Everybody knows somebody who is “gluten-free” (GF).
These gluten-free individuals sometimes suffer from “celiac disease.” However, more often than not, they are perfectly healthy, if not mostly misinformed, people. The general population doesn’t even know what gluten IS, yet alone understand why they’re suddenly not consuming it. So, lets first begin by putting down some finite definitions.
What even IS “gluten?”
According to the official website of the Celiac Disease Foundation (CDF), “gluten is a general name for the proteins found in wheat (wheatberries, durum, emmer, semolina, spelt, farina, farro, graham, KAMUT® khorasan wheat and einkorn), rye, barley and triticale – a cross between wheat and rye. Gluten helps foods maintain their shape, acting as a glue that holds food together.”
Also according to the CDF, celiac disease is a, “serious genetic autoimmune disorder where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine.” Celiac disease affects about 1 in 100 people worldwide. Additionally, the CDF claims that, “two and one-half million Americans are undiagnosed and are at risk for long-term health complications.”
Now that we’ve settled what we’re talking about, we can get to decoding and demobilizing the gluten-free diet. Disclaimer: this argument excludes those who are GF for health reasons. If you have a gluten intolerance or celiac disease, please continue the gluten-free course of treatment/diet as prescribed by your health professional!
Why go GF?
Many people start the gluten-free diet because they want to cleanse their bodies or lose weight. However, there’s no scientific basis to these claims. As best stated by www.gluten.org: “The gluten-free diet is sometimes promoted as a way to lose weight, or as a ‘healthier’ diet for the general population… claims are unfounded. The gluten-free diet is healthier for people with gluten-related disorders… no evidence that it is beneficial for people who do not have these conditions.”
Gluten is in carbohydrate-heavy foods like bread, pastries, oatmeal, and grains. Therefore, GF seems like a great option for dieters, because people believe that they’ll ultimately be forced to cut out “unhealthy” foods. However, restricting your food intake by creating “good” and “bad” foods foods can cause disordered eating habits. Also, subbing out regular version of snacks/foods for the gluten-free version can be nutritionally detrimental to one’s health.
Peter H.R. Green is director of Columbia University Medical School’s celiac disease center. In an interview with The New Yorker, Green explained how orthorexia nervosa is on the rise. This disease forces people to stop eating certain foods that they perceive as bad for their health. “First, they come off gluten. Then corn… soy… tomatoes… milk. After a while, they don’t have anything left to eat—and they proselytize about it.”
Outside of this, there’s no evidence to support the assumption the gluten-free is healthier than a balanced diet. Some studies suggest that removing glutinous foods from your diet can improve gastrointestinal health. However, these studies more likely demonstrate that people should watch their sugar or refined grain intake.
So what now?
In short, going gluten-free is only a good decision if you have a medical reason to do so. Otherwise, it can lead to disordered eating and malnutrition.
The key to a healthy lifestyle isn’t fad diets and internet crazes. To be healthy is to be holistically well– in mind, body and spirit. The “body” aspect of this triad needs whole foods, fruits, veggies, proteins, AND grains. Don’t sell it short by selling out to a quick-fix Internet obsession.
For more info on wholesome nutrition and how to achieve it, check out these articles: