Fear of Gluten: Justified or Hyperbole?

T-shirt by John Warfel

 The anti-gluten movement reminds me of the low-fat craze that took hold in the early eighties. Like fat was, gluten now seems to be the root of all evil. But is it?

Science or Hoopla?

Even when fads are based in science, there are many manufacturers waiting in the wings to take advantage of consumer interest in ‘good health.’ Like the plethora of gluten-free products available today, usually at an incremental cost, the same phenomena happened with a different nutrient years ago.

Author Gary Taubes, in a Frontline segment, explained, “Starting in 1977, the government started telling all Americans to eat less fat, and by the mid-’80s, we started producing these low-fat products that in effect replaced the fat in the yogurt or the cookies or the whatever with carbohydrates.”

When manufacturers started reformulating processed foods back in the eighties to remove fat, they ran into a big roadblock: less fat meant less flavor. To compensate, they bumped up the sugar content. As a result, many Americans became addicted to sugar.

Though removing fat seemed like a wonderful heart-healthy idea at the time, especially those interested in losing weight, consumers didn’t cut back on calories at all. This has translated to an even bigger problem — an obesity epidemic — a mere 30-years later. Of course, low-fat, high-sugar foods may not be the single culprit, but they certainly contribute to the epidemic. Just look at the plethora of products now loaded with sugar – ranging from spaghetti sauce to Gogurt to salad dressing.

What’s this got to do with gluten?

Like sugar, fat or other potentially unhealthy food products or ingredients, eating in moderation can be a great alternative to avoiding weight gain and other health problems. Cutting back – rather than cutting out – can allow for great fulfillment and food satisfaction.

I’m not referring to the myriad of individuals who are allergic to gluten – celiacs, as they are called. Like diabetics, celiacs must “do without” to control their health issue. Others, perhaps those sensitive to gluten but not allergic, may be able to minimize gluten intake and still feel great. Who needs a slice of bread with every meal anyway (don’t tell my mom!)?

Like cutting back on fat and eating more sugar, eating less gluten might lead to overconsumption of another potentially unhealthy item, such as corn products.  How many corn chip bags have you seen in the grocery store that proudly claim they are “gluten-free.” In this instance, you may be solving one problem by introducing another. While manufacturers are racing to the bank, the FDA is only now deciding what a gluten-free label means anyway. Are you surprised? 

On or off the bandwagon?

If you fear that gluten may be slowing you down, then by all means investigate the matter. Try to track what you are eating, cutting back on products that contain gluten. You may actually feel better without taking drastic measures.

As always, keep things fresh, wholesome and unprocessed. That way, overconsumption of gluten won’t be an issue anyway.

Melinda Hinson