Saturday, March 28, 2015

It's Time To Stop Bashing Gluten Free Diets

It is very empowering to change your relationship to food. This, I believe, is the major reason the gluten free movement has taken hold and is here to stay. I’m not talking about those people with celiac disease, like two of my family members, or those with wheat allergies. Eating gluten free for them is a medical necessity. But for the remainder of the 22% of Americans estimated by Mintel to be following a gluten free diet, no amount of gluten-free scare tactics will change their minds. They feel better, and they believe it has improved their health. 

It doesn’t matter why people follow a gluten free diet. They are reading labels. They are conscious of what they are eating. They are experimenting with their diet rather than relying on pharmaceuticals. Yet the same folks who have industrialized our food system with additives, preservatives, and sprayed on vitamins want to convince us it is dangerous to follow a gluten free diet—they warn us we won’t get the required nutrients and fiber. As if we are eating healthier following a processed wheat-based diet? After all, pizza is the fourth largest source of fiber in the American diet.

As you know, I am a manufacturer of gluten free bread and pizza products. Of course, you say, I have a vested interest in believing that gluten free is not a fad. Not really. I never encourage anyone to take up a gluten-free diet unless I feel it is warranted. Despite its popularity, it is a challenging and inconvenient diet that requires vigilance.

My oldest son, now 25, has a life-threatening seizure disorder. Before eating gluten free, he never went more than six months without a status seizure requiring hospitalization. Unlike my younger son and husband, he does not have celiac disease, yet his seizures have been eradicated on a gluten-free diet. As his case illustrates, the effects gluten have on us are not well understood. But it is not a reason to mock those that follow a gluten-free diet.

Every day, I communicate with gluten-free consumers who never have any intention of eating gluten again, regardless of what they hear or read.  News organizations frequently refer to a 2013 study published in the journal, Gasteroenterology, that questions the validity of non-celiac gluten intolerance, yet it studied only gastrointestinal symptoms and fatigue. It did not address individuals who find conditions like brain fog, skin disorders, migraines, depression, chronic fatigue, infertility, osteopenia, and joint pain improve or are eliminated when they remove gluten from their diets.

As if it is not enough to debunk gluten sensitivity, nearly everyday an article appears warning us of the dangers of a gluten free diet. A recent article entitled, “The Dangers of Going Gluten Free,” criticized the nutritional value of gluten free products. It asserted that gluten free manufacturers have to put more sugar and sodium in products to compensate for gluten in order to make the products more appealing to consumers. That’s news to me. Does this mean that foods like Twinkies are better for us than, say, gluten free cupcakes? And, why is a gluten-free diet considered bad for you if you are not a celiac, but not bad for you if you are? A gluten-free diet is no more “dangerous” than many other common diets, such as vegetarian, vegan, or a Paleo diet. And, how can a gluten free diet be criticized for being more dangerous than a lifetime of medication? One suspects the only real “danger” in gluten-free diets is the threat it presents to conventional industrial food manufacturers.

 It’s time to stop bashing gluten sensitivity, and maybe start listening to those who feel better on a gluten-free diet. Gluten free is neither a fad nor a trend. It is a recognition that we really are what we eat, and controlling we eat is often a much less risky and less expensive way of addressing what ails us.

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