In 2014, fast food is the reason we’re all fat, bars are at fault for making us drunk and stupid, and wheat is the devil incarnate for making us feel like complete garbage. Being gluten-free is a sweeping health trend, one that has a huge fanbase filled with widespread ignorance. Unlike diets that are focused on being fat-free or sugar-free, if you ask ten people on any street corner what gluten is, chances are that only one or two people will have any idea, much less understand why it has been demonized. Despite that lack of knowledge, sales of gluten-free food increased to 11 percent of American consumers in 2013 and an incredible 60 percent more people claimed they want to reduce or eliminate gluten in their diets altogether.
But gluten-free food doesn’t benefit the health of anyone except those unfortunate enough to suffer from celiac disease—which, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is only about one percent of Americans. Research also found that an additional six percent of Americans are gluten intolerant, which means that you might get a tummy ache, gut rumblings, or pass some serious gas after chowing down on pizza. All of these symptoms could, in fact, have absolutely nothing to do with wheat, flour, or gluten altogether.
Predictably, the GMO haters blame it all on the decline of old-fashioned wheat quality in America caused by planting altered—albeit heartier and more productive—strains of wheat. And admittedly, supporting that argument is the fact that gluten-sensitive eaters report that they have grazed through Europe gobbling up loaves of bread, pizzas, cakes, cookies and pastries with no adverse digestive reactions.
While the non-GMO wheat used in Europe may have a lot to do with easier digestion, the rising and baking processes also play a big part in how the body assimilates wheat and gluten. When breads with low ratios of yeast rise slowly (this is the European practice), the gluten becomes more elastic and easier to digest. Slow baking at low to moderate temperatures also enhances the digestive properties of the products, another procedure favored in Europe. Meanwhile in the US, breads and other baked goods have higher yeast content, and the accelerated rising and baking processes common in the US are often less than half as long of those used in European bakeries and food manufacturing facilities.
Non-celiac sufferers who choose to eat gluten-free often claim that they have more energy, generally feel better, and have even dropped a few pounds. The gluten-free food you’re eating has less sugar, fat, and calories—the results of which are related to the increase in your energy rate. It has nothing to do with gluten.
Even though you can probably get many of the fibers, vitamins, and minerals found in gluten-rich foods from other sources, nothing can replace the benefits of whole grains for natural, wholesome digestion and improved health. According to WebMD, “Studies show that whole grain foods, as part of a healthy diet, may help lower risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some forms of cancer. The 2010 dietary guidelines for Americans recommends that half of all carbohydrates in the diet come from whole grain products.” Since barley, rye, and various grain crossbreeds are also forbidden gluten-encumbered foods, you’re stuck with fake, pseudo-cereal substitutes such as quinoa and chia to take up the slack. Most consumers know the difference in texture and taste between a seed and a grain.
Before you guzzle the gluten-free Kool-Aid and join the cult, consider the facts. Honestly assess what—and how much—you eat before making gluten the scapegoat for your digestive disorders. If you have genuine symptoms of celiac disease and not just a little trouble digesting some foods, get tested by a real doctor.
Celiac disease is serious; farting after eating a bear claw is not.