In the summer of 2012 I wrote Celiac: The Trendy Disease For Rich White People, which annoyed a few people with celiac disease but a whole bunch of people who had latched onto a fad and craved medical or scientific legitimacy in doing so.

That article had been building for years but now everyone has caught on. Gluten-free is suddenly a $5 billion business and it has snowballed to a point where gluten-free labels are creating people who are worried about gluten because of so many gluten-free labels - the tail wags the dog. The newfound array of choices are, as I noted then, terrific for celiac patients, because the days of unreliable mail-order products and nasty quality are long-gone. 

My concern was that the fad nature of it was placing celiac patients at more risk; if someone knows a friend who bounces along to whatever crackpot myth Gwyneth Paltrow is embracing today, they might lie about whether or not something has gluten just to avoid amateur theatrics. (1)

Most fad diets are harmless, they only impact the dieter, (2) but the Faux Celiac trend is dangerous to millions of people. The fad groups latching onto it are getting all of the attention now - Gluten Takes a Beating From Fad Dieters, Matthew Boyle writes in Bloomberg, for example - and that means the backlash against gluten-free will be more dangerous, because gluten is in so many things. And as diets go, it isn't helping many of the people adapting it, other than that they think it is.

Julia Llewellyn Smith at The Telegraph notes that, in blind tests, 75% of people who claimed to have an 'allergy' or 'intolerance' to bread showed no signs of any symptoms after eating it.  She quotes nutritionist Ian Marber: “If gluten really is the root of all evil, then celiacs, who really can’t eat it, would be in perfect health. I’ve been avoiding gluten since about 1823,” he joked, “but I still have all the normal aches and pains and health issues.”  

1% of people are being placed at real risk due to an impending cultural backlash against 20% of people claiming they buy it because it makes them feel better, it will help lose weight, or has superior nutritional value. Claims of the diagnosis are up 2500% over a decade ago, though actual diagnoses are not.

The 1% of real instances are a lot more than in the past, of course. When I was a kid, doctors were surprised to ever see a case in their entire lives. Obviously that is due to better diagnoses. It can't be because of claims of some 'genetic' change to wheat, there isn't anything biologically different about wheat in the last 50 years, though gluten-free fad proponents claim it is somehow different.

But food companies are not in the business of correcting the public about science - unless it hurts sales. And gluten-free foods increase revenue, because they can charge more. So beer makers and even Hooters are happy to cater to this new 'healthy' lifestyle. The lifestyle supposedly healthier than natural wheat is extra sugar, extra fat, hydroxypropyl methyl cellulose and xanthan gum. Don't you feel better knowing those are your alternatives? It's like when fad health claims said all-natural butter was worse for you than artificial margarine

Because gluten-free is why you go. Links and credit: Hooters and Pinterest

Politicians are happy to jump on fads also. Democrats are chomping at the bit to put warning labels on genetically modified foods, of course, but there are plenty of anti-science positions that need to come first; they want to ban trans fats, which will help absolutely no one.  So after they use the awesome power of government to ban doughnuts, crackers, movie theater popcorn, frozen pizza, coffee creamers and canned frosting, they can turn the legislative guns on gluten. Then, after that, maybe finally get that ban on GMOs, because the public will have been trained that 'consensus' about science is created by watching the Dr. Oz show or reading the New York Times and demanding that politicians take action against the Scare Journalism of the week.


(1) Here's one way to know you are dealing with a fad dieter, from a celiac site that nonetheless embraces pretenders who do not have the disease: "Lately I say things like, "When I was diagnosed with celiac disease...", even though I never got tested by a doctor. I am SELF diagnosed, but if I say that no one takes me seriously. The way I say it, I'm not lying exactly, just heading off the misconceptions."

(2)  Some are not harmless. If you feed raw sprouts or raw milk to kids or pregnant woman or the elderly or people with weakened immune systems, you are acting irresponsibly and dangerously. If you consume those yourself because you think they are 'healthier', you simply need an IQ test.