Are You Gluten-Free and Feeling Good?
If you’ve joined the gluten-free craze and started avoiding all wheat and wheat products, you are not alone. Millions of Americans have jumped on the gluten-free bandwagon. Proponents say it has improved their lives in countless ways, claiming benefits that range from newfound freedom from allergies, to falling body weight, to better energy levels.
That’s all to the good. But it’s also curious. Experts point out that only a very small minority of individuals possess a genetic defect that renders the wheat protein complex called gluten downright harmful and dangerous. These folks have an illness called celiac disease. Avoiding wheat, rye, and barley is a matter of dire need for these folks. But experts have struggled to explain the apparent rise in the numbers of people who claim to be “gluten-intolerant”. Despite claims to the contrary, modern wheat varieties do not provide appreciably more gluten than ancient varieties. So what’s really going on? Are growing numbers of people really becoming intolerant of a food that many would argue allowed civilization to blossom?
A new investigation by researchers at the University of Warwick in England examines these questions. Despite all the gluten-free hype, the scientists were unimpressed.
"Other than for the 2% of the population with a specific gluten or wheat intolerance, the scientific evidence behind many of the most popular wheat and carbohydrate-free diets turns out to be surprisingly thin and selectively used,” wrote Senior Research Fellow Rob Lillywhite, in a press release. “Some will result in a short-term reduction in body weight but the same result could be achieved in the long-term by eating less of higher quality or relatively unprocessed foods. The low-carbohydrate diet has now generated its own industry and new product development in the 'free-from' sector means that a typical low-cereal and carbohydrate diet may cost most people more, yet deliver less."
Investigators also pointed out: “The various components present in whole grains may act synergistically to help improve bowel function and provide protection against gastrointestinal cancers, inflammation, and other disease states while strengthening barrier function and providing immune support.” All of which suggests that unless you’ve been diagnosed with celiac disease, there’s no real reason to snub wheat or wheat products, because whole grains of all sorts can be an important part of a healthy diet.
Have you jumped on the gluten-free bandwagon? I’d love to hear your comments about your own experiences with avoiding—or embracing—whole wheat.
University of Warwick. "Wheat in diet: Study on health impact of wheat challenges Stone Age myths and costly diets, providing you go whole grain." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 November 2014.