Going Against the Grain
In recent years, a numerous amount of people have started to avoid products containing gluten and see this protein as a threat to their health. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley which can cause an unpleasant reaction to people with gluten-related disorders.
On a gluten-free diet, the protein, gluten, needs to be fully removed from the grains and foods (Gluten Intolerance Group par. 02). In the past, gluten was a word that not a single person had even heard and, it was referred to differently: monosodium glutamate (MSG). It was frequent to hear that MSG caused migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, and many other complicated symptoms. After a load of demanding studies and clinical trials were made, it was suggested that MSG didn’t contribute to the intense and horrible symptoms people claimed they had.
Food experts believe that the reactions to MSG people assumed they had were psychological, not physiological. Many people that have stopped consuming gluten on a daily basis have claimed to have broader changes in their lifestyle. Maybe the headaches disappeared, but was it the absence of MSG or by eating less fast food? Many experts say that the beliefs about certain ingredients being “silent killers” are myths and assumptions since there is no evidence due to advanced scientific progresses that have remained constant for decades (Levinovitz). Today, the same thing is being applied to gluten, targeting it like the enemy like MSG. Gluten isn’t bad if one isn’t gluten-sensitive or gluten-intolerant.
The most known form of gluten intolerance, affecting one in every 141 people in the United States, is Celiac Disease “which is an autoimmune disease in which the person isn’t absorbing different kinds of food in your intestine” (Rangel). Some of the symptoms people with gluten intolerance experienced were: “abdominal pain, diarrhea, numbness in hands and feet, chronic fatigue, joint pain, unexplained infertility and low bone density” (Gluten Intolerance Group par. 04). Another well known intolerance is called non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) which is when people experience an unpleasant reaction towards gluten but don’t necessarily have celiac disease (Gluten Intolerance Group par. 06).
According to a 2015 study, NCGS appeared to be more common in females and young adults, also reporting that many patients appear to diagnose and treat themselves with a diet free of gluten without consulting their doctor (Bradford par. 08). The first step when analyzing both conditions is a panel of blood tests to look for an antibody response to gluten. If the results from the test are positive, the next step is an endoscopy to show the intestinal cell damage which is considered the gold standard of celiac disease diagnosis. Currently, no diagnostic tests for NCGS are available since it’s a “rule out” diagnosis, but the celiac diagnostic testing is made so, it is possible that a person might have an allergic reaction to gluten but don’t necessarily have Celiac Disease (Gluten Intolerance Group par.
06). According to the Mayo Clinic, 80 percent of the people going on gluten-free diets don’t have a celiac disease diagnosis. Experts find this worrying because going on these diets could be harmful to someone’s health since gluten-free products are often nutrient-deficient. Dr. Refaat Hegazi, a medical director, says that cutting gluten from one’s diet can affect the body in many ways including changes in weight and cognitive function (Bradford par. 13).
Additionally, dietitian Kristin Kirkpatrick has noted multiple misconceptions about gluten, including why some people believe gluten makes people fat. She claimed that gluten doesn’t make one fat, instead “calories make you fat regardless of where those calories are coming from, whether they’re coming from brown rice, which is gluten-free or a wheat bagel”. Some gluten-free products contain extra sugar or calories to make them more appetizing and to make up for the absence of gluten (Harrah par. 02). According to Dr.
Leffler, “The average American diet is deficient in fiber, take away whole wheat and the problem gets worse” (Strawbridge par. 03). In other words, the presence or absence of gluten isn’t associated to the diet quality a person has, what matters most is the food choices made within the diet (Gluten Intolerance Group par. 03). Despite the lack of evidence to support going gluten-free or the lack of knowledge about a healthy gluten-free diet, many people are still against the grain, ultimately leading to spending too much on unnecessarily expensive food products.
According to a 2008 study made by researchers at Dalhousie University, products free of gluten were 241% more expensive than the regular counterparts. A study made in 2015 by the New Yorker stated that that “sales of gluten-free products will exceed $16 billion in 2016”. Many people might still be against gluten and might consider it dangerous and harmful, however, numerous studies recently made haven’t yet proven gluten to be bad and it has led to many experts wonder if gluten avoiders are doing themselves more harm than good (Harrah par. 04). With the internet being so accessible nowadays, people can get ideas and get influenced by things they find online that claim to be the “best diet out there”. Millenials are so caught up trying to be fit and healthy that they often find themselves getting into diets that give them the opposite results.
How did gluten become the scapegoat in the first place? Could it be that pharmaceuticals wanted to help people, or simply gain money in a faster way? So, is it wise to ignore such fallacies and exaggerated claims found in tabloid articles about health, or continue going against this grain?