Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
4 Sep

This Gluten-Free Thing Is a Really Overblown Fad!

Gluten FreeThis is a comment I’m starting to see more and more often. Go to any news article about gluten and the comment section will be littered with angry outbursts and outright vitriol for people who go gluten-free. Skeptical blogs love to trot out posts lambasting and ridiculing the “gluten-free fad.” And from what I can tell, nothing inspires a contemptible eye-roll like a person asking a waiter in a restaurant if they have gluten-free options. By some stretch of the known laws of cause-and-effect, the removal of gluten from someone’s diet apparently causes irreparable harm to people with knowledge of the decision and deserves unequivocal reprobation. Otherwise, why else would they care so much?

Well, gluten-free is clearly more popular than ever. More and more people are becoming aware of it. Google searches for “gluten” have been trending higher month over month for years, while the number of searches for “celiac” has plateaued. 30% of American adults are actively trying to reduce or eliminate gluten from their diets, according to a recent pollGluten-free dating sites are popping up to help gluten-free dieters match up with people who share their situation. The FDA’s just weighed in with some official standards for gluten-labeling. It’s everywhere, in other words. It’s arrived. It’s popular. And whenever anything gets popular, people immediately begin hating it. I’m not sure why that is, really, but it’s a known human phenomenon. Couple that with your already annoying co-worker droning endlessly on about this new diet she’s on, and I can see how someone might get a bit annoyed at all the gluten-free talk.

But is the vitriol really necessary? Does its popularity invalidate it as a legitimate therapeutic option for people with a sensitivity or downright intolerance to gluten? Should incurious cynics masquerading as skeptics be so quick to dismiss it?

Okay, maybe sometimes people can be a bit evangelical about avoiding gluten, and that’s unpleasant. And sometimes, people can’t give you a straight answer when you grill them on exactly why they’re avoiding gluten. I’d wonder why you felt it was your place to “grill them” in the first place, of course, but there is that subset of the population who takes umbrage at people making health decisions without conducting randomized controlled trials, being able to cite research by memory, and consulting the authorities.

I’ll also admit that the prospect of marketers taking over and appropriating the movement for their own benefit concerns me. For many people, a “gluten-free” label unfortunately bestows a cachet of health onto whatever processed food it graces. Potato chips? They’re gluten-free! Triple-chocolate brownie mud slide fudge-topped soy flour locust bean gum explosion? Gluten-free! Eat without guilt! Gluten-free bread that makes up for the lack of gluten’s texturizing power with a half cup of soybean oil? Go for it! Even foods that never contained gluten in the first place, like Cheetos, and hummus, are getting the gluten-free label to capitalize on the trend.

On one hand, it’s like the fat-free labeling craze, where you had fat-free cookies with twice the sugar, fat-free yogurt with thrice the sugar, fat-free salad dressing with whatever sorcery they incorporated to make that possible. And people ate those things with willful abandon, confident that “fat-free” was a synonym for “healthy” – and obesity rates continued to rise. Heck, the fat-free movement most likely exacerbated America’s obesity problem. I can understand why people who mistrust food marketing would be skeptical of gluten-free in general.

Of course, there is an important difference that distinguishes gluten-free from other faddish, market-driven diets: you don’t actually need gluten-free products to go gluten-free. The fat-free movement turned people off of legitimately healthy nutrient-dense foods like beef, eggs, butter, nuts, avocados, and olive oil just because they contained fat, whereas going gluten-free doesn’t remove a vital, essential nutrient or food. In fact, it can even increase your intake of nutrients, assuming you replace the gluten-containing foods with naturally gluten-free meat, fish, fruits, vegetables, and nuts rather than gluten-free junk food. In my experience, gluten-free consumers are more informed about health in general and do the former.

Amidst all the marketing speak, the gluten-free water, the gnashing of teeth upon discovering that the person you’re talking to avoids gluten, real science is being done, and any honest, literate person who looks at the available evidence on the health effects of gluten will admit that there’s something to this “fad.” And yet, I’m increasingly struck by the unwillingness of intelligent people to acknowledge the reams of research coming out every week exploring the effects of gluten on non-celiacs.

It couldn’t be that non-celiac gluten sensitivity is real and we don’t know how many people actually have it as the epidemiology is too new and underdeveloped. It can’t possibly be that gluten-free diets might reduce adiposity/inflammation via epigenetic effects (potentially reaching across generational lines). There’s no way that gluten free diets help non-celiac IBS patients who had no preconceived notions of gluten-free dieting (and thus no risk of being influence by the hype). And that case study of the child with type 1 diabetes going into remission with a gluten free diet? Let’s just sweep that under the rug and completely forget about it. Oh, what about the link between autism and non-celiac gluten sensitivity? Doesn’t exist. PubMed is a liar. Those autistic kids with GI symptoms who do respond positively to a gluten-free diet? They don’t, and the study you just thought you read is a figment of your imagination. All that hubbub about modern dwarf wheat being more allergenic than ever is also nonsense. Besides needing a stool to reach the top shelf, modern wheat is totally identical to older wheat and is no more allergenic.

Another popular canard is the “celiac is too rare for most people to worry about” one. Well, about that: the latest research out of Australia (a remarkably gluten-conscious country) shows that celiac is far more prevalent than previously thought and about 50 percent of the population carries the genetic markers associated with gluten sensitivity. Scientists used a combination of traditional antibody testing (which measures the immune response to gluten) with analysis of genetic risk factors for celiac to reach their conclusions. Not everyone with risk factors actually displayed gluten intolerance or celiac disease, of course, but the presumption is that some combination of environmental factors – inflammatory diet, damaged gut microbiome, etc. – could trigger its expression. (Epigenetics rears its head yet again.) Most people skeptical of gluten-free diets take an “either you are or you aren’t” stance on gluten sensitivity or celiac disease, while the results of the Australian research would suggest that it’s far more dynamic and that a large portion of the population can develop issues with gluten given the right (or wrong) environmental context.

Nope, forget all that research: it’s just people latching onto a fad. It’s just nearly a third of Americans going gluten-free because Miley Cyrus did it (I eagerly await widespread adoption of twerking by millions of soccer moms). It’s millions of people sticking with a dietary regimen that offers no tangible benefits and actually makes them actively unhealthier. And if there is a benefit, it’s all in their heads.

I guess it’s easier to pick on the easy targets and ignore the people with evidence. It’s easy to dismiss the entire movement because of a few misinformed trend-followers, but it’s dishonest. Look – I’m all for the denunciation of health fads and trends that don’t make sense and are based on spurious claims, but not everything that’s popular is bad.

My favorite thing is when “concerned health experts” caution against starting a gluten-free diet without talking to your doctor, paying for a test to determine a gluten allergy, and consulting with a registered dietitian. As if giving up bread, pasta, and cake for more animals and plants is a dangerous undertaking that requires professional assistance. As if removing gluten and feeling loads better only to feel terrible upon a chance reintroduction is an unreliable way to determine if you should go gluten-free.

Here’s why I welcome the explosion in gluten-free awareness, even if it all amounts to a whole lot of nothing for some people: it leads to an overall more healthy diet. Even if you can eat gluten without incident, even if your gut flora is able to cleave gluten in twain for easy digestion, you will still get more nutrients by replacing your grain products with more meat, seafood, vegetables, roots, and fruit. Sure, you’ve got the folks who go gluten-free by swapping in gluten-free versions of all their favorite foods and end up eating nutrient bereft diets full of refined alternative flours, but I think they’re in the minority for a few reasons.

First, gluten-free junk food tastes worse than the originals, although that’s changing as the market grows and food producers improve their methods.

Second, gluten-free products are generally more expensive than the regular products.

Third, in my experience, people who go gluten-free usually stumble into a Primal way of eating. The way I see it playing out is you have sweet potatoes or rice instead of rolls at dinner. You go with a real corn tortilla or lettuce wrap tacos instead of burritos. Instead of buying all that gluten-free bread that turns into dust at the slightest touch, you spend the money on meat and vegetables. You go out to eat at a burger joint and maybe they don’t have the gluten-free bun that day, so you have the patty on a salad and realize it’s not such a bad way to eat – and you stick with it.

I’ve read the studies. I’ve consulted the experts (who are actually studying this stuff). I’ve witnessed the incredibly positive changes in thousands of readers, friends, family members, and clients who gave up gluten (and most grains for that matter). Heck, I’ve felt it myself. Is there something to this whole gluten-free thing?

I’d say so, yeah.

What about you?

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. I love how “gluten free” labels are popping up on EVERY supermarket product lately…but labeling items for GMO’s seems to be too big of a job for companies to handle! #ridiculous!

    Jess wrote on September 4th, 2013
  2. My favorite are the accusations of ‘orthorexia’ that seem to happen every time someone tells the MFP community they are avoiding anything – even something totally junky like pop tarts!

    Lea wrote on September 4th, 2013
  3. My only criticism of the post is that testing *should* be done before one goes gluten free if you suspect celiac disease. The reason is that celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder and knowing whether or not you have it, will change how you track other related health issues. If you have one autoimmune disease, you are more likely to get others. Plus, celiacs have a higher risk for colon cancer and so need more screenings to ensure they aren’t developing a potentially lethal condition. Knowing if or how bad your villi is damaged is important in knowing how to go about healing that damage.

    Other than that, though, I think this article is spot on. I went gluten free because I was diagnosed with an immune (not autoimmune, just immune) reaction to gluten. I was one of those seeking out the GF marked processed foods. And gaining weight as a result. I went to a doctor that specializes in metabolic disorders who put me on an elimination diet. I found that paleo recipes were great as most of them already adhered to the restricted foods list I was on.

    It angers me when I see “experts” on TV warning people to not go gluten free unless they have celiac disease because the diet is dangerous for your health. Which makes no sense at all. If it’s dangerous for non-celiacs, it would be dangerous for celiacs, too. Yes, trading one junk food for a gluten free one is not healthy. But there’s no reason you can’t eat healthy AND gluten free, both at the same time!

    navoff wrote on September 4th, 2013
    • A lot of tests seem to produce false negatives though, which is the main reason why, having done a fair bit of research, I’ve made the decision not to get tested. They’re simply not, yet, at the point of being able to diagnose every case where someone had problems with gluten, just as, 20 or 30 years ago, testing for (for example) bowel cancer wasn’t as accurate as it is today – we even have DNA tests now that were an impossibility a few tears ago.

      I was highly skeptical about people who didn’t eat gluten and had I gotten a false negative, would have merrily and smugly continued eating it – and not seen the dramatic improvement in my mental and physical health that came hot on the heels of eliminating gluten completely. A frightening prospect! :(

      Patrick wrote on September 4th, 2013
      • Not really true that there’s lots of false negatives. The blood tests are 90+ percent accurate. There’s nothing to lose by having the blood test done (and, potentially, a lot of information bout your health to gain). If it’s negative, you can still drop the gluten anyway.

        Kate wrote on September 4th, 2013
        • But by the figures you quote (I don’t have my own research handy) I would therefore have had a 1 in 10 chance of thinking I was fine to keep on eating gluten, and since I was skeptical about the benefits of cutting it, I WOULD certainly have been one of those people who just trusted the test! :)

          I don’t want to bore you with a list of minor improvements to almost every system of my body and mind since I quit gluten, suffice to say that things like hair-growth, improved mental health for the first time ever, and stronger nails make me believe that it was the best choice I ever made.

          And because of that I shudder to think what would have happened if I’d kept on merrily eating it – I was never a total d*ck about people who avoid gluten. but I was incredibly skeptical until I felt the results first-hand.

          So I’m not arguing against tests at all :) but I don’t think they provide a gold-standard and I hope any other skeptics reading this (as I used to read these kinds of articles myself) summon up the curiosity to give their own diet a trial, first-hand and full-on. 😉

          You have nothing to lose and possibly a LOT to gain!

          Patrick wrote on September 4th, 2013
        • Yes, there’s still a chance of having a false negative. Dr. Rodney Ford has a great post on what test to get. The chances of a false negative are greatly reduced with the full set he recommends: The over reaching advice that gluten is bad for everyone and we should all stop eating it is good. As I said, I’d still recommend that anyone who thinks they might be celiac should get tested first. Whether or not the tests are negative, it’s still best to go gluten free. This is something that Dr. Ford has been recommending for some time now.

          navoff wrote on September 4th, 2013
      • Plus, not everyone has the money to take expensive tests to tell them they feel like crap when they eat something. Why should I believe someone I don’t know over myself? Why should I need a test to not eat something that is not necessary to humans? It makes no sense. I guess soon we are going to have to take tests to see if it is healthy if we want to stop driving a car or if we stop using non-stick pans…

        Although I AM planning on asking my doctors if they think it is ok for me to stop watching t.v. :)

        Nomad wrote on September 10th, 2013
  4. What about chappati flatbread? They are made of natural buckwheat or millet. I don’t have a physical problem with grains. What’s the big deal with have a flatbread with copious veggies, fruits, and a little meat?

    yvette wrote on September 4th, 2013
    • If you search up the terms “buckwheat + gluten” and “millet + gluten” you’ll see that the grains themselves have no gluten in them, however you might want to check that the chappati doesn’t have added gluten to give it a bit more flexibility.

      Most of the gluten-free products I’ve tried are dreadfully crumbly, as it’s the gluten in wheat that adds the springiness, so I can’t imagine a gluten-free chappati being anything like a normal one – I know that gluten-free pizza bases are pretty useless if you like to eat pizza as a hand-held slice, because they crumble too easily. :)

      Patrick wrote on September 4th, 2013
  5. I’ve gotten some VERY scathing comments from a few people I considered “friends” when I had to go gluten free. Apparently I did not suffer enough to get my “celiac” diagnosis, nor does my condition EXIST without the proof of submitting my medical records for perusal before my gluten free diet would be accepted. Needless to say, they are no longer considered friends.

    I appreciate this article and knowing that there ARE people out there who understand my condition as well as my choice to live gluten free. It’s not a choice I made to garner ATTENTION, it’s a choice I made for my health.

    Mandie wrote on September 4th, 2013
  6. This is one of the greatest posts ever Mark! I’ve been strictly gluten-free since January, even though I’ve never ever shown a single sign of gluten intolerance. Yet somehow since going gluten-free I feel AMAZING all the time. Hmmm….That can’t be true…

    Chris wrote on September 4th, 2013
    • Me too mate, for whatever it’s worth – I thought I was healthy and definitely didn’t have any typical celiac symptoms, but EVERYTHING has improved in the months since I stopped eating gluten, my hair’s even got thicker than it was when I was in my 20s!!

      Patrick wrote on September 4th, 2013
  7. I recommend Udi’s gluten free bread. Great tasting and gluten free. I am gluten free because it helps me keep the fat rolls off my waist. It is so much easier to maintain a six pack when you are gluten free!

    David A. Williams wrote on September 4th, 2013
  8. I hate it when a lifestyle choice becomes a religion; I was vegan for thirteen years and I grew weary of hearing the mantra of veganism as a panacea for the world. I’ve been primal/paleo for about two to three months now (arriving via 4 hour body) and I’m amazed at the changes I’ve experienced. My hair is growing back-I used to have a helicopter landing pad on my head; no digestive problems at all but the key thing for me is I am happier- I don’t get depressed. Don’t get me wrong, sad things still affect me but I find it much easier to deal with them and get on with my life. I’ve suspected for years that diet is a huge contributor to mental problems-there have been many studies regarding the restriction of gluten in those with Autism and subsequent behavioural improvements. As I said I tried the 4 Hour Body plan and physically it worked and that cheered me up a bit and having been a vegan (and a vegan cook in restaurants) it really played to my strengths coming up with fantastically tasty lentil recipes (and the chick pea stuff was out of this world) but I still had reflux and other digestive problems. When I cut out lentils and beans etc the change was so quick-it was fantastic. I reconnected with the early teenage me who devoured Sunday Roast leftovers and then gnawed on the bones.

    Paul Shack wrote on September 4th, 2013

      This is the substance that was highlighted in the research surrounding Autism etc

      Paul Shack wrote on September 4th, 2013
      • I’ve always thought it was odd that most people take it for granted that mental problems are not connected with other bodily problems as well. If diet can effect every other organ: skin, heart, intestines, etc – why wouldn’t it also effect the brain. It’s a part of the body, an important organ. Why do people have the tendency to hold these separately?

        Nomad wrote on September 5th, 2013
  9. Heh. When I was doing Weightwatchers a couple of years ago, I was eating bread, but we agreed to not eat bread for a week and see what happened. So a group of us quit eating bread (was already not eating pasta as it was too many “points”) for a week – lost 2 pounds. So kept off the bread for a while, lost more pounds. Time passes and I got down to my “goal weight”, stopped going, piled on lots of weight etc.

    Years later, I think to myself, “I’ll see what all the fuss is about. My personal trainer is banging on about it and so on.” I am perfectly happy to experiment on myself, although I like to see the evidence before I do anything. I’m a scientist and a lawyer after all! Got myself a copy of Wheat Belly, read up all the various studies etc. Quit with the gluten (and what was great is that I incidentally quit eating sugar too) last October. Alas, haven’t quite kicked the sugar thing, which is vexing, but I now notice that I get some weird tummy symptoms when I do eat gluten-containing stuff. I suffer from migraines, which seem to be caused (partly) by excess sugar in my food – I was still getting migraines even when completely gluten free, so it’s not a complete solution.

    I’m glad that I’ve quit eating gluten but I do get no help/encouragement at all from my work colleagues. They’re constantly stuffing themselves with cakes, donuts, biscuits etc and they are all quite slim. Very depressing. But I’m doing 21 Day Sugar Detox now in an attempt to get my weight down before I go on holiday next February! My parents, on the other hand, think I’ve gone completely mad and are pretty worried about me.

    Clare wrote on September 4th, 2013
    • Try not to let others discourage you. Just because they’re slim doesn’t mean there aren’t other health problems they are suffering with. I wasn’t overweight yet I lived with a myriad of symptoms prior to going primal. I bet you’ll be amazed how great you feel as a result of an elimination or detox.

      Barb wrote on September 5th, 2013
  10. There are tests that you can take to see if your celiac. It tests the DNA of a person. There is a test called a ELISA which I think is the most accurate out of tests that you have. I use this website for information Gluten Free Society. I started reading it about 2 yrs ago. I already knew I was celiac and couldnt have milk but my doctor wasnt helping me get my gut healed. I keep feeling worse and not making any progress or the progress was short lived. There are many things to look at besides what you are allergic too. For example my liver wasnt working right among so many other things. I have a new doctor who did tests and detox. Not juice that has me on the right road to recover and I eat no grains for 2 yrs now which makes huge difference among some other things I have found that dont work for my body.

    connie curtis wrote on September 4th, 2013
  11. I really enjoyed the article, but the headline seems a bit misleading. I’m not sure what you’re trying to say until I read the whole article, unless it’s getting you more clicks and reads.

    Braden Talbot wrote on September 4th, 2013
  12. One of the best posts I’ve read on this blog. I love it! Not just the content but the wit is amazing and the writing is superb.

    English Nerd

    Stacie wrote on September 4th, 2013
    • +1

      Barb wrote on September 5th, 2013
  13. “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” – Mahatma Gandhi

    Fraser wrote on September 4th, 2013
  14. Mark,

    Subject is not a fad and I can testify

    Eating crap can be tolerated to a very great extent by those who do regular exercise

    Those who don’t or can’t are health susceptible to the poisons deliberately or stupidly contained within processed foods

    Gluten is there to aid the mass production of “so called” food

    Heaven knows why!

    Wheat, gluten, tomato and citric acid or their derivative are in every product on the supermarket shelf

    Mass produced processed food is not fit for human consumption

    Pandemic diabetes in the USA is a simple single illustration of the result

    And, there’s more folks!

    Dave wrote on September 4th, 2013
  15. I am not gluten-free. I know people with Celiac and people who do it for health reasons. As a long time former line cook, I hated people ordering something on the menu that was full of gluten and then saying they want it “gluten-free”, although an all gluten free menu should solve that problem. The biggest issue I have is with people that talk about it in 75% of their conversations. My mom is now on this “diet” where she is giving up sugar, flour, gluten, alcohol, lots of other things, etc. AND SHE WON’T SHUT UP ABOUT IT. That is what drives people to vitriol. Not every conversation should be about your food choices. You are coming off as entirely self-involved.

    ed wrote on September 4th, 2013
    • “My mom is now on this “diet” where she is giving up sugar, flour, gluten, alcohol, lots of other things, etc. AND SHE WON’T SHUT UP ABOUT IT.”

      All those things are pretty destructive to most people – just be glad your mum’s alive, mate, and doing things to stay that way for (let’s all hope) many years longer. 😉

      All those foods are heavily promoted as “normal” despite being either outright chemically addictive for everyone (alcohol) or having a very addictive-LIKE effect (sugar, wheat) on many people, and I doubt she can rant on about them as frequently as the media from just about every source pushes them at us all as “normal, enjoyable” parts of a “healthy, balanced” life.

      I was addicted to booze and for a while after I got sober, I used to be a bore about it just because it’s everywhere – google the word “celebration” and you’ll see a picture of a champagne bottle, look at any ad and there’ll be a few wine-glasses or wine bottles in the background wherever possible, yet it’s a highly addictive substance that kills tens of thousands globally every year. Things like that, and the realisation of how hard they’re pushed once the scales fall from your own eyes, can make a person get kinda antsy! 😉

      It’s almost like you need to hear your own voice for a while, just to drown out the low-level drone from the multi-million pound industries pushing that stuff.

      Patrick wrote on September 4th, 2013
      • I have actually stopped drinking because I could tell how it affected my body because of my food allergies. I use to feel really bad when I drank. I decided its just a drink or food. If I feel better without it then do it. Some people get that others go in their head worrying about if they couldnt have this stuff.. I think people are starting to see how it affects people around them and going maybe I should try doing that too.

        connie curtis wrote on September 4th, 2013
        • There’s an author called Jason Vale who’s written a really good book called “Kick The Drink – Easily” – I highly recommend it for anyone, but *especially* for people who mostly drink socially, are thinking of cutting down or giving up for a while, and who are turned off by other books on the topic, like Rational Recovery and the whole AA thing, both of which are mainly addressed to rock-bottom alcoholics.

          He also writes with a similar mix of humour backed up with science as Mark (imo anyway). :)

          Patrick wrote on September 4th, 2013
  16. While I agree with most of the article is it too bad that gluten, however bad it is, gets the bulk of the headlines. People make “informed” decisions and go gluten-free, but then don’t eliminate other grains because they think gluten is the ONLY problem child here. Not the case.

    Quinoa is such a healthy, gluten-free item, right? Wrong. Look up saponins. This quinoa’s destructive protein coating that acts similarly to gluten, just not as well studied yet. Same leaky gut, same problems. Best bet is to eliminate grains entirely and not take on any of the destructive proteins.

    Dr. Anthony Gustin wrote on September 4th, 2013
  17. I agree overwhelmingly with the points made in this post. As a nutritionist, I do have a couple of counterarguments, however.
    Firstly, it is important that a person has a coeliac screen before going gluten-free. The reason for this is that if they go on a gluten-free diet and feel fabulous, they are likely to never let so much as a wheat cracker pass their lips again (which is great) – but this precludes ever doing a coeliac test again, as you need to be eating wheat in fair quantities for a coeliac blood test to be reliable. So why does the coeliac test matter? It matters because there IS a big difference between being coeliac and non-coeliac gluten intolerant. Coeliac disease brings with it some well-documented significantly increased risks of things like bowel cancer and osteoporosis. Non-coeliac gluten intolerance doesn’t. So you need to know why you are removing gluten. If you are coeliac, you need to be much stricter in order to avoid these risks. While you may, as a non-coeliac gluten intolerant, choose not to consume gluten, chances are, the occasional crumb from someone else’s toast is going to find its way into your butter, and that will do you no harm. If you are coeliac, this WILL do you harm, and you need to take extra measures to avoid it.
    The second comment is this: non-coeliac gluten intolerance may be on the rise, but so is FODMAPS intolerance, which also causes digestive symptoms when bread is consumed. In one recent study of a group of patients with functional gastrointestinal disorders (e.g. irritable bowel syndrome), 60% had a FODMAPS intolerance! It is important we don’t label ourselves as “non-coeliac gluten intolerant” when it is actually a FODMAPs intolerance we have, as this creates confusion and scepticism about the concept of gluten intolerance, which doesn’t help the kid with autism, the kid with diabetes, and all the rest of the people with genuine non-coeliac gluten intolerance. This is a bit like the impact that “pescovegetarians” or fish-eating vegetarians have on the genuine vegetarian movement – it dilutes the concept and makes it much harder for genuine vegetarians to defend their stance.

    By all means let’s get rid of the wheat and/or gluten out of our diets because it’s great for our health and makes us feel good. But – let’s leave it at that and not use research that may not apply to us to convince others. Or, alternatively, get yourself tested – make sure you are not coeliac, which carries its own special health risks due to unintended ingestion of tiny amounts of gluten – and see if the reason you feel better without wheat is a FODMAPs intolerance, which may then lead you to realise you also feel a lot better on a true low-FODMAPs diet, which may exclude some of your favourite Paleo foods!

    Alyssa Tait wrote on September 4th, 2013
    • “But – let’s leave it at that and not use research that may not apply to us to convince others.”

      But with respect Alyssa, without that research being talked about everywhere, on sites like this one, WAPF, paleo sites, forums, etc., people like me wouldn’t even BE so aware of the problem gluten causes many people in the first place! :)

      I’ve had major gains since quitting gluten in terms of physical health (which was never bad enough to warrent me thinking I had celiac disease), biological markers like hair growth, and even my mental health – formerly dogged by lifelong clinical depression, and a brain-fog that’d been growing in recent years – has got better.

      I undertook to eliminate gluten very skeptically, I mean VERY, and had I been one of the many false negatives from testing, I would never have made that leap – the fact is, the tests don’t yet pick up on every chain-reaction in the body that may be making gluten a problem. I know in my case it’s not other foods, as the change from cutting out gluten was immediate (noticeable within days) but for a while I ate everything else that I had before.

      The testing needs to evolve so that prolonged re-exposure to gluten is no longer necessary, instead – I would never willingly eat gluten again, and the risk of a false negative dogging my medical records makes me doubly sure of that.

      I’m not against testing but I am opposed to anyone who delays making beneficial changes while they struggle to afford, be referred to, or otherwise arrange for a test. If I had perceived that nobody should stop unless they had a test, thinking that I had no obvious celiec symptoms I wouldn’t have had it, so I would simply not be as healthy, alert and mentally at peace as I am today, writing this. :)

      And what got me here – ALL that got me here – was the growing minority who quit gluten and felt fabulous, with or without a formal diagnosis. So I hope this doesn’t look like a rant but with the stakes so high for me, I hope you can understand why I see the issue somewhat differently. ‘)

      When a test requires prolonged re-exposure to a potentially harmful food, one that’s increasingly being recognised as harming people even without traditional extreme symptoms, it’s the test and not the people who are sidelining it that needs to be improved, right? :)

      Patrick wrote on September 4th, 2013
  18. That whole Miley Cyrus VMA thing was pretty stupid and tasteless.

    But it made a heck of a good advert for a gluten-free diet.

    George Henderson wrote on September 4th, 2013
  19. I find people’s choice of “gluten free” foods to vary hugely. And surprisingly, as a general trend (with some exceptions) I’ve found people who have chosen to be gluten free and felt better as a consequence choose healthier diets than celiacs. This may just be the people I’ve come across here in Britain, but it seems that the medicalisation of the health problem has disenfranchised those individuals of their choices to a certain extent.

    As an example, my sister is diagnosed celiac, has registered with a celiac association/body, and they send her through free gluten-free foods which she thinks is great! As you might imagine, these are commercial, manufactured products that have little to no health benefit. She is not a generally health conscious individual, this is a medical condition that she feels is a burden and the gluten free products are a way for her to carry on unconsciously choosing foodstuffs purely based on taste derived pleasure. They are the nutritional equivalent of the medicinal quick fix society has come to expect from physicians.

    Also, as an aside, I can confirm that gluten free and whole food/paleo diets have worked wonders on type I and type II clients I work with at any age. Mine are not controlled trials they are real life health and fitness sessions, but I’ve done enough with these types of clients to satisfy myself that this is no coincidence. Every single type I diabetic I’ve come across has treated my suggested regimen with something varying between caution and disdain, but those who have taken it up and seen it through have genuinely thought it a revelation.

    Great article as always.

    Gareth wrote on September 4th, 2013
    • When I was first diagnosed with Celiac I had been an expert baker. It was part of my identity & extremely painful to give up as my friends & family loved my creations. (I baked 40 dozen cookies every Christmas, no joke!) So at first I tried like mad to create gluten-free substitutes for my favorite recipes & I did come up with many very tasty ones.

      However, my health didn’t get to 100% until I accepted the fact that NONE of that was good for me (or anyone else for that matter). Now I might bake a treat two or three times a year, but otherwise I eat healthy & whole & almost always Primal.

      I’m honestly not sure I could have handled that huge a shift emotionally if I’d gone all the way on day one. I suspect that sort of thing accounts for some of the behaviors you’ve seen. (I see them too in various Celiac groups I’ve joined.) Remember, Celiacs don’t have the luxury of the 80/20 ease-in.

      Paleo-curious wrote on September 4th, 2013
      • “I’m honestly not sure I could have handled that huge a shift emotionally if I’d gone all the way on day one. I suspect that sort of thing accounts for some of the behaviors you’ve seen.”

        It’s a *huge* shift to think about food we use to celebrate and give routinely to children as a “so bad for me I should never (or hardly ever) eat it” food. I totally understand. It was big deal when I realized I wouldn’t be baking regularly anymore either. (We did low carb first before Paleo.)

        In that sense, I think substitute foods are good for transitioning to a lower carb/grain-free/grain-lite/gluten-free world. People do need time to adjust. They can help people see there is a life after “normal” bread and cookies. See, everyone survived when you said “no” to cake at little Johnny’s Birthday party, including you. :)

        Amy wrote on September 4th, 2013
        • Thanks, Amy, it really is such a mental shift at first. That whole concept of “breaking bread” with loved ones is so deeply ingrained. (Heh– unintentional pun there.) “Nothin’ says lovin’ like something from the oven.”

          Luckily that’s not really the best way to show your love & there are other ways to be generous & festive! Plus there’s always bacon. 😉

          Paleo-curious wrote on September 4th, 2013
  20. The quote that immediately came to mind after reading this article (whether Schopenhauer actually wrote it remains debatable, but regardless…)

    “All truth passes through three stages.
    First, it is ridiculed.
    Second, it is violently opposed.
    Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”

    And isn’t this just human nature in a nut shell anyway? I’ve about given up trying to convince those who refuse to be convinced of what I’ve accepted as nutritional “truth” because after years of this futility, I’m not sure the frustration I suffer is worth it (to my health)!

    Christina Meade wrote on September 4th, 2013
  21. Funny – I feel so much better being Primal than I ever did eating according to the Canadian Food Guide. Asking for “gluten-free” seems a simpler way to explain things to people than it does to deal with the shock of explaining that I do not wish to eat ANY of the grains they want me to eat. I have to say I never was tested for celiac disease, but had stomach issues for most of my life and it was not until I stopped eating grains, that I could finally see/feel the difference. Without a test to prove it, I still feel confident that I could say that I have a “gluten allergy” simply based on how I feel not eating it.

    Thanks Mark for the post – it is a great read with a lot of good points.

    Mrs. Griffin wrote on September 4th, 2013
  22. Hey Mark!

    Thanks so much for another great post!

    It IS irritating when something so obviously good for most everyone (giving up gluten) is dissed by folks who don’t want to look into the research.So often people are only too willing to give their personal responsibility over to the medical “authorities”, distrusting what is called “anecdotal”, as though that were a bad thing. Humans can be so stubborn and perverse at times.

    My dear old Dad always said, “most people behave like sheep.” Sad to think he was probably right.

    Keep on doing what you’re doing. You are helping so many people. Thanks again.

    ShaSha wrote on September 4th, 2013
  23. The third reason is exactly how I came to Paleo. When my doctor asked how I got my cholesterol and triglycerides so low I told him it was because I eliminated all processed food from my diet. I also told him that I was eating pastured beef, wild caught fish, bison and pork as well as pastured eggs and cage free “hunt and peck” chickens. He couldn’t believe that such a diet could give such amazing results. I told him he should try it. He just shook his head. Live and learn.

    Robbie wrote on September 4th, 2013
  24. It’s hard NOT to sound evangelical about the benefits of primal eating and eliminating grains especially, when you see one friend starving and going crazy eating a classic low-fat low-calorie carb-based diet that’s caused them to rebound so many times before, see another struggling with brainfog that they try to alleviate with mid-morning and mid-afternoon doughnuts and cookies, and realise that almost everyone around you is doing the opposite of your own primal choices and getting sicker, fatter and more miserable, while you’re busy getting leaner, healthier and happier.

    I don’t know at what point to throw my hands up in the air and say I give up, since it was precisely because I kept hearing about the benefits of primal, gluten-free etc., so many times and in so many places, that I started to explore it myself.

    Do I worry more about being unpopular, “that guy” :) with the theories and stuff, which is my ego talking – or do I do my honest best to help people at least consider their options, and risk getting the “pitch” wrong (in which case, no change) for the slim chance they’ll finally do as I did, and give it a fair shot?

    Not an easy call to make sometimes. 😉

    Patrick wrote on September 4th, 2013
    • No, it’s not an easy call. I’ve come to a place where I eat normally in public and if anyone asks politely, I’ll explain. (Sometimes I call myself “gluten-free” because people “get it” faster, but lately I think it’s the wrong road.)

      I’ve stopped talking about food with my immediate family members. If they don’t want to see the good health after 9 years of eating well or the listen to my utter silence when they talk about prescription meds/seasonal allergies then there’s not a lot I can do. My relatives are simply not the kind of people that will take suggestions, particularly from me.

      However, I may slip in a line or two if someone is in the process of thinking about their diet. I consider it “seed” planting. It may spout tomorrow or 5 years from now or not at all, but at least I left the seed.

      For instance, an acquaintance was trying a vegetarian diet to lose some weight but was very skeptical. I relayed in 2 sentences our own bad experience on vegetarianism. I then slipped in that we’ve kept off the weight with Atkins for years (she wasn’t the kind of person to check out a blog like this) and considered it very healthy. No lectures, no long boring nutrition speeches. Just “this worked – you might want to consider it”. I spent most of my time listening, really. It felt like a good conversation from my end — hopefully it was on hers.

      Amy wrote on September 4th, 2013
      • the best testimony is just being healthy and looking good. I have had many people just come out and ask me what I do to look like I do…when they find out that last year I weighed almost 240lbs…they look at me in disbelief…..if they see my drivers license they invariably comment….and I tell them to check out this site….evidence makes converts…no need to preach

        john wrote on September 4th, 2013
  25. Wes wrote on September 4th, 2013
  26. Gluten free is not a fad to me. I did it because I had Celiac Disease with co-morbidity (osteoporosis with frequent fractures, chronic anemia, chronic dermatitis), as does my mother, brother, sister a maternal aunt and one of her kids. I’m working on the idea that there is familial inheritance to the disorder. I’m now working at going totally grain free. I’ve already eliminated the corn and corn by-products (sounds a bit lit dog food) and hope to eliminate the rice by the end of the year.

    Lee Graham wrote on September 4th, 2013
  27. I’ve yet to be convinced that gluten-containing grains are necessary and required in the human diet. I still eat them and don’t have any obvious side effects, but I choose to avoid for the most part because there’s bigger, better food out there.

    Whenever an article exclaims, “but contact your doctor, a nutritionist, a therapist, a witch doctor, and your senator before considering a gluten-free diet” is just covering their bases against legal or societal backlash. However since a low-fat diet is recommended by the FDA, they don’t need this disclaimer.

    Do what you want. Do what works for you. And yes, we all get a bit obsessive and sometimes preachy when things are work and are awesome. When my brother-in-law went vegan, we all went through the “conversion” phase with him. Now we all pleasantly agree to disagree, and share the salad.

    Emily wrote on September 4th, 2013
  28. For those of us who are gluten-intolerant, the news the a GF diet is a fad is horrible. All it does is make us more vigilent in reading labels before purchasing anything. Going GF without the necessity, makes you susceptible to lower levels
    of B vitamins, and other things I’m sure.

    FDA approves GF labels, but I will still read labels carefully.
    And I agree, going out to eat is a pain – no one understands it and will tell
    you anything they want.

    Polly wrote on September 4th, 2013
  29. Regarding the wisdom (or otherwise) of people who eliminate gluten without first getting the standard tests done: suppose someone walks into their clinician’s office and says, “Look, doc, I think I’m an alcoholic and although I’ve not vomited blood, got in any fights or crashed my car, this has been on my mind for a while now and I really think it’s a biggie.”

    The responsible thing to do is, first, DO NO HARM – if in doubt, the doc should tell that person to immediately lay off the drink, right, and maybe tell them about support options, or give them some meds to ease their detox, but primarily, to stop.

    And certainly *not* to continue drinking at their former level, for weeks on end, while they seek a referral for diagnostic testing (and perhaps struggle to finance that test out their own pocket in some cases) – especially with, for example, a 1 in 10 chance the test will give them a green light to continue drinking.

    Since we know that even the smallest amount of exposure to gluten is harmful to celiacs – a fact which doesn’t ONLY become true after they’ve been diagnosed – and that many people who have problems with gluten don’t present classic celiac symptoms, surely DO NO HARM ought to be recognised here, and using the alcohol-based example above, surely people should be praised for responsibly taking action, and not mildly criticised for not delaying things further and letting any problems escalate? 😉

    Procrastination is a terrible beast, and not many people find gut biopsies and blood tests fun, so I imagine the drop-out rate between intent and actually having the tests is pretty high.

    Just my thoughts, I do agree with and understand the valid reasons for getting tested, and I respect everyone who’s put that point forwards :) but I think any medic who refuses to accept you may have a problem with gluten unless you agree to several weeks eating lots of the stuff, probably is forgetting DO NO HARM in favour of their own prejudices.

    Patrick wrote on September 4th, 2013
    • I agree with you on testing. Gluten is not a vital nutrient. Not eating it shouldn’t take a test or Doc’s note. If it makes you feel bad, stop!!

      I have a known dairy allergy. I was tested as a kid and had allergy shots. It worked until I was 30, when that (and many other things) changed in my body.

      I’m pretty sure I have a wheat/gluten sensitivity. I’m not going to bother with the testing I had as a child. It’s a waste of time and money. I was already low carb – Paleo just tweaked it.

      Amy wrote on September 4th, 2013
      • agree….like the joke …”hey doc, it hurts when I do this…..well don’t do that”…….no need for testing that affirms what we already know…if we pay attention.

        john wrote on September 4th, 2013
  30. I have been allergic to gluten for more than 40 years, though I didn’t realize the cause of my suffering until a couple of years ago. Dermatitis herpetiformis, mostly on my scalp with itching all over my body. Yet people don’t get it when I say I am allergic- gluten free being popular has made some aspects of life easier, but it’s clear a lot of people dimiss it as the latest diet ‘flavor of the month’.

    Karen McCormick wrote on September 4th, 2013
  31. That anyone could call being gluten-free an overblown fad is preposterous. I am gluten sensitive, can only tolerate very small amounts before the wrath of God descends upon me. Many of the gluten free products admittedly are not necessary and probably should not be ingested at all. It is quite easy to manage a diet which does not rely on special foods. The Primal Blueprint system is of great benefit and I intend on keeping myself in tune with it.

    M. Lorraine Rossing wrote on September 4th, 2013
  32. Wow Gluten & Grains are taking a major MDA pounding this week!!! I love to see that! From Kellogg to Twerking in back to back posts too…. Awesome!

    Keep up the great work everyone. This week will be hard to top.

    Nick wrote on September 4th, 2013
  33. I have long suspected that for most, going gluten-free is just a way to lower their carbohydrate intake without having to feel like an idiot because they are intentionally doing something ”unhealthy.” It’s a way for implicitly rational people, with explicitly irrational beliefs about diet, to acknowledge what they can’t help but sense about carbs – without having to actually acknowledge it. Going gluten-free allows them to tell themselves that they are lowering their carbs merely for the gluten, and therefore they haven’t been mentally-passive and gullible all these years.

    Grant wrote on September 4th, 2013
  34. Just paying attention is much of the battle…….but when we make no personal efforts to “change and see” there is nothing to pay attention to. I have had people look at me in wonder and ask me what I have done…p90x?….spending all day at the gym?…on and on.
    I have lost about 60 lbs of fat in about 6 months….knees have been restored- no inflammation…have abs that are almost freaky(on which I spend about 5 minutes a week- max)..and am recovering from new activity as well as when I was 20 years old (playing pro baseball). I will be 49 in November. All this after two Achilles tears – one transplant and 8 pelvic fractures…and the wear and tear from pitching for decades. Plus…I look better naked than almost all men half my age. And my bloodwork – including lipids and insulin resistance – have all improved since going primal
    Gluten….Who cares? – it just so happens that I don’t get much of it now….and ate a ton of it before. Just coincidence?…I doubt it, but I am just happy being blissfully unconcerned with the specifics of exactly why I feel and look great. It is just like finding one thing that you can do in a golf swing or pitching mechanics…One thing that is do-able that takes care of all the other mechanics (specifics)…What a joy…to enjoy each day with hope of a healthy future.
    Just paying attention and making simple associations can tell us a lot…it is really not that hard. Even emotionally…I feel so much more stable and relaxed that I no longer enjoy arguing much about the why-s. I can’t even get myself to hate gluten…I just don’t want to eat it.


    john wrote on September 4th, 2013
  35. After a bad bout of inflammation of my eye, I tried an elimination diet and discovered I had a gluten sensitivity. Went gluten free and alleviated that sensitivity issue but just replaced my SAD gluten food with all other grains (brown rice pasta became a staple) …. eventually went low carb to lose weight … then discovered the paleo / primal thing … so yes, the path that ultimately let me here and actually made primal “easier” to adjust to, was the “training” I got while going gluten free.

    Susan wrote on September 4th, 2013
  36. Well… all I can really say is that I ate a hamburger on a bun night before last (first time in many months). It’s not easy to sleep when you’re throwing up all night because you put something stupid into your system and you know better! Won’t make that mistake again.

    Marilyn wrote on September 4th, 2013
  37. I always give a fad a go! If there’s a fad bandwagon I have to jump on and see what the fuss is about, after all, who wants to miss out? Gotta have a sense of humour with opinionated cynics, tell them you’re a ‘weak minded fad-lover’ and then they miraculously let their guard down and want to know more… And end up trying it themselves!

    Rachael wrote on September 4th, 2013
    • +1

      Joy Beer wrote on September 5th, 2013
  38. Couldn’t agree more! I not only get it with GF, but also regarding supplements. While I admit that not all supplements are created equal, I have had friends liken me to anti-vaccinators and phrenologists for taking vitamin supplements!

    Friend that eats normal, modern diet: “Everything you eat already has all the vitamins in it you need.”

    Me: “Says who exactly?”

    Friend/s: “Scientists.”

    Me: “Which ones?”

    Friend/s: “…all of them. I dunno look it up.”

    Seriously? I have serious eczema problems because of living in China*, and going pure paleo (and taking ridiculous amounts of supplements) is the only thing keeping it at bay/improving slowly.

    *Chinese diet is not what you think it is. In a bid to be more “modern” they have adopted all the bad habits of the West (refined sugar, refined wheat, vegetable oils) and combined with their own unfortunate cultural habit of degrading the quality in everything for larger short-term profits (melamine in baby formula scandal, using gutter oil, etc.). And because of these factors, I have had the worst eczema of my life and it’s been this way since December/January more or less after being here for 6 months.

    Haven’t seen/read anything by Sisson on Leaky Gut Syndrome, but would be interested to see his take on it as extreme gut inflammation is what most likely has happened to me.

    Tomás wrote on September 4th, 2013

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