Gluten Fad Versus Science - Why We Can't All Just Get Along
    By Hank Campbell | February 24th 2014 01:26 PM | 16 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    A cookbook editor in the New York Times says I am wrong on the gluten-free fad and that, if it makes people feel better to buy gluten-free, to leave them alone. 

    Well, well, well, look at the New York Times embracing libertarianism and food choice when it comes to fads their demographic happens to embrace. Like with sugar and GMOs, they want science and reason to stay out of it, because those are weird fetishes of a large chunk of their readership, while we are constantly told how stupid people are if they don't accept global warming. Right?

    No, not this time. In their debate section, most of the guest writers agree with me - that it is a marketing trend rather than a health one, that it's not a diet (they mean you, Lady Gaga), and that if you do not actually have a gluten issue, it is doing more harm than good.

    All true.

    Lady Gaga left, on her gluten-free diet. On the right, after a smart diet. Images: Left is NY Daily News and right is OMG.

    But you are preaching to the choir, Gray Lady. While I believe people should be able to spend their money as stupidly as they want, I also hope lots of people continue to lay out the truth for people who actually want to know if they are being exploited by marketing.

    Gluten-free foods cost 242% more than regular so companies and pundits claiming a person who has no gluten issue will be 'healthier' by buying a gluten-free label is exploiting them for mercenary gain. Like homeopathy or sugar pills or anything else psychological, selling something because it 'makes people feel better' under the pretense of making them healthier is suspect. I will continue call it out as a desperate effort to keep what is suddenly a $5 billion a year business going strong.

    Regardless of what a food blogger apparently has chosen to believe, 20% of America does not have Celiac disease, they are not even gluten sensitive. Outside the actual Celiac community, the 20% of people who have turned gluten-free products into a giant industry are instead buying it because it gets into the New York Times and they think gluten must be bad because it is on a label. Though claims of gluten 'intolerance' have skyrocketed in the last decade, 75% of people suddenly claiming to be intolerant show no symptoms of gluten intolerance after eating it. It is the classic "nocebo" effect.

    Hey, Hooters seafood is gluten-free. Healthy food is why you go. Here's hoping the dessert menu has gluten-free ice cream and there are gluten-free potato chips on the table. Links and credit: Hooters and Pinterest

    Health should not be just for the rich readers of the New York Times so convincing poor people they are eating less healthy if they don't buy an expensive nocebo is ethically wrong - and that is what marketing departments, and cookbook editors in mainstream media, are doing by endorsing gluten-free foods for people who get no benefit from them. We are manufacturing a cultural crisis if we let poor people be convinced by greedy corporations that they are in some food ghetto if they eat conventional food rather than the gluten-free kind. Because of the labeling fad, the FDA has said it will crack down on anyone who tries to sell milk, fruit, honey, water and whatever else as 'gluten-free', though they have been legally able to do so.

    If food pundits actually listened to Celiac patients they would not be so glib in circling the wagons around the gluten-free fad. Celiac patients know what is not on splashy labels - that extra sugar, extra fat, hydroxypropyl methyl cellulose and xanthan gum are not better for your health unless gluten is actually dangerous for you.

    Some people like to invoke 'if it helps even one person' rationalization for their beliefs, while others would prefer that people not be duped into paying over 200 percent more for food that is actually unhealthier.  That second group reads Science 2.0.

    Let's celebrate diversity and tolerance and not demonize the people who are laying out the truth about what a gluten-free diet can and cannot do, and who it will help. Anything else is just being a shill for the latest food trend.  

    And, really, shouldn't such people have moved on to the Blood Type diet by now?


    Right on, Hank. Glad you are spreading the truth about this fad. Interesting how many healthcare professionals I know who are suddenly "gluten intolerant" in their 40's and 50's. People need to be educated by actual science. I'm especially bothered when kids are diagnosed by their parents with food "allergies" , treated homeopathically, etc.


    I thought the NYT's was against greedy corporation. Perhaps, Mr. Slim has some stock in companies that profit from 'gluten-free' products?


    Thanks for mentioning homeopathy. While fad diets are generally unscientific, at least there could theoretically be some cause & effect because different diets actually involved different chemistry. Homeopathy is an entirely different level of quackery, since its very reason for flying under all regulatory scrutiny is because it specifically denies that its remedies contain anything at all. Its labeling methodology, understood in context of basic chemistry (how many molecules in a mole) shows that its victims are buying literally NOTHING that could have any physiological effect. While that may not be illegal, it probably should be, since people resorting to homeopathy to cure things like serious depression are akin to people buying home security systems that don't work at all.

    I, and many others, have dropped the Gray Lady. She gave up printing any news that was fit to print a long time ago. This is reflected in her revenue stream, which is skinner than Lady Gaga, and is derived from equally weird eyeballs.

    We live in a low point of scientific integrity. The PR and Marketing departments won. Those who use the Periodic Table lost. At our rate of "progress" all elements will be banned before the oceans rise and drown us. Sad.

    I cannot express how refreshing it is to see this common-sense truth in print. This push to demonize gluten has been going on for at least a decade now, and I cannot think of anything more idiotic or backward from reality. I know from talking with people that most people have no idea as to what gluten is. They cannot tell you it is the protien portion of wheat, they have no idea that it is absolutely necessary in making yeast breads, they would be shocked to hear that it is highy nutritious, and they are certain it is evil because it is popular to think so and because gluten has a very unfortunate name in that it sounds yucky. If gluten had a different sounding name and was called prowholesumin or something with positive-sounding affixation then that would be enough for many people to think of it as a good thing. But we live in a time when people think science is a function of popularity rather than objective experimentation and facts. Gluten is bad because it is cool to think so.

    Glad to see a sanity-based backlash against this fad. I had never even heard of celiac disease until a few years ago. Now suddenly half the people I know think they have it. If there's one health problem Americans are great at promoting (besides obesity), it's hypochondria.

    I agree with you to an extent Hank, however as many people know since 1992 when Government Doctrine AKA the food period said we all had to be on a low Grade diet. However after that happened the rate of Diabetes doubled and now the number has tripled. How exactly do you explain that. Ever since the Government and the food pyramid about having a low grade diet Diabetes has doubled and even tripled. It is now at 20.9 million. Even in China where Western Food has been introduced Diabetes has skyrocketed. 6.5 million children in America have ADHD and it has rose, even the Mayo Clinic says gluten has something to do with ADHD today doctors are drugging up are kids with pills which is wrong in it's own right. My point is YES it is a fad but since 1992 when Low Fat diets and more GRAINS IN A DIET were introduced we have seen a major spike in Diabetes type 2 and type 1 and ADHD and even Alzheimer's. I do agree that completely eliminating Gluten is not always the answer. However we should LIMIT are amount of Gluten because there is much evidence TOO MUCH GLUTEN IN PRODUCTS AND PROCESSED FOOD IS BAD PERIOD. Your article seems to suggest that people should just eat Gluten and there problems are all in there head. That is bull because some science does not hold merit to your claim. Some Gluten Free is good and done right IT DOES LOSE WEIGHT. That why Elizabeth Hazzelbeck is such as blob and she is on a Gluten Free diet because she has Celiac Disease. Hazzelback is not fat and neither is Daily Show host Jon Stewart who's wife and son have Celiac Disease. I have read many article's that are at least fair to this issue. Sorry to say Hank but too much Gluten in your diet is BAD FOR YOUR HEALTH PERIOD. If not how do you explain the rise in Diabetes since 1992 when we were all told EAT MORE GRAINS.

    The same pyramid promoted dairy so we could easily blame that for obesity. In reality, if all it takes is finding two curves going the same way to imply causation, I can link almost anything to obesity. It's easy. But it is terrible science.

    The reality is that the type of calories is not the issue - it is the sheer number. We live in an ideal world, where even the poorest people in America can afford to be fat, and that has never before been possible in history. It takes cultural maturity for people to shake off the belief (biological?) that they will not have enough to eat tomorrow, but it will happen. Demonizing one fad product, be it trans fats or sodas or butter or gluten or bacon or anything else, will not solve that problem.

    It is just making food companies rich and helping no one except the people who had issues with gluten and didn't eat it anyway. For everyone else, those substitute foods are substantially unhealthier.
    Steve Davis
    The reality is that the type of calories is not the issue - it is the sheer number.
    I could not agree more, Hank.
    I read many years ago about perceived problems with the food pyramid, but it's not the pyramid that's the problem - it's the size some people make the pyramid.
    Remember when the Government told us that ntake of dairy products is also associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, and with lower blood pressure in adults.

    Yeah we so Type 2 Diabetes dying out thanks to the wonderful Government's recommendations. Hank Gluten Free is not bad all the time. Your article suggest we all should just keep eating Gluten and never expect risks. Processed food today is getting worse and there is just too much GLUTEN in the western diet. The excuse by the Government is always it is the environment. However with those Tom Donahue, Rupert Murdoch Wall Street Journal, Forbes Magazine endorsement . THE SAME PAPERS THAT FAVOR ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION. You got good sources backing you up. GLUTEN IS NOT ALWAYS GOOD HANK.

    I'm not following anything you're trying to say. Are you against gluten, or excessive grain in diet? Are you promoting gluten free to reduce the amount of grain carbs people eat? If that's the case, just use sound scientific fact to make your argument. You don't need to demonize a harmless protein in the grain in order to get achieve your social engineering experiment.

    Gluten may not always be good, but it's almost never bad.

    The problem I see with this article and some of the comments are many fold. First, the type of calories we intake DOES matter. Calories with a high glycemic index provoke our bodies to produce lots of insulin that acts to store that excess sugar as fat right away. Whereas complex carbs like fibrous veggies such as broccoli do not have the same effect for the same number of calories. White bread and other refined flour foods have some of the highest glycemic indices of any foods, provoking the insulin response, even more so than straight up sugar. The second problem with modern wheat is the type of gluten that is contained in these foods. It has proteins that attach to the same receptors in our brains that addictive drugs like heroin and morphine do. This came about because of very successful breeding programs in the 50's that created "super wheats" that are much more productive per acre than their predecessors. This was all good, but the resultant strain is quite different in protein and chemical makeup, some of which is not healthy. I'm not promoting gluten free here, just saying that some of the science behind books such as "Wheat Belly" are not all fad oriented, but have achieved genuine results in people with obesity, diabetes, heart and other issues.

    I am not sure why you wrote the first part of your comment; no one here has ever contended you should only eat one thing. Not ice cream, not pork, not grain. The type of calories do not matter -  unless people eat like idiots and go on a fad diet. This article is about not doing stupid fad diets and eating one thing or giving up one thing.

    The second is trotted out because of that book written by a guy who didn't know what he was talking about and did a bunch of correlations and invoked conspiracy/scientists are stupid. You are correct in that there isn't anything biologically different about wheat in the last 50 years, so why gluten intolerant claims have gone up 2500% over the last few years is a real science mystery - the answer has nothing to do with science and everything to do with it being a fad.
    Similarly, I don't see any scientific proof or research links in this article to support your thesis. It just sounds like innuendo and not science at all. So what if people are flocking to the gluten free diet? That does not mean anything in relation to whether or not wheat/gluten is bad for us. You never proved that point at all. Where is your research? You don't have to eat tons of it, most people already eat too much of it, in their pasta, white bread in its many forms, pizza, desserts, etc.

    Here are some links I found supporting the wheat/gluten link to various health issues. Most of these come from scientific, peer reviewed journals and not pseudo-science.

    I just got done making fun of the guy for taking a "possible association" (according to the authors of a study he liked) that used 13 people and declaring that proof and turning that into a book, and you show up here and link to him declaring it proven.