Either click here or keep reading for my article about the absurdities of the gluten-free fad, and how it MOST DEFINITELY won’t lose you any weight. Happy to have made the cover of the paper and my section with this one! I even got a shout-out from the Canadian Celiac Association!
Wheat Belly? More Like Meat Belly.
The world of diet is full of trends. We consumers are a fickle bunch, always looking for the next magic pill or life-changing-secret to revolutionize our diets and bodies, suddenly transforming us into Elle MacPherson. We want it to be easy.
These trendy diets, almost always celebrity endorsed, move along rather quickly. The latest is the gluten-free diet. Once reserved only for the 0.5% of the population that is celiac — or genuinely allergic to gluten — you now will find books about eliminating gluten and dropping pounds on the front shelves of any bookstore. Waive goodbye to Dr. Atkins, and hello to Dr. Davis, the author of Wheat Belly.
Suddenly, we’re all apparently celiac. If not celiac, we’re “gluten-sensitive,” which, at best can be described as a rather “flexible” medical term. People are allergic to peanuts too, but I don’t think cutting them from my diet because of it is going to make me lose weight.
Gluten is not another word for carbohydrate. Nor is it another word for organic, healthy or natural. Gluten is not a poison, it’s protein.
Found in wheat, barley, and rye, gluten is a naturally occurring protein, present in much of the world’s food supply.
Proponents of the gluten-free diet hurry to tell you that the wheat we consume today is not like the wheat consumed 12,000 to 20,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent, known as hard hulled einkorn wheat. It didn’t contain gluten. True. Wheat grown in other regions at the same time, though, did.
Naturally, as with any other food, wheat developed and changed over the course of 15,000 years. We now have different, plentiful varieties and large yields.
Why the history lesson?
Advocates of the gluten-free diet use the fact that wheat today doesn’t look like wheat consumed 15,000 years ago as something of a smoking gun. To folks like Dr. Davis, it proves that wheat today is making us unwell and overweight.
Except it doesn’t. It proves precisely nothing.
If you can find me anything — food product or otherwise — in our world that looks like it did 15,000 years ago, I’ll be genuinely impressed. We’ve evolved, as has our food. The process of cross-pollination is not a new or unhealthy one. As a species, we only began eating brussel sprouts 300 years ago, yet I don’t see anyone claiming they’re making us fat.
I’m not alone in the sentiment that going gluten-free won’t lower the number on the scale.
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, a gluten-free diet will absolutely not help lower the number on the scale. More specifically, they state “there is nothing special about a gluten-free diet than can help a person lose weight. There is no proven use for the diet beyond celiac disease.” Dr. David Katz, of the Yale University Prevention Research Center, is quoted as saying “cutting gluten is advisable only for those with genuine sensitivities,” and food industry consultant Rachel Begun went as far as to say cutting gluten may in fact result in weight gain in particular cases.
But who cares about that when a midriff-baring Miley Cyrus tweets “gluten is crap?”
She looks great, no doubt. But do we credit lack of gluten for that, or might it have something to do with a 1000-calorie-a-day diet and twice daily pilates sessions? I’ll let you decide that one.
The gluten-free label is now a fully-fledged marketing tool. You’ve likely seen pricey gluten free items at the grocery store and on restaurant menus. You want a gluten-free bun for your bacon cheeseburger? You can certainly get it, but be prepared to hand over an extra toonie for your meal.
Don’t conflate gluten-free with healthy. Sure, some healthy food items are indeed gluten free. But do you know what else is? Ghirardelli chocolate. McDonald’s fries. Lay’s potato chips.
As a country, we are overweight. As a continent, we are even more overweight. The idea that our obesity problem is being caused by a certain protein found in our whole wheat bread, and not by the two billion pounds of bacon we eat every year, is utterly ludicrous. Americans drink 45 gallons of sugary soft drinks per year; I hardly think a piece of multi-grain toast in the morning is what is doing us in.
The exceptions to this, of course, are those with celiac disease. Clearly, if you’re allergic to wheat or peanuts or strawberries, you should not be eating wheat or peanuts or strawberries.
As with any fad diet, people that see results do so because, by default, they have started watching what they put in their mouths. They likely snack less and consume fewer calories, which makes them lose weight. This is not a new concept.
If calorie restriction wrapped in a gluten-free package is what works for you, more power to you. But no diet trend — be it gluten-free, low carb, paleo, or anything else — should be seen as anything more than an elaborate (and usually expensive) version of healthy eating. Reducing caloric intake to lose weight isn’t the new magic pill we’re all looking for, but it really is the only one out there.
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