Does gluten make you fat? Is gluten unhealthy? Wonder no more, because here’s why 99% of all people don’t have to worry about gluten at all!
The Gluten Craze
Here in Germany we have a fitting saying for what’s happening around gluten: it’s the latest pig hunted through the village. Meaning the latest craze people will follow.
Imagine a wild boar rampaging through a quaint Black Forest hamlet, its frantic inhabitants going after it and you get the picturesque idea.
That’s what the gluten-free craze is. Hot in the foot steps of lactose is evil, a lot of people go after the concept that gluten is responsible for health conditions and obesity.
Do Those People Know What Gluten Is?
Do they really know what gluten is and what it does? Jimmy Kimmel recently put together this enlightening video:
What Really Is Gluten And Is It Unhealthy?
Gluten, as Jimmy Kimmel pointed out, is a protein found in wheat. Protein is also found in milk, meat and fish, but gluten is a protein that’s a bit more difficult to digest.
For 1% of the population it’s not only difficult, but an unbearable health problem: they suffer from a gluten allergy called “celiac disease.” In those people, gluten slowly destroys the small intestine and they lose the ability to digest nutrients. The result is bloating, diarrhea and weight loss.
For everyone else gluten doesn’t matter one way or the other. I know of no research showing it to have any effect on people who do not suffer from celiac disease.
What About The Experts?
At this point it pays to look at how fads like gluten-free propagate through the health and fitness communities.
The people in Kimmel’s video got their information from “someone in their yoga class.” From my experience, that someone got his information from self-declared “health experts” like JJ Virgin (I’m not making the name up), who tells us we crave gluten because it’s bad for us:
Ever find yourself uncontrollably eating a box of Wheat Thins or reaching for a third slice of buttered toast? Ironically, the foods you’re most reactive to are the ones you crave most. According to Dr. Daniel Kalish, your body reacts to intolerant foods by creating addictive narcotics called opioid endorphins. Like a drug, you have a feeling of euphoria when you eat these foods, and subsequently crave them.
Someone should tell her and “Dr.” Kalish that the body also releases those endorphins when you go running. Does that make running like gluten? Maybe their grasp of things derives from the fact that Virgin is a “certified nutritionist” (a title with zero meaning) and Kalish’s “Dr.” is in chiropractic and not in medicine.
No matter, Virgin got her ideas from not-doctor Kalish and to Kalish they very likely trickled down from a cardiologist going by the name William Davis.
Dr. Davis And The Wheat Belly
With Dr. Davis we get to the heart of the matter, because it was him who wrote Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health. That book started the gluten fad and topped the sales charts for months.
Finally a real doctor. But what does Davis base his assumptions on?
Reading the book, I got the impression that most of his argument is centered around a single study, one of whom he says shows that people who went on a gluten-free diet lost weight. But when I looked it up, I was almost speechless:
A total of 188 patients meeting the stated criteria for compliance had BMI data recorded after 2-yr gluten exclusion. Mean BMI rose from 24.4 to 25.9. On gluten exclusion, weight gain was recorded in 152 (81%), no change in 8 (4%), and loss in 28 (15%).
It’s the opposite of what Davis claims in Wheat Belly: 81% of people gained weight after two years without gluten.
It Doesn’t Matter
By all means, if you suspect you suffer from celiac disease, get it tested. It’s simple to find out. And if you’re among the 1%, act accordingly.
But for the vast 99% others of you, eating or not eating gluten makes no difference at all. Not for your health and not for your waist line. The only effect gluten-free will have on you is a lighter wallet, because the stuff is up to 1/3 more expensive than regular food.
Picture courtesy of Kevin Lallier.