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Facts and fiction about food and cooking, by Peter Aitken
Gluten is bad for your health
October 17, 2014Posted by on
Gluten is a protein found in wheat and related grains (barley, rye, bulgur, farro, kamut, spelt, triticale, and according to some people, oats). Gluten gives bread dough its elasticity and helps it to rise. Gluten has been getting a bad rap lately, a rap that is undeserved. Unfortunately, it has become trendy to avoid gluten, and all too many people leave their brains in neutral and buy into all the scare-mongering that has grown up around gluten (much of which, needless to say, comes from people trying to sell you gluten-free products).
It’s true that about 1% of people have a true gluten allergy (celiac disease), and consuming even small amounts of gluten can cause these people great distress and serious medical problems. For the rest of us, however, there is nothing to worry about. After all, gluten has been part of the human diet for some 10,000 years, and there is not a single shred of legitimate medical evidence linking gluten to autism, Alzheimer’s, or any other health issues. Really, not a shred! Some folks claim to have lost weight with a gluten-free diet. Well duh, if you don’t eat any bread, bagels, cake, or pasta, that will happen! Some folks claim to simply “feel better” without gluten, but that’s a subjective response that may be more the result of eating a lot fewer carbs without being directly related to gluten at all. It’s also the case that when eating gluten-free, it’s very easy to short yourself on the fiber, vitamins, and minerals that are found in gluten-containing grains.
So, if you want to be trendy by avoiding gluten, go right ahead, but don’t fool yourself into thinking you are getting any health benefits.
I would like to begin by saying that I am in agreement with the criticism of the current gluten free craze. I’m not a fan of any fads. This one is reflected by gluten free labels on every manner of food item even if it’s obvious gluten wouldn’t occur in a particular product–soy milk for example. But that doesn’t mean that gluten may not be bad for the health of certain individuals.
I realized the benefits of a gluten free diet very long before it became trendy. I was in my twenties in the early seventies. I had always been athletic, on the soccer team and the ski team, etc. I also ran quite a bit and noticed that, after and during running I began to feel like I had been over-training, with muscle fatigue, the feeling of lactic acid build-up and a great dimunition in performance. I began to experiment with fasting. I noticed that when I fasted, not only did my muscle fatigue greatly improve, hay fever symptoms I had been experiencing for several years suddenly cleared up. Over time, by gradually re-introducing foods, I became pretty certain that gluten containing grains seemed to have a negative impact on my health, especially the muscle symptoms I just described.
I love wheat products so never dropped them completely which has made it all the more obvious that consuming them does adversley affect me. Over the years I asked several doctors about my discovery and was told that there was no research to support it. But in the last 10 years or so I started getting a different answer. The impression that I got was that some doctors (at least) no longer insist that no one has a problem with wheat or other gluten containing grains unless they have an allergy or Celiac Disease.
I’m not here to argue whether or not there is any proof of what I’ve said. I can only say that avoiding gluten containing grains has had health benefits for me over many years. I don’t know whether the bad guy is gluten or some other constituent. I believe that some researchers are intrigued and are studying the subject. There is a lot that science has yet to discover or prove, but that doesn’t mean that something not yet proven is only a myth.
Here are two abstracts from PubMed, a very respectable source. The first is more supportive of the original poster’s opinion, the second is more interested in further possibilities. I think it’s important to note that neither article rules out the possibility of other grain or gluten related health effects.
Celiac disease, wheat allergy, and gluten sensitivity: when gluten free is not a fad: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22237879
Non-celiac gluten sensitivity: literature review:
Here’s another article from the Mayo Clinic site, another respectable source:
PCLE helps visualize changes in gut permeability:
In fact, the more I learn about gluten and its effects on the body, the more I think we’d all probably be better off not eating it. Mark Sisson has written extensively about the dangers of gluten and gluten-containing grains
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