is "enriched" or that Total has to add vitamins and minerals to all their cereals? And please, don't give me the fiber argument, because fruits and veggies have that, too. And spare me the "heart-healthy" argument, too. Unless you're willing to argue why fruits and veggies aren't heart-healthy.

    We should be able to get all the nutrients that we need from the foods we eat, and until the agricultural revolution, we survived on veggies, fruits, nuts, and meats. No gluten in any of that. Not to mention that we can't even begin to understand the intricacies of vitamin and mineral interaction, nor do we know all the micronutrients in each food, anyway. I'd rather eat good, whole, real food than trust my life to bread and a multivitamin. Gluten intolerance, gluten sensitivity, the increasing diagnoses... Makes me wonder if we're supposed to eat that stuff at all! - 2/2/2010   1:22:30 PM
    Let's not throw the baby out with the bath water here folks. I think the author misses a bigger picture when looking at diets that eliminate gluten...they are also diets that typically eliminate caesins, surgars, and processed foods. The following line made me chuckle:
    "Because so many healthful and nutritious foods contain gluten, it can be difficult to get those same nutrients when eliminating these foods from your diet."
    You are trying to tell me that WHOLE fruits and veggies can't give you the carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, and nutrition you need? !!!!$%@#@#$!!!
    Let's get real, it takes a global approach to nutrition when you want to be healthy. Sticking to processed, packaged foods that you find for convenience at your grocery will never, ever, ever beat whole fruits, vegetables, lean meat, fresh fish, olive oils, and nuts. Gluten or no gluten.
    Do I think processed foods effect your hormone levels, insulin resistance, inflamation, sodium intake, ability to concentrate, maintain enegry levels, and general health?
    Why yes, yes I do.
    Do processed foods usually contain gluten, caesins, and high fructose corn syrup?
    More often than not.
    Let's embrace an approach to eating that challenges us to get in the kitchen and think about what we are putting in our bodies. I have been eating gluten-free for a year, and I buy not a single "gluten-free" packaged product. You don't need to replace garbage with garbage.
    - 2/2/2010   1:17:27 PM
  • 125
    I think a more honest title for this article would be: "Why Spark has chosen not to create Gluten free meal plans for its members".

    Sure there are some challenges to creating a meal plan that includes enough fiber and vitamins, but better Spark's nutritionist, than a do it yourself effort.

    That:" cannot provide gluten-free meal plans because it is a multifaceted disease that requires individualized attention and nutritional education " isn't a reason, its an excuse for not stepping up to the plate. And if anyone disagrees, lets just scoff them into submission!

    Way to whimp out, Spark!
    - 2/2/2010   1:09:41 PM
    Celiac disease is something very serious, and I think the article caught that one and did a top-notch job with it. I do believe, however, that it glossed over gluten sensitivity. Having a sensitivity does not mean wheat or gluten has to be avoided 100%, but keeping it down to minimal levels can only help. It's also hard to know if you have a sensitivity until you kick it out and notice the difference, or add it back in after it's been out for a while.

    I write this because, as a fitness professional, I see how many processed carbohydrates and wheat products are consumed by the average individual and how few vegetables are taken in. There's an enormous unbalance. Everything is best in moderation, but wheat is generally not taken in moderation (it's the same with High Fructose Corn Syrup), which can cause our bodies to develop sensitivities to it (think how the body develops a resistance to insulin if we have too much sugar in our bloodstream ALL the time, which can develop into Type 2 diabetes).

    It is entirely possible to eat a near-gluten-free diet and still get plenty of vitamins, minerals, and fiber- there's something out there called VEGETABLES, and for some reason, those were completely missed in the article as a good-quality way to eat regardless of gluten sensitivity, intolerance, or diagnosed Celiac disease.

    Please, regardless of whether you wish to avoid gluten, think you have a sensitivity, or are just looking to lose weight- increase your vegetable intake. That's pretty much the standing recommendation I give.

    As for myself, I went mostly gluten-free for the month of January - to see if I would feel better (lots of bloating, skin breakouts, low energy), and it was amazing. When I added it back in this past weekend, I started feeling low, my skin broke out again, and I was gassy. Needless to say, I'm kicking it back out again. Does that mean I intend to be 100% gluten-free? No, because everything in moderation- I love me my cereal, especially Fiber One bran flakes, and enjoy the cheeseburger with the bun- but it's not likely to be a main component in my diet anymore. - 2/2/2010   1:03:12 PM
  • 123
    I am gluten intolerant and have been off gluten for 1 1/2 yrs now and have NEVER felt better! I had digestive issues for quite some time and just eating healthier does not make them go away if you are still injesting gluten. - 2/2/2010   12:57:28 PM
    Wheat allergies, gluten intolerance, and Celiac disease are highly under diagnosed in this country. So while I agree it may not be for everyone, if you are suffering and want to attempt a gluten free diet, more power to you. One in 133 is a pretty big number, that's over 2 million people! My son tested positive for Celiac on the blood test, but negative on the biopsy. The doctors just shrug and don't know what it means. My neighbors son had severe digestive problems, never tested positive for Celiac but responded incredibly well to a gluten free diet and is now symptom free.

    My suggestion is to get informed, get tested, and try an elimination diet if you suspect gluten to be the issue. If in the process you learn to eat less processed foods and enjoy a healthier lifestyle, all the better. I think my issue with this article is that people aren't going gluten free out of fear, they are trying it out of hope for a better life. Medicine doesn't have all the answers, but it can help us get pointed in the right direction.

    FYI, if spark people wants to support all people with Celiac disease, they should offer a weight gain goal on this site. That is why I am here, to help my son gain weight, and to help keep his diet balanced while living gluten free. - 2/2/2010   12:56:03 PM
  • 121
    It's great to see this point finally clarified! It makes me so mad when celebrities like Oprah give public health advice. She's no doctor. Neither is Jenny McCarthy (that's another topic I won't go into though). It seems a lot of people who don't have celiac disease but are just hippies decide to go gluten free because it's "cool." And I love the point about how it's not the gluten in the Big Mac but everything else in it that's unhealthy. This is an analogy for bigger topics -- it's not vaccinations that are making people sick; it's their unhealthy life choices! But once again, I digress. - 2/2/2010   12:43:51 PM
    If this article wasn't so sadly misinformed it would be laughable.
    Poor Wendy, (comment 81). She rejects a "a natural" approach like eliminating some possible offending foods in favor of gastric bypass! Her poor children have ADHD struggles, and there is tons of experiential evidence that a cleaned up and gluten and sugar free diet WILL fix their issues but Wendy wants scientific proof. The problem is that studies are done by someone with a financial agenda and no one will fin'l gain from going GF - the individual will gain from feeling so much better though! (btw, I am gluten-free and I don't buy GF products)
    This quote from the article is really funny: "Many people might feel better, experience less digestive distress or actually become healthier by giving up gluten-containing foods, but that doesn't necessarily mean that gluten itself was causing those problems in the first place." Yeah we don't want THAT, now do we! As for me, years of horrible, painful Fibromyalgia and heel spurs, (and a host of other minor symptoms that I never thought much about) went away after I went sugar and Gluten-free. sounds crazy? not really. many people's health issues start with inflammation. Another important point the article failed to mention is how our wheat has been genetically modified to increase the gluten content. and we wonder why many people are becoming gluten intollerant.
    Wendy, I beg you, for your kids sake, try it for heaven's sake. - 2/2/2010   12:36:57 PM
    This is a great article. I can see why someone would go gluten free to help them lose weight. That just means you are eating more carefully, and paying attention to what you are eating, which we should be doing anyway. Eating at home more,and staying away from foods we don't need to be eating anyway. This is SP way of life. Not to be gluten free but watch and track what you eat and get healthy while doing it. - 2/2/2010   12:31:56 PM
  • 118
    I was disappointed with the article. I am not a diagnosed celiac however, I am allergic to wheat and 8 other foods (confirmed through a blood test). I get an itchy rash when I have wheat. Because of this I went gluten free 2 years ago. Since then, I have not only lost 30 lbs but I also have alot more energy and feel much more alert. No more "foggy" feeling. My physician told me that alot of people in the medical industry do not agree with food allergies because they are not scientifically proven, but you have to know your own body and what makes you feel better. I can tell you from experience that I know when I eat something and I start itching that I am allergic too it. That' s enough proof for me. Please don't discourage people from trying a diet that is less processed and better for you. I realize there is no ill-intent but I think you missed the mark on this one. - 2/2/2010   12:10:45 PM
  • AJL2468
    I don't think that Gluten Free is a guilt some people actually have problems. I think that you should have an option on here for people that are gluten free. I have a gluten free problem. - 2/2/2010   11:57:17 AM
    I found this article to be strongly misinformed. Gluten is bad for everyone to some degree. It is genetic mutations of the grains that give them all that gluten. Our bodies are not built to handle gluten at all and thats why so many people have so many problems. Of course no one would want to go off of gluten because the grains that contain it have morphine like properties which turn it into a drug once it hits your blood stream. You become addicted to it and thats why you feel so happy after you eat bread. It's a comfort food. I think this article need to be rewritten. - 2/2/2010   11:38:43 AM
  • 115
    It disappoints me to see people commenting on this article and saying that it was poorly researched, especially since a lot of these posts share information that is poorly researched. Gluten intolerance and celiac are becoming more "common" diagnosis because awareness of the disease is increasing. It doesn't mean more people are becoming celiac. Celiac is an autoimmune disease, not just a gluten allergy. If you want to talk about a severe disease that has been underdiagnosed try Diabetes Mellitus Type 1 and 2 or heart disease. DM is more so on the rise then Celiac and the same for heart disease because no one eats right , and a growing section on the population is obese. Maybe the gluten free fad is what the people without Celiac and gluten intolerances need to be motivated to to feel better right? How about learning to eat right ( i.e more vegetables, proteins, fruits, and complex carbs), eating in moderation, and excercising more to lose weight, have more energy, and better moods? At least if you have an opinion research through CDC, AMA, ANA, or something more intelligible then wherever you are getting your information. - 2/2/2010   11:34:49 AM
  • DEBARM29
    This article has some valid points. But it is missing some very valid points: The main point is there is NO test that is 100% accurate and there is NO test for EARLY CELIAC or EARLY GLUTEN Intolerance. The blood test and the bowel biopsy will only be gluten positive if your body is very damaged by it already. The bowel biopsy has to include the damaged area of the gut and since there is around 25 feet, the areas are often missed and some labs have misread the results. In addition your gut has to damaged which does not happen in early celiac disease or gluten intolerance. Gluten causes inflammation any where in your body and is one of the only proteins to cross you blood brain barrier. It causes a host of problems in your body and is not just a gut problem. By the mere fact that gluten causes inflammation it would stand to reason that disease such as irritable bowel, digestive disorders, chrons etc would benefit from a gf diet. In addition, this article leaves off the fact that CD is a well recognized health issue in European countries but in the mid 1950, the US account for CD was minimal. Yet we are European Descent. Now, I can not find any article about how it is well recognized for our ancestors and not for us. In addition, this article does not address the thousands of baby boomers born in the 50's and early 60's whose parents were told that the children would outgrow their throwing up and digestive disorders. There are many people like myself, who have suffered from allergies, asthma, cancers and other issues because of misinformation in the 50's and now our children are also affect as it is a genetic issues. The article does not address the genetic component. The genes DQ2 and DQ8 are responsible for CD. You can have these genes and not have "full blown digestive Celiac Disease". However, there are many things can can "simple turn this gene on" in a manner of speaking and then you can no longer tolerate gluten and end up with a host of health issues which are diagnosed as anything but CD. In addition these DQ genes are on the same gene link as many autoimmune diseases. The article does not also account for the fact that few people want to be on a gf diet and often, by the time they go on one, they have exhausted western medicine. I am an RN and have done extensive research on this issue. As Dr. Ford in Australia, a pediatric GI doctor points out: Children who have SYMPTOMS which cannot be diagnosed should be put on a gluten free diet. If the symptoms go away they should stay on this diet until age 18. This way they have full brain development and can challenge this after their brain is developed. Anything less than this is malpractice. His article can be found by googling As far as working with physicians, find one that knows about the disease and is interested in it. If your doctor says it is a fad thing, then run. It is obvious there needs to be more research on the issue as the only test that is a valid test is stop eating gluten if you feel better then continue. After 2-3 months add it back by eating bread and pasta at home not at fast foods. If you feel bad again then you know.
    - 2/2/2010   11:26:44 AM
  • 113
    I completely disagree with this article. It does sound like it was funded, or put out by some in the wheat growing industry. I myself am not celiac, but I have been gluten free for over a year and I completely reap the benefits of it. I may not be 100% gluten free because I still eat oats and barley, but I have completely eliminated wheat from my diet. In traditional chinese medicine, wheat is one of the only grains that is 'acidic' in nature, thus contributing to many digestive problems. (many with digestive complaints are far too acidic)
    And I may also note maybe only 1% of the population has celiac disease, but this does NOT mean that 1% of the population has wheat or gluten sensitivities. Far cry. I suspect a much, MUCH greater percentage of people having wheat sensitivities. It doesn't even mean you are allergic, just that your body does better off without.
    It was noted by a PCOS specialist that 80% of his patients that came in with PCOS were gluten or wheat sensitive. (most unknowingly)

    To the readers: don't blindly follow articles like this, do more research first. AND listen to your own body and how your own body feels, because it is far more wise than any article out there!

    Another side note: Two of the sources for this article come from wikipedia. This is NOT a reliable source to get information from. I'm currently a college student and if I handed in a paper with wikipedia references, I would be severely shunned. - 2/2/2010   11:15:59 AM
    Bottom line is, as with everything, each of us has to decide for ourselves and our children, based on our own experience, what does and does not work for us. DO NOT rely on one article written by a non-expert on a non-scientific website to make your lifestyle decisions. Don't even rely solely on your MD's input. S/he doesn't know everything. If you don't know whether or not you should have gluten in your diet, or what impact it would have on your health, try not eating grains for two weeks or a month and see how you feel. Then decide.

    BTW, for those of you who don't already know, grains are NOT a valuable nutrition source. They are, and always have been mere fillers. There is not one single vitamin or mineral in grains that you cannot get from other sources. Conversely, there are many things about having grains as a main staple that will cost you nutritionally. Skeptical? Good. Look into it if you're interested. An example of a good place to start is . Type the word "grains" into the search window and read away. YOU choose. It's your body, your health, your life. - 2/2/2010   11:08:52 AM
  • 111
    I've been a Celiac for 8 years and have seen this "fad diet" come and go twice now. To set the record straight, people with celiac and gluten sensitivity tend to lose weight BEFORE they go on this diet since they can no longer properly digest the food they are eating. Therefore there are many people, like me, that GAINED weight once becoming Gluten-Free.

    That being said, the "fad diet" has had some good and bad points. Good points include the availability of more GF products in mainstream grocery stores and GF menus in restaurants. This is tremendously helpful to those of us who HAVE to follow the GF diet. However, because GF has become a fad diet it has been trivialized by the media (thank you Oprah) and now people think it's simply a matter of eliminating obvious sources of wheat (pasta, bread, crackers). Gluten appears in many processed foods including most condiments, spice mixtures, even some sodas. It's not a low carb diet. It's not for weight loss. And if you're a Celiac like me, eating gluten can cause a serious reaction and shut down your ammune system for weeks.

    Gluten Free diets are expensive, difficult to adhere to and don't result in weight loss. If you don't have a medical reason to follow it, I don't know why you would want to.

    Anyone who is new to Celiac or a medical GF diet, I'm happy to share any resources I have and some great low-cal recipes. Just send me a note! - 2/2/2010   11:07:19 AM
  • 110
    Good article. I would not choose to be gluten-free unless it depended on my life, however. Seems very difficult and inconvenient. - 2/2/2010   11:03:08 AM
    Your article reads like it was funded by some wheat growers association (or perhaps some dailyspark advertisers who want to sell more of their processed "diet" foods). Alternative grains almost without exception are by far nutritionally superior to plain bleached wheat flour, which is the flour found in the vast majority of processed and fast foods. My family has been gluten free (for personal reasons) for ten years, and I strongly believe we're much healthier as a result. Yes, it's intimidating to get started, but it certainly can be done. - 2/2/2010   10:58:13 AM
  • 108
    Again, I hate to argue with all of you who claim that is a well-informed article, but it's basis for claiming it's a fad that comes from one statistic and something Oprah said. Not exactly investigative journalism. What this article fails to mention in that though only 1 in 133 have been diagnosed, that number had quadrupled over the past 5 years and yet most research agrees that only 3% of those who have a gluten intolerance have been diagnosed. In fact, several researcher state that it is the most common but least diagnosed disease in America. Again, if you think you may have a gluten-intolerance or are even curious, do your real homework, don't just chalk it up to this Yahoo news flash. - 2/2/2010   10:54:19 AM
  • 107
    I did an elimination diet, also, to find out why I was getting headaches after I ate and also my thyroid was swelling, too. I found out that it was due to wheat, rye, corn, millet and sulfites. So, it may not be gluten with me as oats and barley are fine. However, when I have a choice, I choose gluten free over regular and it works out fine.

    I don't think "regular" people should go out and eliminate gluten for the reasons you mentioned. A lot of B vitamins are in many breads, for example. But, if you know you have a problem, you should consider it. - 2/2/2010   10:35:17 AM
  • 106
    I really appreciated your article. I thought it was informative and unbiased. I do appreciate the fact that there are MANY people out there that suffer with this problem but also feel there are many that climb on the latest bandwagon. I personally feel (as was mentioned in your article) that eating more fresh and unprocessed foods can help immensely! - 2/2/2010   10:32:34 AM
  • 105
    This article is poor informed and incredibly biased, if not offensive. I was diagnosed with Celiac and have been gluten-free for 6 years. Granted, I have lost almost 100 lbs over that course of time, but let's not forget that the first 40 came off due to severe malnutrition before I was diagnosed. I was literally eating foods that were poisonous to me and if not treated/diagnosed soon, I would have died.

    Yes, I have seen an influx of gluten-free foods in my grocery store, which could leave me thinking that it's just a fad, but what if it's because manufacturers have become more informed and educated (unlike this article). I'll even contend that as someone with Celiac, I do eat more healthy than I ever have, but that is merely because I have become more conscious about what I eat. With that said, I still eat my cheeseburger (sans bun) and nachos, just not all the time.

    Fad nor no, going gluten-free not only changed my life, it saved my life. To downplay it to a mere fad is not only irresponsible, it's dangerous. You would not tell someone who has a allergy to bee stings that they are just afraid of bees, would you? If you believe that you may have a gluten intolerance, go see a doctor and get tested; though the tests are not the most pleasant, neither is eating something to which you are allergic. - 2/2/2010   10:31:48 AM
  • 104
    I am not very "plugged in" to trends, so I thought all the new "gluten-free" items I was seeing in the store were just for people with celiac or allergies. - 2/2/2010   10:28:29 AM

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