Some of the reasons that Gluten Free Diets are on the Rise
Celiac disease and wheat allergies not being properly diagnosed
Though celiac disease is estimated as afflicting approximately 1% of the population, A 2012 Mayo Clinic survey suggests that celiac disease may be underdiagnosed. Up to 1.4 of the 1.8 million Americans thought to have celiac disease may not know they do [ref.19]. As the study at the University of L’Aquila in Italy found – of the 392 study participants that thought themselves to be gluten-sensitive, 6.63% of those participants actually tested positive for Celiac Disease, a far larger percentage than the 1% of the population estimated to have Celiac Disease. Behind the misdiagnosis of Celiac, an allergy to wheat is one of the other contributors to symptoms mis-associated to gluten sensitivity.
After being confined to health-food stores for years, gluten-free foods now show up everywhere. Supermarket aisles abound with products proudly labeled “Gluten free,” and many restaurants now offer gluten-free options. Fueled in part by recent bestselling books, and the television talk shows and celebrity endorsements that accompany them that warn of the evils of gluten in our diets, a significant proportion of our population is rapidly changing its eating habits. The gluten-free trend—and the accompanying multibillion-dollar industry it has created—stems from the spreading the unsubstantiated beliefs that eating foods containing gluten may not only result in weight gain and obesity, but can also lead to a laundry list of ailments ranging from alzheimers and anxiety to arthritis and autism, just to name a few.
The Placebo & Nocebo effect
The placebo effect will have people experience the benefits of drugs that are really just sugar pills [ref.20]. As Muhammad Ali regularly professed “I am the greatest”, said: “if you say something enough, people will start to believe it.” Afterall, we’ve spent the last 5 + years reading that gluten is the devil, so it’s pretty hard not to absorb and internalize some of that information. So if you everyone around you and scores of celebrities are professing to feel better on a gluten free diet, it may be that you don’t actually suffer from a sensitivity to gluten, but you still might feel better because you expect to.
For some people, something called the “nocebo effect” may be at work. It’s like the flip side of the placebo effect, whereby If you believe something – be it a pill or a protein (i.e gluten) – will cause you physical harm, it can, even if it’s actually innocuous… which would explain why many of those who reintroduce gluten into their diet after having gone gluten-free are convinced they feel worse.
The Belief That a Gluten Free Diet will Aid in Weight Loss
This is a myth as most gluten-free products are not only higher in calories, but in fat, sugar and sodium as well, not to mention having less fibre and protein than the same products that contain gluten.
Nutrient data obtained from the USDA Food Composition Database
Is a gluten free diet for you?
Carol Johnston, professor and associate director of the Nutrition Program in the College of Health Solutions says: “There is no clear evidence that avoiding gluten offers any health benefits for the majority of the population.” This is a sentiment that is echoed by most health professionals, who further go on to warn about the harmful side effects of a gluten-free diet if you have not been diagnosed to have celiac disease, a wheat allergy or sensitivity.
Gluten is important for the absorption of iron, calcium and fiber, vitamins A, D, E, K, and folate [ref.21]. Taking gluten out of your diet may lead to nutritional deficiencies. Studies have also shown groups with the highest intakes of whole grains including wheat (2-3 servings daily) compared with groups eating the lowest amounts (less than 2 servings daily) were found to have significantly lower rates of heart disease and stroke, and development of type 2 diabetes.
Grains are also one of the best sources of beneficial prebiotics. Eliminating those beneficial prebiotics in grains may change the healthy gut microflora and increase the risk for chronic disease. [ref.23] Arabinoxylan oligosaccharide is a prebiotic carbohydrate derived from wheat bran that has been shown to stimulate the activity of bifidobacteria in the colon. These bacteria are normally found in a healthy human gut. Changes in their amount or activity have been associated with gastrointestinal diseases including inflammatory bowel disease, colorectal cancer, and irritable bowel syndrome. [ref.24]
With the rise of an awareness of promoting ‘gut health’, it is likely that gluten-free diets for those without a diagnosis of celiac, a wheat allergy or sensitivity, is a diet trend on its way out.
Like celiac disease and wheat allergies, a wheat sensitivity is not as prevalent as many believe. What’s more, eating a gluten-free diet isn’t necessarily healthier, nor is it recommended for weight loss. It’s important to find out if you’ve been sucked into a trendy fad or it’s a legitimate health strategy for you.
If you find yourself suspecting you have a gluten sensitivity, the thing to do is to first get yourself tested by a doctor for a wheat allergy and for celiac disease. If both come back negative, keep a detailed food and symptom log for two full weeks. Write down the time of everything you eat with details – down to the brand when appropriate – and the time of any adverse symptoms you may experience. Bring this information to a reputable registered dietitian – ideally one who specializes in food allergy or gastrointestinal issues and doesn’t sell any supplements, so that he/she can help you identify the common threads among likely trigger foods or meals. This exercise will most likely yield a sane, manageable diet trial that you can undertake toward identifying the precise nature of your symptoms.