Gluten-Free: Health Issue or Fad Diet

Last year a friend – who I’ve known since elementary school – came to British Columbia for a visit. Showing her around town included stopping in a restaurant for drinks and appetizers, generally an easy task for two friends and looking at the menu I easily found a few options to share. This is when she sheepishly looked at me and said ‘I can’t eat gluten.’

Being gluten free has become a health fad, a way for people to lose weight by not eating wheat, barley and rye. My friend was awkward about this because she has Celiac disease which causes gluten to become poison in her body, and did not want the waiter thinking she was just another whacko with weight loss concerns.

For those who have read (or seen) Scott Pilgrim vs the World, there is a scene where Scott learns the truth about his favourite food, garlic bread. Credit.

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Yes, bread makes you fat but cutting wheat from your diet just to shed a couple extra pounds is not going to help you. There are a lot of nutrients in these foods, “including fibre, iron, folate, niacin, thiamine, calcium, vitamin B12, phosphorus and zinc,” said Katherine Tallmadge, dietician and author.

Those with celiac disease have a difficult time finding foods they can ingest and often are forced to pay extra for food that fits their dietary restrictions.

Celiac disease was initially realized by British physician Samuel Gee in 1887, describing it as a “kind of chronic indigestion” Credit. But gluten was not realized as the cause until after World War Two. After a shortage in bread, a Dutch pediatrician noticed the death rate in children had dropped to zero, but as wheat became readily available, the death rate again soared.

Now scientists know celiac disease as an autoimmune disorder, which causes the immune system to attack the body’s own tissues. On average it takes 11.7 years for a patient to be diagnosed with the disease and many are finding gluten sensitivities that are not linked to celiac disease. This makes it even harder to diagnose the sensitivity.

People with gluten sensitivities, and those looking to rid gluten from their diet, have to bebetter-wheat-bread-through-chemistry-130111 vigilant. The protein itself has not changed in 60 years, according to agronomists, the amount of gluten we are ingesting has risen. Dr. Alessio Fasano, a pioneering researcher and director at the Center for Celiac Research, believes there are multiple factors to acquiring the disease including: “infections, antibiotics, surgery and pregnancy. A lot of cases of celiac disease start after one of these occur.”

Gluten free weight loss diets are not the easiest or cheapest way to lose the extra pounds and for those actually suffering from sensitivities, this lifestyle can be difficult. Luckily, doctors like Fasano are not giving up and will continue to search for reasons why this disease turns gluten to poison.

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