The Shocking Truth Behind Gluten-Free Diets and How They’re Failing You

Let me take you back to another time. It’s the early 2000s or even earlier. During those days you’d go to a healthy restaurant, open up the menu, and there’d be no gluten-free section. You’d go to the grocery store and there’d be no gluten-free aisle. There weren’t many gluten-free bakeries or cafes either.

You might be thinking, how did we ever survive without gluten-free diets (GFDs)? Or thank goodness our choices in cuisine have evolved.

But have we actually evolved?

In just a moment I’ll tell you several reasons why your gluten-free diet is failing you. And if you’re sick I’ll reveal the real reason why you might be ill (here’s a hint, it probably isn’t gluten). But first let’s take a step back.

Gluten is a protein you can find in wheat, rye, and barley. And the reason people avoid it like Wesley Snipes dodging taxes is because it can be a harmful if you have celiac disease, wheat allergies, or a gluten sensitivity. If you have these issues eating gluten might give you stomach pain, regular diarrhea or constipation, numbness in your hands and feet, and chronic fatigue. In some cases you can have joint pain, low bone density, and even infertility.

If you suspect that you have celiac, allergies, or a sensitivity you should go to a doctor before switching to a gluten-free diet. To test for celiac doctors will give you a panel of blood tests and maybe an endoscopy. For an allergy or sensitivity you’ll receive a variety of skin, blood, and oral food challenge tests. You might be asked to keep a food dairy or be put on an elimination diet. Most people don’t seek medical help before switching to gluten-free diets, however. And that’s the problem.

Self-Diagnosing Yourself with Gluten Issues

With the increased awareness of gluten, more and more people are diagnosing themself with gluten intolerance. Celebrities are endorsing living gluten-free. Food companies are marketing gluten-free products and meals. Heck, some GSD diehards are even shelling out cash for expensive gluten-free shampoo and cosmetics. To put it plainly, more people are jumping on the GSD bandwagon than ever. But is this a good thing?

Harvard Medical School reports that 63% of Americans believe that a gluten-free diet can improve their mental or physical health. A third of Americans are reducing their gluten intake with hopes that it’ll improve their wellness or prevent disease. However, according to a clinical study in Current Gastroenterology Reports, gluten-related disorders actually affect less than half the people that

have gluten-free diets. The University of Newcastle reports that of the people self-reporting gluten or wheat sensitivity, only a small proportion (16%) have reproducible symptoms after doctor examinations.

People should be cautious about misdiagnosing themselves because it can lead to other health complications. The report from the Current Gastroenterology Reports also says that “unforeseen nutritional complications may develop” in gluten-free dieters including “reduced intake of calcium, B vitamins, and fiber as well as enhanced consumption of fat and simple carbohydrates.” Poor gluten-free diets can even lead to depression in some cases, according to the scientific journal Appetite.

That’s not to say that the hundreds of thousands of folks that misdiagnosis themselves are hypochondriacs. Many of them are actually really sick. It’s just that a lot of the symptoms associated with celiac or allergies overlap with other illnesses.

For example, stomach, skin, joint, and nervous system problems are also associated with disorders like irritable bowel syndrome and functional dyspepsia. A lot of these traits are connected to lactose intolerance, too.

Being lactose intolerant means you have difficulty digesting dairy products and that you can stand only little amounts of lactose (a sugar found in milk and other dairy goods). A much larger population has lactose intolerance than gluten issues. About 15% of individuals of European descent are lactose intolerant, and an estimated 65% - 90% of adults in with African or East Asian backgrounds are affected. According to the Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQEHC), “stomach ache, bloating, ‘gas’ and diarrhea are all typical digestive symptoms that people have after eating or drinking dairy products.” These are the same complications experienced by folks with gluten issues.

It’s a fair assumption that a lot of individuals that are self-diagnosing themselves with celiac or allergies actually are lactose intolerant. Instead of investing in expensive gluten-free diets you should just switching to soy or almond milk. You should stop eating cheese, and enjoy sorbet as an alternative to ice cream. Doing this can save you hundreds of dollars and actually address the real root of your problems.

Myths About GFDs

There are several myths about gluten free diets that need to be debunked.

Let’s start with the falsehood that gluten-free foods are healthier. As I mentioned earlier gluten-free diets often lack the essential nutrients you need. They frequently lacking fiber, magnesium, iron, zinc and B vitamins. Plus in many instances extra salt and sugar are added to gluten-free food to make up for the lack of taste and texture generally associated with alternative products.

Another myth is that gluten-free is the same as carb-free. The truth is a lot of foods that are advertised as gluten free are choke-full of carbs. This includes certain brands of potato chips, oatmeal products, and cereal. In fact, some GFD items like gluten-free pasta are actually higher in carbohydrates than regular pasta. If you need proof just take a closer look at your food labels.

Gluten free diets will help you lose weight in another untruth. When I think about slimming down the old adage “eat less, move more” comes to mind. Shedding pounds basically comes down to achieving a negative energy balance (taking in fewer calories than you burn up). So, no matter what you eat – gluten free or not – if you don’t rein in your calories you’ll never skinny down.

Plus eating whole grain foods is an effective way to loss weight. Consuming the right amount can help keep you full over the course of the day and control your blood sugar level. Whole wheat also contains many vital vitamins, minerals and fiber which are important to health. Moreover, several studies have actually found a trend toward weight gain and obesity among those who follow GFDs.

When it’s all said and done, it’s great that there are now gluten-free restaurants items, gluten-free aisles in grocery stores, and gluten-free bakeries and cafes. They're wonderful for people with celiac, allergies, and gluten sensitivity. However, most people don’t actually need them to improve their health. And I’m still not sure they’re signs that we’ve actually evolved.

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  4. Shmerling, Robert. “Ditch the Gluten, Improve Your Health?” Harvard Health Publishing. Harvard University, 12 April 2017. Web. 31 Oct. 2017.
  5. Newberry, Carolyn, et al. “Going Gluten Free: the History and Nutritional Implications of Today’s Most Popular Diet.” Current Gastroenterology Reports. Current Science Inc, November 2017.Web. 11 Oct. 2017.
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