FoodHealthMedia & TechnologyPseudoscience

In Defense of Gluten Free

I can’t believe I’m about to say this  but here it is — I think it’s time to lay off the gluten free folks.

Listen, I love a good science-based smackdown as much as the next gal, and I get that there’s SO MUCH to smack down here. Yes, the gluten free diet is trendy right now. Yes, there is no scientific support for non-celiac gluten sensitivity. And yes, packaged gluten free foods are often incredibly unhealthy.

Still, the latest crop of articles timed to coincide with healthy eating resolutions seem to rely heavily on a GLUTEN FREE MEANS INTELLIGENCE FREE! sort of mantra. And, sure, some people eating gluten free are idiots but that doesn’t mean they all are.

If you stop eating gluten, and physical symptoms improve, have you proven some significant scientific correlation? Of course not. But let’s be realistic. If you’re suffering from something for which doctors have given you no cure, and you find something that seems to work, why wouldn’t you just stick with it? At some point it becomes obnoxious to demand to see the scientific evidence behind every lifestyle choice an individual makes. None of us live in some sort of perfect evidence-based world. Sometimes we all wing it.

Plus, let’s remember what the gluten sensitivity study actually showed. While it looks like there’s no support for most claims of gluten sensitivity, that doesn’t mean that the symptoms weren’t real in many cases or that gluten was found to be harmless for every condition other than celiac disease. In other words, as always, more research is needed.

Here’s another consideration — the test for celiac disease isn’t easy. You’ll need to eat gluten for a period of time and then remove it from your diet and compare your bloodwork under both conditions. If you made changes in your diet and felt better after making those changes, wouldn’t it be reasonable to stay that course?

So I have a new healthy eating resolution for 2015: Let’s stop insinuating that every person on a gluten free diet is a complete idiot. It’s probably just every third person.

 Featured image by flickr user ilovebutter.


Jenny Splitter

Jenny Splitter is a writer, storyteller and over-scheduled mom of two living in Washington, DC. She spends her glamorous days trying to write whatever she can, counting 1-2-3 in a slow yet threatening manner to her children, playing with gluten and working to eradicate dog hair from the planet (or at least her home). Find her on Twitter , Google+ and Facebook

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  1. I generally don’t care what dietary restrictions adults impose on themselves (I might choose not to cater to them. You’re welcome to bring your own ultra-orthodox kosher food, plate and cutlery), but I get a bit angry when people impose dietary restrictions on their children, casting them out and cutting them off for no actual reason for a wide range of normal social activities.
    I have lots of family members with serious allergies and it broke my heart to see my cousins looking longingly at the food everybody else ate while they had to stick to the stuff their parents brought them.

  2. I generally agree though we have a nut-free home because of our daughter and, yes, our son also eats nut-free when he’s at home. However, he has no restrictions if he’s at a friend’s house or eating out when she’s not there. I don’t think you should impose your dietary choices on your kid, particularly if they’re basically just chosen on a whim.

    I guess just to clarify — the parents of your cousins have the allergies, and they’re okay to be around other people eating food that’s not safe for them but they don’t let their kids eat that food? I don’t get the logic exactly.

    1. Ehm, no, my cousins had the allergies. So their dietary restrictions were necessary. But even though they understood why it was necessary for them to stick to the stuff they brought, they still suffered because they were excluded not only from all that nice stuff, but also from all those rituals we have around food.
      To do that to a kid just because you have some fancy beliefs is cruel IMO.
      Kind of like piercing your kid with a sharp object and making them cry when it’s a vaccination vs. piercing them with a sharp object and making them cry because you think it’s a cool idea.
      While I personally don’t the family enjoying stuff I’m allergic against (dah, I’d give anything to join them in nibbling carrots. Let them have carrots!) I probably would also ban stuff if it were one of the kids. But only at home. Though I’m also a big fan of providing options that are free from the more common allergens in public…

  3. There’s also the Melbourne University research on FODMAPs, suggesting that “gluten free” might merely be one category of similar food sensitivities, and thus casting doubt on the “gluten sensitivity is nonsense” study.

    I found that going gluten free kind of helped but I still had issues. The low-FODMAP diet has helped a lot and continuing food diary/exclusion experiments have shown that for me at least a low-FOAP diet seems to solve 90% of the problem. I think 🙂 But also that I am not the best person when it comes to “is flatulence a fair price for eating fruit bread?”

  4. I’m often wondering if many of the benefits of such dietary restrictions aren’t due to the fact that you really have to think and care about your nutrition, which might account for the differences found between people’s own experience and carefully controlled studies.
    I mean, if you cut out gluten you have to make sure you bring lunch because just getting a sandwich and/or a muffin doesn’t work. And at least in my case planning meals leads to much healthier meals than just picking up stuff on the run.

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