Are You Part of the Gluten-Free Frenzy?

Diet Facts:

Chances are that you, one of your friends or a client has adopted a gluten-free diet.

In fact, that is reality—according to a recent poll by The NPD Group, a leading global information company, that showed about 30 percent of adults want to cut down or be free of gluten in their diets. This is the highest percentage claiming this stance since NPD began asking the question in 2009. Harry Balzer, chief industry analyst and author of Eating Patterns in America, points out that as recently as 2011, it appeared that this “health” trend might have run its course, but then more Americans started to say they would like to cut back or avoid gluten.

Are Americans just bandwagoning on this trend, or are there legitimate reasons to follow it?

Natalie Digate Muth, MD, MPH, RD, is a pediatrician at Pediatric Medical Associates in Vista, California, a registered dietitian, and a senior health strategist for the American Council on Exercise. She thinks that while there are valid reasons to cut gluten, a lot of people have unnecessarily joined the gluten- free bandwagon.

“Of course, food manufacturers pick up on this and start taking the gluten out of everything, increasing the price, and promoting [products] as gluten-free,” she says. “For most people, there is nothing ‘bad’ about gluten. It doesn't make you gain weight. It doesn't clog your arteries. It doesn't increase your blood pressure or cholesterol. And, for most people, it doesn't cause stomach pains, cramping, bloating, diarrhea or constipation.

According to Muth, only about 1% of the population has celiac disease. Anyone in this category should avoid gluten altogether. There are other people who do have gluten sensitivity and respond negatively to gluten even though they don't have celiac disease, according to new research. But before adopting a gluten-free diet, those who think they may have a gluten reaction should discuss this with their physician.

“Many foods that are naturally gluten-free are foods that people should definitely eat more of—namely, fruits and vegetables—[so doing this might help people eat] fewer processed foods,” Muth says. “But when food marketers go to lengths to remove gluten, you still end up with processed foods; they just no longer have gluten. And, for the vast majority of us, whole grains (and whole wheat) are good for us. We should be eating them.”

That said, if people who have adopted "gluten-free" diets are eating a generally healthy and balanced diet, the overall risk of developing any significant nutritional deficiency is low, Muth says. But all of the time, energy and expense of going gluten-free is unlikely to be worth it for most people.

Does cutting gluten wholesale from the diet remind anyone of the fat-free craze of the late 1980s and early 1990s? More important, do you remember where that got us? Share your views on this issue with editor in chief Sandy Todd Webster at swebster@ideafit.com.

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Sandy Todd Webster

IDEA Author/Presenter
Sandy Todd Webster is Editor in Chief of IDEA's publications, including the award-winning IDEA FITNE... more less
May 2013

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Article Comments

Kay Monahan
On May 21, 2013
Not sure where Muth gets her "1% of population has CD". According to Celiac Foundation 1 in 133 people have CD. Most all gluten comes from GMO sourcing and this seems to be contributing to the amount of toxins our body has to deal with inflammation wise. Also, increasing stress levels deplete of vitamin B levels which help digest carbs. Being a nutrionist and wellness coach I think gluten is nasty and toxic. I certainly would never suggest anyone to eat it unless it's non GMO.
Kristin Leung
On May 23, 2013
I am one of the many people who do not have CD, but suffer from severe gluten intolerance. Just a couple bites will not only send me running to the bathroom, but will also leave me incapacitated with migraines, wild mood swings and other symptoms for the next 3 days.
Going gluten free was not an option for me and is certainly not a phase or fad. Additionally, I did not lose weight after I went gf; I gained approximately 20 pounds because I was able to keep food in.
Kara Rittenhouse
On May 23, 2013
Were do you find these Dr.'s at? Just because they have an ABC soup after their name doesn't make them an expert on the subject. Gluten free diets also benefit people who have food intolerance or allergic reactions to gluten or one/many of the grains. Not to mention your correlation to fat reduction and carb loading of the 90's (which increased the processed chemicals in food to achieve this) vs cutting out one type of grain and eating a more whole based foods diet make zero sense! Did you even interview people who "jumped on the bandwagon" or Nutritionist that have first hand experience with helping clients transition and what their results were/are? Maybe a re-write is needed!
Jo Welch
On May 23, 2013
I agree with Sandy Webster's column. Firstly, 1/133 rounds correctly to 1%. Certainly anyone who suspects that s/he has celiac disease should be tested and anyone with symptoms of gluten intolerance should remove gluten (not just wheat-based foods) from their diet for a while to see if the symptoms lessen. Keep in mind that some other grains also contain gluten. Regarding GMO wheat, Kay, you are incorrect. The wheat we consume is GMO-free! (PhD, Nutrition)
Tina Richard
On May 27, 2013
I started a gluten free perspective not because I was diagnosed but if there was some chance that I was having inflammation, even slight, in my gut I wanted to be prime to absorb nutrients. It did relieve some gastrointestinal discomfort in the process. It is a shame that gluten free products are marked up so much but if you stay away from bread and sweets gluten free diets end up being regular meals of fresh fruit, vegetables and self-prepared meats instead of processed foods.

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