First of all, we’d like to say that the only reason for this article is to help you make informed food choices.
Gluten-free diet: Truth? Myth? Diet fad? A commercial trick?
Perhaps, it’s a little bit exaggerating, but it seems that a new health myth, a new diet fad, has been taking people by storm.
If you’re considering limiting your consumption of gluten, you’re certainly not alone. But the question is – will restricting the gluten you eat improve your health? And will it make you feel better? It’s appealing to think so.
Most popular diet fads
Not so long ago, relatively few people had ever heard of gluten. The interest and enthusiasm surrounding the gluten-free food movement in recent years has been remarkable. After all, health fads – especially diet fads – have come and gone for decades.
Keto diet, intermittent fasting, vegan diet, paleo diet, low-fat diet, no-salt diet, cholesterol-free diet, raw food diet, flexitarian diet, volumetrics diet ... Some are more worthy than others. We have seen so many fad diets that it was truly hard to pick just one.
Have you ever heard of a cigarette diet? No mistakes, the cigarette diet! Yes, it was amazingly popular in 1920s for weight loss focusing on tobacco’s ability to suppress one’s appetite. As unusual as this might seem today with all the regulations on smoking and health warnings, Lucky Strike, the cigarette company, introduced and promoted this diet. Can’t imagine this being popular today, but then again with the rise in e-cigarettes, nothing would be surprising.
Why people are blindly following fad diets? Herd Instinct?
Robert H. Shmerling, MD, is the former clinical chief at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center now practicing in Boston, MA. He has over 37 years of experience in arthritis and autoimmune diseases than other specialists in his area. He graduated from Harvard Medical School medical school in 1983.
“The dangers of gluten have probably been overstated – and oversold. Don’t be swayed by an elite athlete or movie star to restrict your diet when there’s no medical reason to do so.”
Gluten-free diet – truth, myth, diet fad, or a commercial trick?
Dr. R.H. Shmerling says that a diet could be identified as a myth, or diet fad, if:
- There is no compelling scientific evidence to support it.
- There is at least some scientific evidence against it.
- There is a pseudo-scientific explanation that may have intuitive appeal (for example, enemas to “detoxify” the colon).
- The idea defies standard understanding of biology or has no reasonable biologic explanation. An example is a diet that is said to help you lose weight despite increasing your caloric intake and reducing exercise.
So why are gluten-free diets so popular?
The main reasons for a growing number of healthy people blindly following a gluten-free diet are:
- Healthier choice: People think that a gluten-free diet is a healthier choice.
- Intuition: it just seems like a good idea.
- Belief: People believe that it may improve nonspecific gastrointestinal symptoms
- Availability: Gluten-free products are now more widely available
- Self-diagnosing: a large number of people are self-diagnosing themselves with gluten sensitivity. The logic is: if gluten is bad for people with celiac disease, maybe it’s bad for me.
- Celebrity endorsement: If eliminating gluten is encouraged by someone I admire, maybe I should give it a try.
- Testimonials: hearing about someone with bothersome symptoms that finally went away after eliminating gluten is difficult to ignore.
- Commercial marketing trick: Big corporations selling gluten-free products or books about gluten-free diets can be convincing even if there’s little science to back it up.
Why people are blindly following gluten-free diets?
Multiple factors have contributed to the spike of gluten-free diets, including media coverage, aggressive consumer-directed marketing, and non-scientific reports regarding the benefits of gluten avoidance, such as improvement of other health-related symptoms.
With a gluten-free diet presented in popular media as a healthy diet, more and more healthy people who do not have any symptoms after ingesting gluten are going gluten free.
- A 2013 study found that 65% of American adults think gluten-free foods are healthier, and 27% choose gluten-free products to aid in weight loss. According to the US National Health Nutrition Examination Surveys 2009-2014, about 1.76 million people in the U.S. had celiac disease and 2.7 million people were following a gluten-free diet without having celiac disease.
- According to the mvhealthsystem.org website, only about 1% (about 3.3 million) of the US population suffers from gluten sensitivity, yet nearly a third (about 100 million!) of the population would prefer to reduce or avoid gluten. It means that the percentage of Americans who follow a gluten-free diet is 30 times higher than the percentage of Americans with a gluten-related illness.
National Post about gluten free diets
In 2013, National Post published an article “Gluten free craze growing: only 1% of Canadians are celiacs, but 9 million people are on restricted diet, industry expert claims.” The title says it all. Of the “adopters’ who avoid gluten for non-medical reasons, 25% do it to lose weight, 25% do it for general health, 40% say they feel better and some avoid it out of sympathy for a family member.
Nothing toxic about gluten
Many Americans believe that gluten itself is unhealthy, but it’s not true. Furthermore, evidence suggests that a gluten-free diet puts your health at risk.
Only those with celiac disease and other diagnosed gluten intolerances require gluten avoidance. If you’re unconvinced and insist on adopting a gluten-free diet, consider the following facts to make an informed decision about modifying your diet.
A Gluten-Free Diet, Not an Appropriate Choice without a Medical Diagnosis
In 2019, a very informative article titled “A gluten-free diet, not an appropriate choice without a medical diagnosis” was published in the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism.
It’s stated that nowadays popular media often mistakenly present gluten-free foods as being a healthier choice, and more people have now concluded that gluten is a harmful part of the diet. A review of literature on gluten-free diets, gluten sensitivity, celiac disease, and attitudes toward gluten consumption was undertaken to examine the prevalence and consequences of adopting a gluten-free diet and to provide guidance to healthcare practitioners whose patients are now often adopting this diet without medical input.
Dangers of gluten free diets
A review of existing data shows that there are detrimental effects to going gluten free, including loss of the dietary fiber, deficiencies in dietary minerals and vitamins, and potential heavy metal exposure.
Healthcare practitioners should query patients about their dietary choices, and in cases of questionable adoption of gluten-free diet, patients and parents are educated about the detriments of a gluten-free diet, and in cases where patients continue to insist on gluten-free foods, referrals to nutritional counseling are warranted in order to minimize potential harm.
Celiac disease and gluten-free diet: past, present, and future
The objective of the article “Celiac disease and gluten-free diet: past, present, and future” published in Gastroenterology and Hepatology in 2020, was to report the past, present production, supply of gluten-free products as well as their future position in our market.
A gluten-free diet is a special type of diet intended for people with celiac disease.
- In the past, there were only limited gluten-free products available and the awareness of the diet was limited to general population.
- In the last few years, a gluten-free diet has been misinterpreted as a “miracle drug” that is effective on a variety of health conditions and it has been voluntarily adopted by many more people with other diseases and healthy individuals. The popularity of a gluten-free diet has risen steadily in spite of stable rates of celiac disease.
- In the future, the gluten-free diet is expected to increase due to its increased popularity.
U.S. Gluten-free Foods Market – Statistics & Facts
Published by Statista Research Department in October 2020, the report stated the following:
- The market for gluten-free foods is rocketing. By 2020, the market is projected to be valued at 7.59 billion U.S. dollars.
- Conventional stores were estimated to be the most important distribution channel for gluten-free products in 2015 with sales amounting to about 2.79 billion U.S. dollars.
- According to industry experts, the United States was the flagship market in terms of gluten-free food retail sales in 2014. Italy and the United Kingdom rounded off the leading three consumer
- Staggering 64% of U.S. consumers indicated to consider such a diet as very healthy or somewhat healthy.
Bottom line: compliance to the principles of a gluten-free should not be recommended to healthy individuals or those without relevant reasons.