Gluten-free Goes Mainstream: A Double-Edged Sword | Rachel Begun, MS, RD

Courtesy of The Wall Street Journal

A big thumbs up to Melinda Beck of The Wall Street Journal for writing the following article that ran on Tuesday, Giving Up Gluten to Lose Weight? Not So Fast: Diet Regimen Effective in Treating Celiac Disease, But Not for Shedding Pounds.

The article is one of the best written on the gluten-free topic by a national/mainstream journalist.  I liked it so much, it made it into my hard copy files, and very few articles do.

The article is a must-read if you are interested in learning about:

  • The differences between Celiac Disease, gluten sensitivity and wheat allergy and how they each affect the body
  • New research about the potential relationship between gluten sensitivity and “leaky gut” and how this may be the cause for psychiatric and behavioral changes/symptoms
  • The relationship between autism and eating gluten-free
  • The role environment plays in the increasing prevalence of Celiac and gluten sensitivity
  • Why a gluten-free diet is not appropriate as a weight-loss plan
  • The biochemistry of Celiac and gluten sensitivity

I have to admit, though, that I like this article mostly for its indirect effect of dissuading the mainstream population from going gluten-free for weight loss purposes.  For starters, it should be known that many gluten-free alternatives on the market today consist largely of starch fillers and, therefore, are lower in fiber and nutrients than the products they are substituting.  A true weight loss plan should consist primarily of whole, unprocessed foods that are nutrient-dense. 

More importantly, though, when non-gluten-sensitive individuals share inaccurate and inconsistent information with restaurant waiters and foodservice providers, they dilute the educational and awareness efforts that the gluten-free community has worked long and hard to bring to the larger population.

For example, a person on a gluten-free diet for weight loss purposes sits down at a restaurant and tells his waiter that he can’t have any gluten in his meal.  He declines the bread, orders his chicken entrée grilled instead of fried and replaces the bottled salad dressing with oil and vinegar, yet he takes a bite of his friend’s cake for dessert as a reward for sticking to his diet all week.  What kind of message does this send to the waiter?  It says that people on gluten-free diets can eat gluten in small amounts some of the time.

And how does this affect the next customer that comes into the restaurant and truly needs to avoid gluten?  Unless the waiter has been highly trained and educated to serve gluten-free customers, it is likely that he won’t be as vigilant with serving a truly gluten-free meal to the person that really needs it.

This is just one example of the negative effects of gluten-free going mainstream.  For more insight into this, a great blog post to check out is Some Thoughts on the Recent Trendiness of the Gluten-free Diet by Triumph Dining’s The Essential Gluten-free Blog. 

Just like with most things, gluten-free going mainstream is a double-edged sword.  The level of awareness has been raised for sure, but so has the level of misinformation.

For the most part, though, gluten-free going mainstream is a good thing.  I really enjoyed drinking a (gluten-free) beer at CitiField earlier this summer!

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One Response to Gluten-free Goes Mainstream: A Double-Edged Sword

  1. Shakira B. says:

    I was at Panera Bread recently – okay its not a gluten-free haven with all the bread around but they do have a few salads and soups that are GF. But I couldn’t remember the soups so I asked. They pulled out this big binder and was flipping thru. They were not familiar with their Gf options. So I guess it is not completely mainstream, I am just glad I can go to a place like Panera and get a quick bite that is GF.

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