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!

glutenfreeThis 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. Hi Everyone,

    I actually have a few friends who are celiacs, and they are the thinnest people i know, yet very healthy. I stumbled upon primal from being a raw vegetarian for 2.5 years. I was always skinny fat. It wasn’t until i moved to australia and found it hard to find proper foods (beef is cheaper than vegetables here) I became severely iron deficient. So, in one day it was meat and veg for me, and i literally slept for three days. So far, i feel great. I eat way too much, but my calories and sugar are always under control.

    My question is this, i was a vegetarian for health reasons, but i also sort of wonder about the effects of consuming too much meat on the environment. Cows produce a lot of methane that seems to effect our ozone layer. Ghandi says eat less meat, etc. I am by no means an animal rights activist, but I’m conscious about it. As a surfer who sees the effects of pollution and feels it sometimes on the beach, someone who always picks up their trash, and tries to do right by the environment, it would be nice to have a reason to negate this tiny twinge of guilt i feel sometimes. Mind you, i buy grass fed, free range, etc. Its very easy to find here in australia. They still have local butcheries, and creameries. Shopping takes forever, but it feels great to support the local farmers.

    I actually just read about GMOS and was so excited Australia had banned em!

    From the San Diegan lost down under!

    CJG wrote on September 4th, 2013
    • Talk to some of those local farmers. A farm without animals is an unsustainable one, requiring artificial fertilizers. In any place that will support grass, responsibly grazing cattle is an environmentally friendlier choice than tearing the sod up and using the land for mono-culture.

      As much as I respect Gandhi, vegetarianism is a hierarchical viewpoint of the world. It requires viewing some lifeforms as more important than others based on the existence of central nervous system. All life is important to the planet, including healthy humans.

      And lastly, the methane issue is about man-made global warming, not the ozone. The science behind AGW was always shaky, requiring the use of the same type of computer modeling that the weather forecast is based on. The notable difference between the weather and AGW forecasts is that AGW modeling requires many more assumptions and reliance on inferred data.

      Amy wrote on September 5th, 2013
      • Amy, once again you take the words right outta my mouth.

        Nocona wrote on September 5th, 2013
      • Spot on.

        “As much as I respect Gandhi, vegetarianism is a hierarchical viewpoint of the world.”

        Vegetarianism was also never traditionally practiced by all castes of Hindus, nor by all sects – many Shakta Hindus both eat meat and conduct animal sacrifices, many warrior caste Hindus, the men espacially, would eat large amounts of meat to build strength and aggression, which it was their moral and religious duty to maintain.

        Yet most of the emphasis in the west has been upon the very Brahminical and Vedantic varieties of Hinduism, with their requirements for non-violence towards all living beings – perhaps that’s why the recent atrocities towards women in India have come as such a shock to so many spiritually-involved people I know.

        Avoiding slaughtered animal products (note that high fat ghee made from butter was held as sacred and essential to the diet) is part of the soul’s progression towards liberation from rebirth in this world, because it allows the aspirant to avoid creating karmic entanglements created when they kill another life-form. Many Hindus I’ve known personally advocate it for the Brahmins and yet deliberately eat meat (excluding beef) themselves, as they have no desire, yet, to cease their cycle of human lives.

        On the general topic of ethics, I read a quite disgusting account by a lab tech recently (NOT an a PETA or animal-welfare type site) about how researchers into IBS inject capsaicin, that’s the stuff used in pepper spray, into rats’ rectums so it floods and irritates the colon.

        This is a routine practice in researching visceral pain (and for that reason, there’s no anaeasthesia) – over time, the rats’ colons shrink and thicken from the burning effect, and they suffer severe intestinal pain, to the extent that measurements show that even their feet hurt, because they’re served by the same repreatedly aggravated nerve channels as the colon.

        I don’t even want to imagine how mush despair, fear and helplessness those rats, beings devoid of any higher intellect that would allow them to at least seperate themselves from their suffering, or relieve themselves with philosophy and distractions of the mind, must feel.

        Nobody can tell me a diet which sickens us, and then prompts people to perform experiments like this on millions of animals a year, is any kinder than a decent life for a grass-fed or free-ranging animal, that then ends in a fairly quick clean death in a slaughterhouse – and yet the less natural our diet, and the higher our levels of illness, the more of these grotesque experiments will be carried out, the majority without finding any breakthroughs, and the animal victims will never have known a moment’s quiet enjoyment, or freedom.

        I care deeply about animal welfare and I don’t think it’s at all inconsistant to eat meat, particularly not when we consider the unexpected side-effects of debasing our diet so drastically from what nature intended.

        Sorry to go a bit off topic :) but it was things like this that have led me to think that eating primally is the ethical choice, since as a species we’ll always throw any other animal under the bus in order to treat our self-inflicted illnesses, and I don’t think that’s likely to change any time soon.

        Patrick wrote on September 7th, 2013
  2. What do I know? Two years ago (I am 52) if I walked for an hour my left hip – right in the joint – would be so painful I would finish my walk while limping. The pain would continue for the rest of the day reminding me that I had overdone it. I thought I ate well to boot.

    A little over a year and a half ago I changed my diet and eliminated gluten, grain, processed food, rancid oils etc. Basically following Primal recommendations.

    Today, yes today, I hiked up from Raven lodge to Helen Mackenzie Lake around to Battleship Lake and back to the lodge. (6 km – maybe not big hike for a 20 year old.) It took two hours with stops to take pictures and look out over the lake. None, absolutely not one twinge, nothing, nada, no pain in my hip whatsoever!

    That is my experience, and when people ask why I don’t eat bread that is what I tell them.

    Joyce wrote on September 4th, 2013
  3. Its pretty simple. Eliminate all gluten containing grains from your diet for 4-5 weeks, and then eat 2 meals which contain gluten (bread, pasta) in one day. And wait. I did that. And I had terrible diarrhea. So I permanently eliminated gluten.

    David Marino wrote on September 4th, 2013
  4. I think the scepticism from others and some journalists is pretty understandable. They are calling the gluten free fad a fad! What do I mean? I mean the same people that go on flavour of the month diets, who tout the wonders of the Ornish diet, vegan diet, low carb dietor smoothie diet for a few weeks, before quitting have found themselves on the gluten free diet.
    They claim it will make them lose weight, feel fuller, have more energy etc. Yet they’ll still eat processed fast food, drink soda, avoid veggies etc

    To the casual observer, they see the same pattern they’ve seem countless times before; people praising a new diet, failing to lose weight or improve in any way, then going back to their regular diet, before taking up another new diet a few months later.
    Of course I’m sure gluten free is helpful for many people, but I doubt it will be helpful for all. To those who are gluten sensitive then it makes perfect sense to enquire about the contents of your dinner meal. To those that don’t have noticeable symptoms then stuffing themselves with gluten free bread is pointless.

    Ben wrote on September 4th, 2013
  5. I agree, it is ridiculous how people tend to hate on everything popular. It is really sad how something that is so clearly good for the vast majority of people is subject to such constant criticism and argument.

    Anivia wrote on September 4th, 2013
    • As Mark alluded, some people can be so fanatical about their new way that it’s often the messenger that is the cause of rebuke.

      Julian wrote on September 4th, 2013
  6. The whole gluten free fad makes me angry. I was diagnosed as ceoliac ten years prior to going primal, it wasn’t a choice I would have gladly made at 17. The idiots on the gluten free – because I feel like it cause Miley does it – bandwagon ruin it for real coeliacs, they piss off waitresses and chefs everywhere by asking if the main is gluten free then they are seen eating cake later. This makes it all seem unimportant and people think its not a real problem. A true coeliac won’t order a gluten free main then sneak a peace of cake later, or they’ll be running to the bathroom within ten minutes doubled over in pain, sweating and wanting to throw up and worse, oh and the bowel cancer too.

    In a way its laughable because most of the gluten free alternatives have more sugar and loaded with extra crap to try and make them taste decent. I’ll stop now I can feel myself getting stressed just thinking about this topic.

    sarah wrote on September 4th, 2013
  7. How many generations is it since wheat has been radically altered? Is the effect worse on subsequent generations? Is it going to get worse in the next generation even without GM?

    Julia Mc wrote on September 4th, 2013
  8. 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.

    Alyssa Tait wrote on September 4th, 2013
  9. You make a very good point. Thank you for pointing out that the true healthiest choices are veggies and lean proteins, not just a bread substitute. I know a few people with the gluten allergy, and I am glad they have found a diet solution that makes them feel better. Everyone else needs to get over themselves and just make healthy decisions imho.
    :) thanks for always being so well researched! I appreciate your posts!

    Lisa Loperfido wrote on September 4th, 2013
    • Wrong on the lean proteins. That stuff usually got thrown to the dogs…

      Nocona wrote on September 5th, 2013
  10. I don’t bag people going gluten free if they choose – but it sure does make it an embarrassing thing for me to deal with when I’m eating out. I’m diagnosed ceoliac and the number of times I get asked if I’m just avoiding gluten because I choose to is so frustrating. I used to work in the food industry and the people who make a fuss to the waiter about not having gluten on their main meals etc and then turn around and have cake for dessert drove me crazy. Then when i ate out, I would get eye rolls when I tried to make as little fuss as possible about asking gluten free. Most times I don’t even want to bring it up so just order a plain steak and some cheese. That way I know its GF and I don’t get the pissy eyed looks from people.
    :-/

    Ally wrote on September 4th, 2013
  11. Reminds me of an article on food bullying I saw on npr awhile ago: http://www.npr.org/blogs/13.7/2013/06/27/195557402/bullied-with-food-another-risk-for-kids-with-food-allergies

    I don’t understand why it’s so offensive to others to avoid certain foods. I was raised vegetarian and it was a constant battle of explaining, checking, and finally just bringing your own food at times. Though I’m not a vegetarian anymore, I have experienced that deflated look you get from the server when you order gluten free. Though I’ve experienced a lot of benefits from eating low-carb, I don’t get on a soap box about it. If someone gets healthier being vegan, what business is it of mine to convert them to my carnivorous ways?

    Johna wrote on September 5th, 2013
    • “I don’t understand why it’s so offensive to others to avoid certain foods.”

      Most people are walking round with toxically low levels of self-respect (a different thing to the more nebulous & controversial concept of “self-esteem”) and have many unexamined assumptions about the world and their place in it, and a lifetime of grudges, resentments, emotional wounds, and so on – some that would seem valid, if we’d “walked a mile in their shoes” – some, maybe, not so much.

      Therefore, when someone requests what seems like “special treatment” or implies they’re in any way more worthy of protection, care and consideration, and doesn’t just muck in like a good unthinking uncritical sheep, it triggers the observer’s buried fears that they’re personally not special at all and in fact are somewhat dispensible, unworthy, and being judged as less valuable and important – they perceive it as a hostile judgement against them, and the choices, values and actions of the people in their own lives.

      Best summed up as the “And WHO do you think YOU are?!” syndrome. :)

      Those of us who’ve come to primal and grain-free eating from vegetariasnism of veganism are already WELL accustomed to it! ;)

      Patrick wrote on September 7th, 2013
  12. Thank you for sharing this info!

    Health & Organic Wellbeing ( H.O.W ) wrote on September 5th, 2013
  13. Thirty years ago in a misguided attempt to put on muscle weight I discovered that you can blend an entire loaf of bread into one quart of milk to create what I called breadnogs. I drank a couple of these every day. Within a year I developed severe digestive problems. No GI doctor could figure out what was wrong with me. Many tests were done. The only person who helped was a “lowly” lab technician who told me he had seen gluten to strange things to digestive systems. So I changed. Duh. Gluten is bad stuff, especially whole wheat. Ten years ago I discovered primal and have been happy as a lark ever since. For me it is the ultimate diet, lifestyle.

    jamesdavid wrote on September 5th, 2013
    • Interesting story, thanks for sharing it! :)

      I find it thought-provoking that the recipe you invented is simply a condensed higher-strength version of the standard breakfast, wheat-based cereal in milk – and maybe on the plus side, by overdoing it so much in a short time frame, you saved yourself the low-level degeneration caused by unawareness about the harm gluten can do – to you, at least.

      By initiating that crisis, and happening to find the right person to advise you, you very possibly did yourself a huge favour. :)

      Patrick wrote on September 7th, 2013
  14. I am French, wheat was a staple since almost birth for me. Until 2 years ago – you have to ditch it in order to believe it!! No gluten / wheat / grains, clean eating (no processed crap, no seed oils, no refined sugar everywhere, etc). Man! It’s like being born again to a healthy self!

    La Frite wrote on September 5th, 2013
  15. Not really. I’d argue it’s good to be skeptical. Read the available evidence, listen to what your own body tells you and draw your own conclusions.

    Paul Wood wrote on September 5th, 2013
  16. The good news is that both the positive and negative reactions are a proportionate indicator that the word is spreading!

    Samantha wrote on September 5th, 2013
  17. I have been reasonably gluten free for over a year now and feel much better for it. But one must read the label on gluten free products. Some of the ingredients may be almost as bad as wheat, like refined white rice flour???

    John wrote on September 5th, 2013
    • Rice noodles are nice once in a while (cooked in bone broth, for example). Nothing evil about it I think ?

      La Frite wrote on September 5th, 2013
      • White rice is almost pure starch by dry weight. No nutrition to speak of, but likewise lacking in anti-nutrients. Just carbs and texture. No good, and no bad. A nutritional neutral.

        Bill C wrote on September 5th, 2013
  18. As someone who was DX’d Celiac long before gluten free was cool, the whole “fad” thing makes me insane. I love that more products are available but the eye rolls I get ordering off a gluten free menu now are ridiculous.

    Barbara wrote on September 5th, 2013
    • Barbara, if I may play devil’s advocate :) if there had been more widespread knowledge of the harm gluten can do, even to people (like me) who never superficially seemed to have a problem with it, maybe many other celiacs’ disease could have been caught younger and therefore they’d all have less time being put at risk for the long-term problems like cancer and osteoporosis?

      I maybe just have my optimist hat on this morning :) but I do think that more widespread willingness to consider gluten as a possible bad-guy, which is part of the “new diet fad” syndrome, will help people like you who have genuine and very typical celiac problems.

      People who buy gluten-free anything just vaguely thinking it might be healthy are part of an over-all change in the culture, from which bread was “the staff of life” and almost the archetypal foodstuff, to a time when it’s no longer the foundation food, and therefore more open to being questioned in someone’s diet.

      Also, manufacturers follow the money, and it seems that more people avoiding gluten will continue to lead directly to more delicious (and, eventually, maybe even primal) gluten-free options for when you’re out or otherwise need some pre-prepared food.

      The rise in vegetarianism here (in the UK, avoiding slaughterhouse products is far more common than full-on veganism) has led to animal products like gelatine being removed, wherever possible, from foods where they’re not a key part of the recipe – I’m actually not thrilled about that now myself of course, but it does show that what was once considered a fad diet for crackpots has permeated mainstream food production, and resulted in the makers updating their recipes – and there are just as many “fad” vegetarians who eat chicken now and then, or bacon, as there are gluten-avoiders who cave in when confronted by a pizza or bit of cake! ;)

      Patrick wrote on September 7th, 2013
  19. The argument that frustrates me the most about the concern for gluten-free diets is the one that says if you don’t due this in concert with a doctor and get tested properly you might actually have some other issue rather than gluten-sensitivity which you will continue to be untreated for.

    Because guess what – people try these gluten-free diets after years/decades of issues that their doctors don’t identify or treat them for. I’ve had years and years of various IBS symptoms that my doctor(s) weren’t interested in – not even to the point of officially diagnosing me with IBS. Just advice to eat more fibre and drink plenty of water and some people just have these issues.

    Paleo/keto diets reduce the majority of my digestive issues. I don’t know if its gluten, or excessive carbohydrates that cause this. I suspect I have some fodmap problems that I am hoping to identify further.

    So they are right – I don’t know why going paleo gluten-free (as opposed to processed replacement gluten-free) solves the majority of my problems. But isn’t it better to not know why you use to feel awful and to feel better than to not know why you feel awful and to continue to feel awful?

    E wrote on September 5th, 2013
  20. 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.

    Perhaps, but there is a much larger segment of the “special diet” population who use their choice as an attention-getting device, making a big scene out of their “health decision” at every opportunity, no matter how (in)appropriate.

    So, for example, if you’re gluten free and we invite you to dinner tomorrow, it’s cool to call the restaurant in advance and inquire about their gluten-free choices. It’s cool to call me and say “you know, I’m just not up for the food in that establishment, can I suggest this other place instead?” We can work out an acceptable spot.

    It’s not cool to grill the waiter while we’re all sitting there and whine about the answer when it turns out not to be what you want. You have the health decision, you do the ground work.

    Guess which of those two scenarios I’ve seen the most.

    So yes, if your health decision causes me grief, I may well feel inclined to grill you on it. And if you are doing it for a reason that seems simply trendy or fad based, expect to be called on it.

    The onus is on the person with the health decision/issue to do their prep work if it’s necessary, not on everyone else to put up with the drama.

    Evolving Squid wrote on September 5th, 2013
    • Same thing can be said, by the way, for vegans as well.

      Oddly, it’s never been an issue with regular vegetarians, but vegans…ugh.

      Evolving Squid wrote on September 5th, 2013
  21. Really at the end of the day I see people eating gluten as natural selection on its course. Good review Mark.

    Adrian Chapman wrote on September 5th, 2013
  22. I went Primal to be a good lad and help my girlfriend who suffered from colitis and gastritis. We started eating primal and life changed!

    She healed herself and me? Well imagine my surprise when I noticed allergies, nosebleeds were gone and a lot of things changed for the better!

    For what I have been researching, a lot of people have been like me. They healed issues they weren’t even aware they had them.

    Gluten free is a fad, indeed. But I agree with Mark here. As long as more people adopt healthier lifestyles, the world benefits from that.

    Hope more people turn primal!

    Morex wrote on September 5th, 2013
  23. Hi Mark. Agree. I have had to go Gluten free for medical reasons.

    Just one thing. Most burger patties contain gluten.

    Charles Walker wrote on September 5th, 2013
  24. I couldn’t agree more. I resisted the probability that I was intolerant to gluten for several years. I tried to pin it all on dairy, which was difficult enough to avoid. The truth is I was eating antacids like they were after-dinner mints. My belly was in constant turmoil, though no dairy improved things a bit. Well, now I have been GF for 2 little months, which is not very long, but the change in my digestion is immense. I lost 8 lbs, my belly is flat, I feel good. I don’t go to bed after dinner, curled up, trying to sleep off the pain in my gut. As a bonus, my skin looks (can I just say) radiantly healthy. Before, I would erupt in acne unless I was on hormonal drugs. Now – no hormonal drugs and my skin is completely free from any blemish. At one time, I said I could “never” give up bread, pizza, pasta; just never, you know? But now I feel so good, I don’t want it. It is not worth it to me.

    Danielle Cumberland wrote on September 5th, 2013
    • Danielle I had almost the exact same experience. I suffered for years since age 19 or 20 with odd, seemingly random, health issues and tummy upset, and thought “oh gosh, not dairy! Dont take my cheese away!!”… yet as my symptoms worsened and worsened even after removing dairy, I had to face that it could be something else. It took me 10 more years… With the help of a close friend and my husband, I was able to finally dive into going gluten free, and surprise, all my issues started disappearing, and FAST. I am finally not cheating on my GF diet at-all-ever-no-way-no-how, and one of the first things I noticed was my tummy flattened out after always just being kind of roundish, and I dropped 5 lbs almost overnight. My skin is getting softer and smoother, and my energy is so much more LEVEL. Despite knowing TONS about gluten intolerance, I struggled for the past 13 months just getting fully on board with eating this way, honestly mainly BECAUSE of all the nay sayers and social barriers. Now Ive taken a whole different approach socially speaking that there is absolutely NO WAY I would eat those things and I dont care what anyone thinks of that, and being strong willed about it has really helped. People dont question nearly as much when they can tell you are very firm on making your health a priority. As you said, it is not worth it to ever eat gluten no matter what.

      Melissa wrote on September 5th, 2013
  25. Nope, don’t agree. For every study on one side, there is a study on the other.

    The bottom line is pick a diet with more veggies, fruits, lean meat, good fat, complex carbs, and water and you will see similar effects. Unless, of course, you are celiac. People gong gluten free are often doing this…. of course with the omission of the obvious.

    Jordan wrote on September 5th, 2013
  26. Wow Mark, such a lot of comments! Good post.
    This is why, from my perspective, dietary changes are a problem and we’ll turn it around and talk about veganism. Years ago some very nice vegans moved into the neighborhood and converted another family, my friends, into the tribe. I like both of the families and we interacted a lot b/c of kids and similar interests. Suddenly I couldn’t eat with any of them. My feelings were hurt and I was appalled b/c the vegans were very overweight, even the kids. Every time I talked about it to other people I rolled my eyes at this vegan conversion. I was not happy with the change b/c it excluded me. It made it hard for me to be with them. I was not able to judge the diet in a scientific way although I thought it was wrong, but I had nothing real to say about it. People who eat bread must feel the same way, “hey this is good stuff and now I can’t share it with you!” I get that.

    I also know that for me gluten free means my hand is no longer swollen. Yay!

    Vanessa wrote on September 5th, 2013
  27. I turn 21 next week, and have been Primal for about 15 months now. I was young, healthy, eating not-bad by any realistic measure, and fitter than average when I went Primal. Not surprisingly, the only physiological change/benefit I noticed was becoming fat adapted, which has nothing to do with gluten.

    However, I have found that wheat-based items no longer taste like food. Bread, noodles, pizza crust, cake, breading, fried flour coatings, anything that spent time as a dough… They don’t taste, feel, smell, or look like food anymore, and intellectually I agree.

    Bill C wrote on September 5th, 2013
  28. Yes, loved this article!! For years, I have suffered from debilitating fatigue, sleeping 10-12 hours a night yet still feeling painfully tired throughout the day requiring naps and always having mental “fog”. I often physically hurt I was so tired and would just long to curl up in a ball on the floor and go to sleep. I would go to my doctor every year for my annual exam and lab work and complain of this and they would check my Vitamin D and B12 levels, Hgb and Hct for anemia, thyroid and tell me they were normal and send me on my way. I’ve also always had stomach/intestinal issues for as a long as I can remember. I remember always telling my mom I felt sick after I ate when I was a kid. I had suffered through many days and nights of abdominal pain (to the point of not being able to stand up all the way), gas and severe bloating (by the end of the day, I would look six months pregnant and my abdominal skin would hurt it was so stretched). I was introduced to the paleo diet a couple of years ago when I started doing CrossFit. I did a couple of paleo challenges and would notice that my energy levels would soar through the roof and my fatigue would go away. But as soon as the challenges were over, discouraged by not really noticing major weight/body measurement changes and telling myself I felt “deprived” on such a “strict” diet, I would go back to eating “cheat” foods such as a cookie here, a piece of pizza there while otherwise eating Paleo. I noticed I went right back to having the fatigue and gastrointestinal problems even eating 80% Paleo. This summer, my fatigue got so bad I didn’t even have enough energy to want to carry on conversations. Looking for different answers, I visited with a naturopathic doctor. She listened to my complaints, reviewed my lab work and the first thing she said to me was “I want you to stop eating gluten. 100% NO gluten.” She told me some other things to try but her biggest takeway was don’t eat gluten and I should feel better in a few weeks. I walked away feeling resistant to this idea. How could I go through life never having a piece of my favorite pie at the holidays or going on vacation and not being able to eat what I want? And it’s not like I immediately felt or got sick after eating these things. I thought about it a lot and did a lot of research and I started looking deeper at the symptoms of celiac disease and saw things I had experienced that match such as canker sores and dermatitis herpetiformis. I thought maybe I should get tested but didn’t really want to bother with seeing a GI doctor and possible having a colonoscopy, etc. I talked to my family about my thoughts. Finally, I announced to my friends and family that I was going 100% gluten free. I decided that I would follow a paleo diet as closely as possible and when I needed a cheat, I would commit to a gluten-free cheat. That meant no more pizza or cake at work (i’m a nurse and a there is constant food). But what it did mean is that if I really wanted pizza or cake, I could make my own gluten-free version or find a gluten-free kind to buy. I realized it wasn’t the end of the world. I checked labels more closely and asked more questions at restaurants. Yes, I’m now that “annoying” girl at the restaurant, though it’s a rare occasion I eat out. Within TWO days, I felt better. The mental fog and fatigue gone. Within a week, I almost felt high and like I had been living in a “drugged” state for many years. My mental clarity, energy and mood all improved. I went on two vacations and survived them without eating gluten and was able to eat things I enjoyed. I began to no longer have any interest in eating those “treats” I once craved because I knew it was not worth how awful I would feel in the days to come. I am now 8 weeks gluten free and never looking back. My stomach issues did not improve right away but in the past couple of weeks, I’ve noticed much less distress and discomfort overall and the abdominal distention/bloating is gone (no more six month pregnant belly “stretch”). People often ask me “have you been tested for celiac?” and I say “no, because I would have to eat gluten to do that and I feel so much better not eating gluten, what better test is there than that?”

    Summer wrote on September 5th, 2013
  29. Way to work out the skeptics Mark… your knowledge base on the subject of primal living and gluten free social perspectives always blows me away.

    I too have experienced everything in social settings from the “Why do you eat gluten free?” general curiosity leading to some really positive conversations, to definite annoyance if I even THINK of discussing my gluten intolerance. My own sister recently asked me “So why are you still talking about this whole gluten free thing? I thought you had it all worked out and you would drop it already”….. and when explaining that I thought she wanted to know, and how I get sick when I eat it (and drink coffee and rice!), she went so far as to say that it seems like Im “taking this whole thing too far”. Im not a gluten Nazi, I dont mind if you eat it, I just dont want to literally spend a minimum of 2 days, sometimes up to a week, sick and in pain. It seems like people get truly angry that they have to sit through those torturous 60 seconds of conversation you have with the waiter or chef to make sure you dont end up getting glutened. God forbid right?!

    While some people do adopt gluten free lifestyles because it is simply healthier (which I FULLY support!), some of us suffered for years and years until the knock-knock-knocking of our health issues became bang-Bang-BANGING that simply couldn’t be ignored. For myself, and many people I know, going gluten free was single handedly the biggest blessing that removed the daily back and joint pain I was suffering from, as well as a laundry list of crazy weird symptoms such as panic, fragile emotional states, popping joints, brain fog, memory issues, headaches, nausea, ear ringing, racing heart, loss of sex drive, moodiness, recurring yeast infections, and hair loss!! …and thats the short list! Who wouldnt drop gluten to rid themselves of a life filled with those issues and more???

    At 31 years old, having always been a vibrant active happy young woman up to this sudden onset of health issues, it makes me feel so unsupported when I am met with annoyance and even anger at my going gluten free. People arent yet realizing that for many many people, its not something we “chose” to happen to us… but how in the world do people think that a person IS supposed to deal with this type of issue except to just find out whats causing them to get sick, face it, accept it, and do it? Sorry I cant have toast with you anymore friends, didnt know that was a deal killer.

    Keep spreading the good word on MDA. Those of us who have literally healed ourselves just through eating real food thank you. Someday Ill write in on Fridays success stories when Im further down my path…

    Melissa wrote on September 5th, 2013
  30. I never knew until reading the first Primal primer what gluten was or how it affected my body. I went to the doc and had some testing done and it turns out that I have celiac type symptoms. Now i’ve always been a carnivore cause burnt animal flesh tastes better, but now with the knowledge that the other stuff was tearing me up inside it makes me understand why I was feeling so bad after certain meals like pizza. Now I wish I could find a good beer that had low levels of gluten, cause most of the sorgum beers suck! Help y’all

    mark riffee wrote on September 6th, 2013
    • Someone here recommended Omission beer to me as a good gluten free beer. I think larger beverage stores (BevMo by me has it) carry it.

      Barb wrote on September 7th, 2013
  31. As I have gotten older I have had more and more of a problem with IBS. Bread, especially whole meal nutty bread, is the problem, cake less so.
    And, yes it’s how I stumbled onto Paleo/primeval. Now I’m careful what I eat and don’t have a problem.

    Roger wrote on September 6th, 2013
  32. Thank You so much for this timely article. I was just jumped on last weekend at a family picnic with the exact words you mentioned.

    Jackie wrote on September 6th, 2013
  33. Hi Mark, In your research, I am wondering if you find that the culprit is WHEAT specifically, or if it is GLUTEN in general? In my own personal study of one, I have found that the problem is wheat…. and not the gluten found in less popular or in ancient grains.

    Jennifer wrote on September 6th, 2013
    • I’ve read in several places that wheat, specifically, has been bred in the past few decades to have far more gluten than it did, because high levels of gluten make for an excellent texture in baked goods – I remember reading that home bakers have to use “strong flour” i.e., one with more gluten, to make bread.

      This breeding is a seperate issue to laboratory-led genetic modification of wheat, which usually relates to pesticides and pest resistance – this is the farmers trying (as they understand it) to make an improved crop that makes better products.

      Also, many wheat products have added gluten, above and beyond that in the wheat itself – this is true of, for example, croissants and some wholemeal multi-grain or seeded breads, where added gluten helps to bind the seeds and other grains. That might account for the difference you’ve noticed there? :)

      Patrick wrote on September 7th, 2013
  34. My husband was diagnosed as coeliac a number of years ago so all gluten products were removed from our household, but there were times that I would grab a sandwich when I was at the shops, this would invariably much me feel quite ill. This is how I discovered that I had a gluten sensitivity. Most people who have a gluten sensitivity don’t realise it because they haven’t gone off gluten and so their body is trying hard to cope and adjust once you cut it out your body loses its tolerance to what is essentially a poison to your system. Perhaps these naysayer and eye rollers should give it a go before passing judgement.

    Trish wrote on September 7th, 2013
    • Excellent comment.

      Bonny Thomas wrote on September 7th, 2013
  35. These are same people who deny climate change despite that science. Close minded, suspicious and stubborn. To them it’s just more “liberal, corporate-hatin hogwash.”

    Bonny Thomas wrote on September 7th, 2013
    • Ironic, since that in itself is a very closed-minded, ignorant, and arrogant comment.

      Mark wrote on September 12th, 2013
  36. I’ve been gluten free for several years and what an improvement in my thinking and overall well being. I’ve always been gluten sensitive; I never could eat white flour without feeling sick. When I eat gluten now, I get violently ill and can’t get off the couch for at least a day and a half. I will never eat gluten again.

    J K Michelson wrote on September 8th, 2013
  37. You can see it both ways:

    An improvement within doing something that’s unhealthy is still an improvement.

    Or

    An improvement while doing somethimg that’s unhealthy is still unhealthy.

    Either way: Let’s continue to influence peoples diet and health for the better!

    Stefan wrote on September 8th, 2013
  38. I can honestly say that reducing grain (and legume) consumption to less than 10% of my weekly diet has improved my whole system from top to bottom. I miss some of the flavours and textures but I get over it.

    I feel bad for people who have any food intolerances and will defend their choice and need with my own. I am lucky to be able to choose but just like I don’t like Brussels Sprouts, why should anyone care if I no longer want bread or grains.

    Thank you Mark and people who speak up about possible or definite gluten intolerances it does not have to be in ALL our food. My family has Celiac and my grandma who I had just met for the first time when I was 39, died of complications from celiac and a lifetime of dealing with it badly about three months later. I never got to really know her. With Celiac (and the like) it isn’t just a food allergy it must be way of life in order to live healthy.

    Tess Gleason wrote on September 8th, 2013
  39. An important step to healing damage done in the intestinal tract of GF intolerant people is repopulating the gut with the flora needed for that healing. Your work is only half done if you don’t get the flora and feed the flora. You will still have food intolerance and inflammatory issues.

    I came to GF (August 2010) after a long battle with myself, my doctors and my lifestyle. I suffered from depression, anxiety, brain fog at times, lots of head colds, sinusitis and various female infections. I was also about 30 lbs. over weight most of my life. I, too wonder what my life would have been like if I had been GF my whole life.

    I now have Multiple Myeloma (Bone marrow cancer)-diagnosed 1/2011. I am only stage 2 and I have stayed that way for over 2 years. I believe diet and life style changes have made me much stronger.

    Do I think the life long problem with gluten sent me down this path-absolutely. New research from Sweden (Annals of Internal Medicine, Aug. 6, 2013) shows that if the intestinal villi don’t recover, people with celiac disease have nearly 4 times the risk of lymphoma compared to healthy individuals. In those individuals whose villi has recovered, the risk is only slightly elevated. Lymphoma and Myeloma are both blood cancers.

    With the changes I have made, I am dealing with this as a chronic disease, not a killing cancer…

    GF is not a fad. Selling GF junk food is a fad and as unhealthy as wheat based junk food.

    Ranetta wrote on September 8th, 2013
  40. My favorite anti-gluten comment is the comparison to the low carb ‘fad’ diet. In my case, I was already following a low carb diet which worked well for me. Then I read this blog and realized that maybe low carb worked for me because I had removed grains from my diet, and not because of the reduced carbs. Once I realized that removal of wheat/grains was the essential piece, I added more fresh fruit and vegetables back into my diet without worrying about the carb count, and decided that paleo was a better ‘label’ for my preferred diet.

    Although I fail to understand why I need to a label – seems to make other people comfortable though ….

    My approach has been to remove the offending food type from my diet without looking for a productized replacement. The food industry will seek to regain their profits from the loss of cereal and bread sales by marketing gluten free products and in the process, they will create something unhealthy.

    If gluten free looks like a fad in a few years, it will be because people opted for gluten free substitutes, rather than just avoiding the center isles of the grocery store. Better yet, skip the grocery altogether and find a farmers market or coop. Better food options, without all the annoying marketing.

    robyn wrote on September 8th, 2013

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