It seems that everyone is going gluten free these days. It has become "the best thing ever."
I have so much energy that I climbed Mt Everest in 20 minutes straight.
It would be appropriate to take a very sober, clinical (German) look into the whole affair.
A look at gluten inteolerance and celiac disease
What is gluten? In short, a naturally occurring protein found in wheat product, nothing more. It is used in baking, helping the dough to rise. Gluten also adds viscosity.
That doesn't sounds so bad. So why is it being proclaimed as a public health threat? Honestly, I am not sure.
People with celiac disease or gluten intolerance simply can not handle gluten. Symptoms would include anemia, diarrhea, skin rash, dental damage, fatigue, headaches... the list goes on.
Here is the thing though: less than one 1 % of the general population has celiac disease or are allergic to wheat. Both are very testable diseases. In other words, saying that you think that you have celiac disease is like like saying " I think I am 8 months pregnant." You would know.
Many people claim that they have poor gluten absorption which makes them hold on to body fat which then gets "flushed out" (as Dr. Oz calls it) when they go gluten free. Frankly, I am not buying it.
Is celiac disease on the rise?
Gluten has been consumed for thousands of years, and I do not see a reason why the numbers of people suffering from celiac disease would have multiplied over the last 5 years. What has multiplied, however, are the profit margins of gluten free diet products, which grew 28% a year between 2004 and 2011.
This is certainly great news for people with celiac disease, since they now have access to many more and tastier foods than in the past. But they are still only 1% of the population. The other 99% have no reason to buy those products.
Going on a gluten free diet without running the necessary tests seems absurd to me, especially when you consider that gluten free products often contain more sugar and fat in order to create the viscosity the gluten was used for.
Vilifying gluten goes hand in hand with two trends in the fitness industry.
- Anything that contains carbs or is not "paleo" must go.
- Always look for one ingredient to fix a much bigger issue.
I am not a huge fan of the paleo diet but I can see its benefits since it leads to an almost automatic caloric restriction. It is simply very hard to consume large amounts of calories via lean meats and vegetables. What I do not agree with the cultish character of its followers. There are simply no absolute truths when it comes to diets.
Paleo diet - have you met a caveman?
Scientifically speaking, the paleo diet stands on very shaky ground. Since most of us haven't met a caveman it is tough to know what they really ate, and how healthy they were. So to make any absolute statements as to what goes in a paleo or not is ridiculous.
But it does fit the current carbophobic mood, so anything that is in bread must be evil. This is the other point I do not agree with: carbs are not evil. They are needed for performance and to build muscle, at the very least they should be cycled into a diet.
Secondly, we all love simple fixes, especially when it comes to weight loss. Yes, I am not really overweight. It is just all that evil (insert substance of the month here) that makes me hold on to all that weight.
Now, some people really do lose weight when going off gluten. The reason being that they stop eating pizza and burgers. However, these people have much bigger worries than gluten.
Where things really do fall apart is people start thinking that there is no caloric value attached to gluten free products since they are "good for me". A 2 year study shows that 81% of the patients following a gluten free diet gained weight.
Often, words such as "organic", all-natural or gluten free off-set the laws of thermodynamics in the minds of the consumers. Calories still matter and so does personal responsibility.
Weight gain is not caused by chemicals the government puts into the water to control your Christmas shopping, alien radio waves or gluten, but by over-consumption of calories.
What bugs me most is that people are being pushed into an expensive lifestyle change that really has no health benefits for the vast majority of them. Gluten free products have become a huge industry and someone has to buy them. You are smarter than that.