The Gluten-Free Frenzy

by Sandy Todd Webster on Apr 27, 2013

Food for Thought

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% 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.

PHOTOGRAPHY: evhoffman

IDEA Fitness Journal, Volume 10, Issue 5

© 2013 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

About the Author

Sandy Todd Webster

Sandy Todd Webster IDEA Author/Presenter

Sandy Todd Webster is Editor in Chief of IDEA's publications, including the award-winning IDEA FITNESS JOURNAL, the health and fitness industry's leading resource for fitness and wellness professional...

13 Comments

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  • Monica Pricard

    I have a thyroid condition, Hashimoto's, it is an autoimmune condition. I have had doctors recommend a gluten free diet as the gluten in many foods prevents the thyroid, which is already under active, to function as it should. I take two medications daily and avoid gluten. I am always surprised that this condition is rarely listed as being a reason to go gluten-free. I know others with this condition that have not been advised to be gluten free by their doctors and would be very interested to see if your sources might have answers to help those of us with Hashimoto's make an educated decision. I will continue to avoid gluten but if this is part of the trend and it is on the way out I would gladly jump on board as it is hard to dine out and afford the $7 loaf of bread.
    Commented Mar 02, 2015
  • Lisa Garcia

    I have the same issue as Tom and Victoria with the bloating and gas. I've been gluten free for 2 months and the symptoms are gone. If I accidentally get a hold of something that has some gluten, like in a sauce, I know immediately. I feel great and being gluten free has made me more conscious of eating other foods I never did before. I feel more full and complete on a rainbow of fruits and vegetables then I ever did before. I not longer have that burning feeling in the pit of stomach. I do believe it's all the modifications our overly processed Standard American Diet (SAD) has in it. And when you go gluten free, don't reach for products in a box, eat whole foods and rediscover a rainbow. Make sure you include the holy trinity of foods, onion, garlic and ginger to add more benefit from your foods.
    Commented Apr 06, 2014
  • User

    I too experience the same issues of bloating, constipation, gas(sometimes very painful, and feeling lethargic. I exercise regularly, follow a healthy eating plan which used to include a lot of whole grains. I have been tested by my Dr., although I'm not celiac, I do have a gluten sensitivity. I feel great and symptom free of the issues mentioned above until I eat gluten. I have been a big bread eater all of my life and did not have any problems until the last 3-4 years. I do believe that GMO is to blame and wish that they would quit messing with our food sources.
    Commented Apr 02, 2014
  • Tom Edson

    I have experienced the same range of problems identified by Victoria: chronic bloating, mild cramping, gas, etc. I tested negative for celiac disease, but as I reduced the volume of wheat and gluten-producing products in my diet I gained some relief from the chronic problems. If I re-introduce wheat or gluten products back into my diet, then the same symptoms return immediately--if not with a vengeance. A few, recent studies suggest that genetic modification of the wheat genome may be causing digestive issues for populations not affected by celiac. Such modifications are introduced at a rate far more rapid than can be accommodated by digestive bacteria in the gut. More research should be conducted to make this connection clearer.
    Commented Apr 02, 2014
  • User

    Victoria, I don't eat much bread but like the occasional piece of toast too. There are several gluten free breads on the market. Our family favorite is Rudi's Gluten Free Bakery. Check Von's, Safeway and Whole Foods for Rudi's varieties including cinnamon raisin that is wonderful. They make a selection of whole grain breads too. Another is Udi's who also offer a good selection. I really like their hamburger buns. I toast all of these breads for a better texture. Keep feeling better!
    Commented Apr 01, 2014
  • Victoria Kinghorn

    by "non-gluten", I mean an item with a specific recipe to make it non-gluten. Although, it is made from whole ingredients. I agree 100% about avoiding processed foods.
    Commented Apr 01, 2014
  • Victoria Kinghorn

    I am 48 and in the past two years have experienced digestive issues, abdominal bloating and some weight gain. I am a reasonably healthy person, eat plenty of fresh produce and a primarily plant based diet. I also exercise regularly. I figured it was the near onset of menopause, but when that blood work didn't seem to be the reason, we checked many other things and came up with nothing. My doctor suggested trying gluten free and sure enough, stomach went down 3 inches in two weeks. (no other measurements changed.) I am no longer having cramping, bloating, gas and other digestive issues. The only non-gluten thing I eat is a couple of pieces of toast. On the weekend we also make gluten free pancakes from scratch. I think there is something to it and not everyone is celiac. I am happy to choose rice, or millet and to stay away from wheat. I feel so much better and I don't look pregnant anymore!
    Commented Apr 01, 2014
  • User

    Gluten also can contribute to inflammation in the body. Those of us with RA certainly can feel these effects.
    Commented Apr 01, 2014
  • User

    Good article. I think for the majority of us that do not need to eat gluten free foods should just rely on moderation of certain foods.
    Commented Apr 01, 2014
  • Kristy Wegert

    I wonder that myself. I have a wheat allergy that reared its head while I was in my early 30s. Would that be due to the change in wheat processing and the introduction of GMOs?
    Commented Apr 01, 2014
  • View Previous Comments

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