Saying no to gluten-free food

In the cafeteria the other day the conversation turned to diets, and one of my friends reminded us all that she is gluten-free. Another friend nodded in approval and mentioned how she “needs to start doing that, too” because she wanted to lose weight and be healthier. Three others agreed.

The problem I have with our discussion at lunch, and what I see happening quite often, especially among my female peers, is two fold, so allow me to get right down to it.

First of all, there seems to be a popular misconception that there is one magical diet that will make you lose weight and fix all your problems. Secondly, people seem so desperate to find a miracle diet that they will try whatever lands (or doesn’t land) on their plate (pun intended).

Spoiler alert: there isn’t. And helpful hint: don’t do it.

Let me be clear.  For about 1 percent of Americans with Celiac disease, eliminating gluten is necessary for their health, but for most others, it’s a personal choice. For those of you who are following the trend and considering going gluten-free because you “heard it was a good thing to do,” I’m asking you to be informed.

For Americans who do not have Celiac disease, being gluten-free can be just another example of the many food fads infiltrating the American diet and becoming trendy. Thanks to the media frenzy the gluten-free diet created, it would seem that the greatest thing since sliced bread is no bread at all.

One third of Americans now want to decrease or eliminate gluten from their diet, according to a study by the National Product Diary (NPD) Group, a market research company. But it’s my bet that one third of Americans couldn’t tell me what gluten is, let alone why it might be good to eliminate from their diet.

So, allow me to enlighten you. Gluten is the protein found in grains such as wheat, rye, spelt and barley, and it can have an inflammatory effect for some people which can lead to abdominal discomfort.

Given the gluten-free diet’s popularity, companies now use the label “gluten-free” as a marketing ploy to make billions of dollars.  In fact, by 2016 gluten-free product sales will exceed $15 billion, as reported in the The New Yorker.

People will also jump at the chance to buy a gluten-free alternative without necessarily knowing the facts. The truth is, there are conflicting opinions about the health benefits of a gluten-free diet.

Some critics claim “a gluten-free diet offers no special health benefits, and ironically, many gluten-free foods are less nutritious, tend to be higher in carbohydrates and fat and lower in protein, and lower in fiber than their gluten-containing counterparts,” according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information’s website.

However, there are supporters who argue eliminating gluten from your diet is beneficial because it’s a simple way to remove many of the processed and simple white carbs, like white bread and pasta, that dominate the majority of the American diet. Many people say they have more energy and have less digestive issues once they’ve made the switch, according to the best selling book “Wheat Belly” by Dr. William Davis.

So, while the verdict is still out on the effectiveness of the gluten-free diet, people should take care and read up. When and if you decide to change your diet, you shouldn’t do so on a whim. Your health shouldn’t be trendy, it should be healthy.  I could eat ice cream everyday for every meal for the rest of my life and tell everyone I was on a gluten-free diet, but I couldn’t tell everyone it was a healthy diet.