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A Pro-Gluten Movement: Or Why Blogger Paige Darrah Isn’t Down with this Latest Diet Trend


I try (try being the operative word here) to live by the wisdom of food writer Michael Pollan as much as humanly possible…these two nuggets of his wisdom in particular:
 
“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” 
“Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.” 
 
Pollan’s advice resonates for me because it feels logical and balanced (something not always present in food advice these days). The “mostly plants” part says there’s room for other stuff, in moderation, and that said “stuff” should be real food recognizable by those that didn’t have the “luxury” of massive, fluorescent-light filled grocery stores at their disposal.
 
My own great-grandmother made a huge homemade breakfast from scratch every morning before my great grandfather would go to work on their farm in Kentucky. As a child, I had the occasional pleasure of being on the receiving end of her massive buffet of scrambled eggs (from the farm, natch), sliced tomatoes, homemade biscuits, and homemade fresh peach hand pies. She didn’t make smoothies or steel cut oatmeal. She made peach hand pies… We enjoyed them, in moderation, and then ran around outside for the rest of the morning burning them off before regrouping for a similarly decedent lunch spread.
 
I think it’s safe to assume that in the scenario above Mr. Pollan would approve of the peach hand pies.
 
The imbalance of our current daily life has forced us into complicated relationships with food. Sadly, running around outdoors has been replaced by 8-10 hours of sitting in front of our computers. So, to atone for our sedentary ways, we go extreme…way extreme. No carbs, no meat, no sugar, no dairy, and, the latest object of our denial, no gluten.
 
Gluten is indeed the enemy for a large number of folks that suffer from severe allergies and Celiac disease. But, for lots of others, eliminating it has become another way to stay slim and healthy…But does it work? Dallas mom and blogger Paige Darrah has the same question, so she went straight to her daughter Poppy’s pediatrician to get the 411 on Gluten.
 
Here’s her take.
 
*******
 
By Paige Darrah
 
A recent SNL sketch shows a young couple on a date at a hip, dimly lit restaurant (it looks to me like they’re at Craft). The young man has just taken a bite:
 
Jason Sudeikis: ‘Hmmm. You wanna try some of my pasta?’
Nasim Pedrad: ‘Oh, I’d love to, but, ugghh, I’m allergic to gluten.’
Jason places his hand on Nasim’s hand.
Jason Sudeikis: ‘That must be sooo hard.’
Narrator: ‘When you’re faking an allergy to gluten or lactose, reach for Flaritin for fast relief.’
 
The subject of gluten-free diets came up in a recent chat with Poppy’s pediatrician, Dr. Christopher Dreiling (pediatrician extraordinaire at Pediatric Associates of Dallas).

 

Me: “So, Dr. Dreiling, what’s the deal with all these gluten-free people? Their food tastes terrible.”
 
Dr. Dreiling: “I love gluten. I order extra gluten on the side.”
 
Me: “Me too! Most of the gluten-free stuff that I’ve tried is far from tasty. Do you think people are faking a wheat allergy to seem more interesting, or is it a weight loss diet thing, or is it simply that more people have wheat allergies these days?”
 
Dr. Dreiling: “Lately I’ve had parents asking me if putting their kid on a gluten-free diet would help tame their child’s autism, ADHD, development problems, random fatigue, etc.. They come to me saying that little Johnny’s mother eliminated gluten from her son’s diet and all of a sudden he was doing better in school. The reality is that if you eliminate gluten, you eliminate other stuff too. That’s the problem with a nebulous elimination strategy; the danger of non-science tactics (Steve Jobs is one example). They expect to feel much better, and so they do – for a little while (gotta love that placebo effect). The same thing applies with many other random cleanses and cyclical diet trends – if not done properly they can be very unhealthy.”
 
Dr. Dreiling went on to explain that people can have different grades of gluten sensitivity. These grades can range from a mild gluten sensitivity (if you eat gluten you experience mild abdominal discomfort) to full-blown Celiac Disease (gluten intolerance as advertised).
 
I had a friend in college who couldn’t tolerate gluten, and she wouldn’t stand for it. Let’s call her Sylvie. Yep, Sylvie was gluten intolerant. As a result, there wasn’t very much that she could eat at the campus cafeteria, or anywhere else for that matter. It was only later that I found out that Sylvie did not actually have Celiac Disease, she was just anorexic.
 
As someone who has been a card-carrying vegetarian for 10 years (with only a brief intermission during my third trimester of pregnancy. Damn you Arby’s and your savory roast beef sandwiches!), I can certainly understand the need for weight loss tactics. Having said that, I’m calling into question some of those serendipitously gluten intolerant individuals whilst asking the1% of Americans who have a genuine gluten intolerance for a small favor: Please keep your voices down. The increasing prevalence of your food threatens to box out the palatable food.

18 comments on “A Pro-Gluten Movement: Or Why Blogger Paige Darrah Isn’t Down with this Latest Diet Trend

  1. A vegetarian calling out others with food preferences, how small minded. Support for the gluten free trend has given more dining options to those who actually have the allergy/celiacs. The 5 feet of shelf space given to gluten free products at the grocery store has not come at the expense of the produce aisle. Whether its a choice or not have some compassion.

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  2. “…whilst asking the 1% of Americans who have a genuine gluten intolerance for a small favor: Please keep your voices down. The increasing prevalence of your food threatens to box out the palatable food.”

    Incredibly insensitive.

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  3. Glutenfreegirl — you make a great point. The Gluten-free movement has definitely provided more options for those, like you, who are struggling with gluten allergies and Celiac. It’s a definite upside!

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  4. When an immune response to gluten happens in the gut it’s called celiac disease and affects 1% of the population. But it’s now known (by the people who do the research- not physicians who are not keeping up) that gluten can cause an autoimmune reaction which damages the nervous system instead and is estimated to affect 6 times as many as CD. It has been linked to autism, schizophrenia and yes, ADHD.
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21877216
    There is not yet a blood test for this disease like there is for CD which is based on damage specific to the gut (they’re working on it) so the best way to Dx is to try a GF diet and see if it improves. This is the information we should be focusing on. Usually when I see an anti-GF posting like this I assume it’s a shrill for the wheat industry but this is obviously just someone speaking out of ignorance to the reseach. I tried vegetarianism for a while and after 7 years GF I would say I get much more satisfaction from eating meat and while I like Michael Pollan and agree with his saying, I would go one further and say eat what your body has evolved to run on. We’ve only been eating wheat for a small fraction of our eveolutionary history and we never could have come this far as vegetarians.

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  5. Jenna, you are correct in that it’s great that the people with Celiac disease have more dining options these days. And I agree with you that I am being insensitive here – which makes sense considering the fact that I’m not one of the people who is sensitive to gluten. I am insensitive to gluten-

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  6. Paige, you *assume* you’re “insensitive” to gluten. But as Jim pointed out, there’s no blood test for non-celiac gluten sensitivity — only one for celiac disease.

    The only way to really know if you’re gluten-sensitive is to go gluten-free for a few weeks (strictly gluten-free), take note of how you feel, then add gluten back in and see how you feel then. You might find yourself, um, eating your words instead of your gluten-filled bread as a result of that self-test … many (many!) people have.

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  7. I heartily approve of peach hand pies and of enjoying food. I think most reasonable people do. The food I enjoy also needs to be safe for me (aka gluten-free).

    I don’t mind a bit if the author discovers that pre-packaged GF products taste awful to her and comments on that. As she points out, she doesn’t have to eat them! Grocery stores, convenience stores, airports, coffee shops, and restaurants are full to bursting with other options.

    I am confused and offended by the idea that her preferred food choices (“palatable food”) are somehow at risk due to the availability of options for others. When exactly did the increasing prevalence of GF options actually inconvenience anyone even a little bit? Is there some scarcity of ‘regular’ bread, pasta, cereal, pizza, muffins,granola bars, cookies, etc that I don’t know abut?

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  8. So a couple of years ago I had to eat a very strict low sodium diet. I felt great, because I was no longer eating trashy foods (fast food),baked goods, breads,etc and suddenly my diet was filled with raw vegetables and NO processed foods, etc. i was making thoughtful choices. Everyone claimed it was because I cut out gluten. Years later I was on a less restrictive diet and was able to add some gluten back in. So there went the gluten theory. Sure less gluten probably had some impact, but when I added back gluten in moderation and continued eating raw veggies i felt great! People jump on the band wagon for a gluten free society, but really they just need to jump on the bandwagon of eating food, mostly plants and something your grandmother would recognizable as food. It’s amazing how much better you feel.

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  9. Actually, the vast majority of foods you eat are gluten-free- people often make the mistake of thinking people on a GF diet only eat things out of packages that say gluten-free. It was true 7 years ago that GF offerings were few and far from tasty but that is certainly no longer the case. From local bakeries to restaurants and especially food COOPs there are some really fantastic GF offerings now thanks to this “fad”. But what is really happening is that there are problems with wheat and similar grains beyond just gluten. The high phytic acid content can lead to mineral deficiencies and the lectins and other anti-nutrients can create all sorts of problems from inflammation of the gut lining and joints to insulin and leptin resistance in almost anyone. Other foods have these problems but wheat is so ubiquitous- people eat even more than they realize. Subsidized wheat- refined flour and by-products are used as cheap fillers in all kinds of processed (and even “health”) foods at the expense of truly nutritious ingredients. But the beauty is, anyone can find out if they feel and function better by simply avoiding wheat and similar grains for a period. Not everyone will, but a lot of people who try it find enough improvement that it’s worth not going back. But eating healthy does take some effort- I don’t think that many people are going GF just to be cool, but even if they are, so what- there’s nothing in wheat that you won’t get elsewhere in a balanced diet.
    Also, it’s not gluten that’s implicated in weight gain – a lot of people make that mistake- it’s the lectins, especially wheat germ agglutinin which can cause leptin and insulin resistance leading to type 2 diabetes, obesity and a host of other problems. Check this out to learn more:
    http://www.wheatbellyblog.com/
    It’s not about any band wagon (really, people are calling for a gluten-free society?), it’s recognizing the science that’s emerging to help make informed decisions which can impact the quality of life. Kudos to the people who are trying something new (like vegetarians).
    Agriculture, especially wheat, got us to where we are today but we’re learning now that it came at a cost, for some more than others. I can appreciate the contrarian attitude but not the spreading of misinformation. Leave that to the wheat industry that thinks we’re still not eating enough.

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  10. What an incredibly ignorant post. Talking to one under-informed doctor is hardly research. Does your doctor know that 75% of confirmed celiac patients don’t have any digestive symptoms? Does your doctor know that there are over 300 symptoms of gluten sensitivity? Is your doctor aware that untreated gluten sensitivity can cause brain damage, osteoporosis, and arthritis – among other problems? Are you and/or your doctor aware that in some European countries, like Italy, ALL the children are screened for gluten sensitivity? Did you even think to talk to a GF individual and learn what they go through when they accidentally digest gluten? Did you know that through genetic modification that the gluten content of wheat has gone from 3% to 50% in 50 years? That ain’t your great-grandma’s wheat, Honey.

    When I accidentally get glutenated, I get headaches, occular migraines, knee joint pain and acne. There is not enough money in the world for me to go back to a gluten-filled diet. And I don’t care how many people just like you try to belittle me and insult my intelligence, that I’m somehow too stupid to understand it’s a “fad” and I’m just feeling a placebo affect. It’s real easy to say and think, but you don’t have to live with my symptoms or anyone else’s. So I, others on GF diets, and the entire country of Italy would like to thank you kindly for not making such ignorant assumptions about our motivations.

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  11. @Jim – there are blood tests that can detect anti-gluten antibodies like IgA and IgG. Elevated IgA antibodies suggest gluten sensitivity. However, sometimes low IgA antibodies can create a false negative for GS, but it’s due to antibody exhaustion, so a combined IgA and IgG test is best. Gluten sensitivity can also be detected through vitamin and mineral deficiencies, or elevated liver enzymes. There are holistic health practitioners who offer screening for all food allergies, including gluten, but the best test there is is simply to try GF for 2-4 weeks and monitor symptoms, like people here have stated. (My source for this information on testing comes from Drs. Richard & Vikki Petersen who co-authored The Gluten Effect, a book Joslyn should probably read before her next post on gluten.)

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  12. Drae

    You make very good points. Thanks so much for your comments and feedback. They are indeed valuable!

    Just to be clear though, my comments in the posts’ intro simply call out the current trend toward gluten-free diets for members of the population that don’t suffer from wheat allergies or Celiac, as I noted, “Gluten is indeed the enemy for a large number of folks that suffer from severe allergies and Celiac disease. But, for lots of others, eliminating it has become another way to stay slim and healthy.”

    Beyond that, as noted in the byline, the post contained the opinion of our guest columnist, Paige Darrah.

    Thanks
    joslyn

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  13. Joslyn – my bad. I found Paige’s comments to be very insulting, and I reacted without looking clearly at which of you wrote what, so I apologize. I do, however, still recommend The Gluten Effect for you (and Paige) because, as a mom myself, I think spreading knowledge about all food allergies and how they affect our families is very important.

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  14. Drae — I totally understand! The double byline is a bit confusing ;-)

    I’ll definitely pick up a copy of The Gluten Effect…the more info the better!

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  15. I don’t think Paige Darrah is being insensitive when she says “keep your voices down.” I think she’s being a bigot. I understand that she’s trying to be hip and cool, rebel against a trend in society, and at the same time elevate being a vegetarian over being gluten free by implicitly painting a healthy vs. not healthy picture. Considering the benefits vs. cons of gluten free for people with no gluten sensitivity is one thing–telling people who are gluten free for medical reasons to keep their voices down is quite another.

    Like you, I grew up eating various delicious baked goods made by my great grandmothers and grandmothers. I’d have occasional stomach problems, maybe more than the average kid, but my parents thought it was growing pains.Unlike you, , when I was around 16 I started getting really sick. So sick in fact, that I didn’t have energy for anything besides lying on the couch feeling nauseous and trips to the bathroom that often lasted all night. I also went to doctors like the one mentioned above, who would tell my stressed out mother that I was anorexic, that I was just pretending, and that I was probably like their own daughters who just drank too much soda for breakfast. I remember going on a cruise of Europe with my parents and feeling so horrible I couldn’t get off the boat, sitting in the luxury ship’s all -you -could -eat buffet thinking “I’ll just have some crackers, that’s what people eat when their stomach hurts”, and then becoming even more sick and feeling anxious, confused, miserable and horribly scared. Nobody even thought to check me for celiac until an older member of my family was diagnosed with the disease. As it turned out, I didn’t test positive, and the doctors just went back to saying I was a hypochondriac because at that point non celiac sensitivity wasn’t recognized or tested for. Btw, its a lot of fun growing up in a middle class family in the United States and looking like a starving child in Ethiopia, with skinny arms and a distended stomach.

    Now, I’ve been gluten free for almost 10 years. I feel much better. But, neither you nor Paige Darrah would understand how hard it can be, despite the threat of palatable food disappearing of shelves. I can’t recount to you how many times I’ve had to sit at friends’ birthday parties, holiday outings, formal events and not eat anything because there was nothing safe for me to eat. Trust me, its really not a lot of fun being hungry and watching everyone else enjoy their food, food you would love to eat. Its actually miserable. Neither you or Paige Darrah have to know how that feels, but that does not give her the right to make comments directed at people that do.

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  16. B — Thanks so much for your comment. I have several friends who struggle with gluten allergies or Celiac, and I know it is an incredibly painful, incredibly serious struggle for them.

    You are absolutely right in noting that I personally wouldn’t understand how hard this particular illness can be. While I’ve struggled with other health issues, I’ve very fortunate to be able to digest gluten with no issues. I realize that’s a blessing.

    My intro in no way suggests that I think we should reduce the amount of gluten-free foods available. I do think this availability is a good trend (for the record).

    Warmest
    joslyn

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  17. Thank you for this post. I’ve done an elim diet, and didn’t notice ANY difference. So I eat gluten now on occasion. And I hate that it’s demonized for everyone!

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