Monday, July 4, 2016
One More Time: Gluten-free
I have met people who are dedicated to following a gluten-free diet and persuading their family to do so. I have been at functions where food was served with the assurance that it was gluten-free. I want to turn to the host and say, “Thank you, but fortunately I don’t have celiac disease.” I’m sure they wouldn’t get it.
A gluten-free diet (GFD) has become a fad with people strongly committed to it to the point where more and more companies are advertising that their products are gluten-free. I recently heard an ad on a public radio entertainment show where a brand of vodka closed with the words “and it’s gluten-free.” Thereupon I could hear in the background light laughter from the audience, who apparently thought it was a joke as part of the show, but the ad was totally serious. The audience was right to chuckle though. Scientific American (among others) points out: “Distilled spirits, because of the distillation process, should contain no detectable gluten residues or gluten peptide residues.”
But all those companies know their potential customers are getting information that gluten free is healthier from celebrities and other unreliable sources. “The gluten-free industry enjoyed a growth of 136% from 2013 to 2015, reaching estimated sales of $11.6 billion” unrelated to any increase in celiac disease.
But where is the harm, besides paying more for something you don’t need? According to this article in The Pediatric Journal, “there are no data supporting the presumed health benefits” of a gluten-free diet. “Gluten-free packaged foods frequently contain a greater density of fat and sugar than their gluten-containing counterparts,” which can lead to problems for children such as obesity and new-onset insulin resistance.
Furthermore, a gluten-free diet for children can delay a real diagnosis of celiac disease, which has been linked to anemia, osteoporosis, diabetes, autoimmune thyroid disease and intestinal cancers.
The article goes on. “There is emerging evidence that those consuming gluten- free products without sufficient diversity may be at greater risk of exposure to certain toxins than those on an unrestricted diet. Arsenic is frequently present in inorganic form in rice, a concern for those on a GFD given that rice is a common ingredient in gluten-free processed foods. Serum mercury levels were 4-fold greater among adults with CD consuming a GFD than controls not restricting gluten.”
So what many uninformed or misinformed people see as a panacea is potentially a danger. But it seems that bad information drives out good information and once the superstitions get a foothold, they are hard to dislodge. (More about the new mythologies and the battle with critical thinking in the near future.)