The Gluten-Free Hoax
New diet fads seem to emerge every day. In 2010, a gluten-free diet fad began to emerge and has completely taken hold of the American public today. Many people believe that it is a miracle diet and they feel healthier saying “I’m gluten free!” but are misled by the myriad of gluten-free “facts” on the internet. Through research I have found that a gluten-free lifestyle is a diet hoax unless you have a specific medical reason to do it.
What is Gluten?
It is important to understand what gluten is before you start to avoid it. Gluten is a combination of two proteins, Gliadin and Glutenin, found in wheat, rye, barley, spelt, triticale, kamut, and oat. It is a substance that remains in the grains previously listed after they have been washed to remove starch. Therefore, gluten-free products are items that contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten, a standard set by the Food and Drug Administration. Any product that does not have a gluten-free label is not certified gluten-free. People that are gluten-free believe that gluten is causing them to be fat, so they avoid it at all cost. What they don’t realize is they are paying way too much for gluten-free products that they most likely don’t need.
What Medical Reasons Require a Gluten-Free Diet?
The first primary medical reason that requires a person to be gluten-free is Celiac Disease, a disease that affects 1 in 133 people. In Celiac patients’ small intestines, the Villi (small finger-like projections that increase the absorptive surface) are all lying down, which wreaks havoc with digestion. With this disease, a person has a severe autoimmune reaction to gluten in their intestines because of the absence of an enzyme known as D-Xylose. This reaction is so severe that it can result in hospitalization and, in some cases, death. Celiac patients must stay on a strict gluten-free diet as well as avoid cosmetics containing gluten in order to stay healthy.
The other primary medical reason for going gluten-free is a gluten sensitivity, which impacts as many as 1 in 4 people. The reaction in gluten-sensitive people is not as severe as celiac patients, but eating products with gluten in them still causes major abdominal discomfort and inflammation.
The important thing to do is talk to your doctor before deciding to go gluten-free, especially for abdominal discomfort, because you could have a more serious problem not related to gluten that should be take care of. If Celiac disease goes untreated, it could result in complications such as diabetes or intestinal cancers. If you believe you have Celiac disease, wait until you see a doctor before going gluten-free because if you start beforehand, the results of tests run could contain errors.
Some doctors put people with psychiatric problems such as ADHD and Autism on gluten-free diets. It is believed that gluten can have ill effects on the cerebellum, which can lead to many different psychiatric problems. When gluten is removed from some psychiatric patients’ diets, new breakthroughs such as walking or talking occur.
Gluten-Free Doesn’t Mean Healthier
Many people start a gluten-free diet because they have been told that gluten-free products are just better for you. The problem is gluten-free products tend to contain more fat and calories than their gluten-containing counterparts. Gluten is a binder in most products it is in. When the binder is removed, it must be replaced. Most of the time gluten is replaced by a fattier component such as oil.
The major replacement of gluten-containing products is starchy foods such as corn, potatoes, and tapioca. When too many starches are consumed, a surge of insulin is released, causing inflammation and fat deposition. People are very misled when they think gluten-free because they automatically think they are healthy.
Gluten-free diets lack whole-grain foods. Without this essential part of a healthy diet, many valuable vitamins and nutrients such as B vitamins, calcium, iron, zinc, and magnesium are not consumed. Healthy carbohydrates found in whole grains help control blood sugar and can protect from diabetes. Whole grains are also high in phytochemicals (natural disease fighters), which protect people from diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and many other problems. This makes the possible health risks associated with gluten seem not as important since you can’t easily get enough phytochemicals without whole grains.
The idea to do this topic was inspired by my sister. She has had intestinal issues for several months and had to go on a diet that included being gluten-free. I wanted to go gluten-free to support her because she seemed to be struggling with it, and the project allowed me to research exactly what I was getting myself into as well as research why a gluten-free diet could possibly help her.
I planned to do it for the duration of my project, but the results derailed my plans. When I started my gluten-free journey, it wasn’t really that hard seeing as I just replaced any gluten-containing food with the gluten-free version or completely cut out the food item. But then I began to feel lethargic all the time and my stomach was constantly upset. I couldn’t do everything I was used to doing because I would be too tired to do them. I also couldn’t concentrate in school as well because was either sick at my stomach or hungry. I decided to go off the gluten-free diet after about three weeks of being on it and I did a complete turn-around. I felt normal again just because I added back in gluten. The lack of gluten made me physically sick, which proves, for at least some people, that the gluten-free diet is not healthy.
The health effects were the worst of the experience, but the expense was ridiculous too. Everything was more expensive. A Canadian study showed that gluten-free products are as much as 242% more expensive than the gluten-containing products. The graph above shows the price difference between four common gluten-containing products and their gluten-free counterparts. Gluten-free diets are not as easily pulled off as many celebrities make them.
Many different studies have shown that gluten does not have any effect on a person unless they have Celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. Before going on a diet it is important to understand exactly what you are doing and you should make sure you have balanced nutrient intake. If you want to go on a diet just to lose weight, try eating healthier and more natural foods. The gluten-free diet is not helpful without a specific medical reason.