The dangers of going gluten-free

It’s the biggest health craze of our time, though some doctors fear it’s creating real problems. (Even the Wheat Belly guru is worried)

Liam Mogan

The first time Margaret Dron organized the Gluten Free Expo early last year, it was inside the gymnasium of a small community centre in east Vancouver. She had recruited one volunteer, two speakers, 38 vendors and expected 500 attendees. There was no entrance fee—instead, people were to bring gluten-free goods for the local food bank; three boxes were set aside for the collection. Six hours later, more than 3,000 people had turned out, and the volunteer had to call a one-tonne truck to pick up the donations. In one Sunday afternoon, Dron realized, “there is some serious potential here. So I quit everything I had, got an extension on my mortgage, and just dove in.” Since then, “it has blown up.”

That is to say, the Gluten Free Expo is now an annual affair in Toronto and Calgary, besides Vancouver. Next year, Edmonton and Ottawa will join the roster. About 10,000 people attend each weekend-long event, which is usually held inside a 60,000-sq.-foot convention centre. “And that’s getting tight,” says Dron. More than 200 vendors sell their offerings, mostly food items but also skin-care products and nutritional supplements—all made without gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye, and blamed for many digestive problems. Food donations are still accepted, but a $12 to $15 entrance fee has been implemented. “It’s gone from me begging [for] volunteer speakers to chefs and authors from all over North America requesting to come out,” says Dron. “It’s amazing.”

“Amazing” meaning lucrative, of course. Gluten-free products are a $90-million enterprise in Canada alone, and the sector is expected to grow at least 10 per cent each year through to 2018—an astounding feat for what is primarily a food-based category. In the United States, the market is valued at $4.2 billion and climbing. A landmark study by researchers at Dalhousie University in Halifax, published in the Canadian Journal of Dietetic Practice and Research in 2008, revealed that gluten-free foods were, on average, 242 per cent more expensive than their “regular” counterparts, and up to 455 per cent pricier in some cases. “If I was to manufacture a product,” says Dron, “there is no way that I would not have a gluten-free option in today’s day and age.”

Manufacturers are getting the message—and not just small fringe businesses, but behemoth multinational corporations, too. Kellogg’s revamped its Rice Krispies recipe, first concocted in 1927, by removing barley malt (the source of gluten in the original) from its gluten-free version so it could advertise as a cereal “that’s easy for kids to digest.” Campbell Company of Canada claims to be the “first mainstream brand” to feature a gluten-free symbol on its soups and chilies. Tim Hortons hailed the introduction of a gluten-free menu item in mid-July—a chewy coconut macaroon drizzled with milk chocolate—as nothing short of a “defining moment in our Canadian dining history.” Wal-Mart Canada started selling gluten-free goods online this summer and offers free shipping no matter the order size. “They want to be the Amazon.com of gluten-free,” says communications specialist Tricia Ryan, who founded the Gluten-Free Agency in Toronto last August to help companies market their new products.

Business is booming for her, too, as the variety of products expands far beyond the oxymoronic “gluten-free pasta” and “gluten-free bread” lines. Items that consumers might never even think of as containing gluten are being tweaked, or at least rebranded, to meet the demand: soy sauce, salad dressings, potato chips, hot dogs, veggie burgers, licorice, pickles, spices, beer, vodka, toothpaste, makeup, protein powders, medicine, even playdough. Indeed, nothing is so sacred it can’t be reworked. Canadian churches can now purchase gluten-free or low-gluten Eucharistic wafers: $22.95 for 100 pieces.

With all these products, one might assume the need for gluten-free items is epidemic in Canada, that without them a public health crisis could emerge. In reality, the explanation for the recent explosion in demand is a spectacular mix of real medical concerns, changing views on what accounts for a healthy diet, savvy marketing and celebrity influence. Sports stars Steve Nash and Novak Djokovic insist going gluten-free has turned them into the finest and leanest athletes in the world. Public health messages have shifted focus from low fat and sugar-free to low-carb, partly to stave off rampant obesity. And the best-selling book Wheat Belly, by American cardiologist William Davis, published in 2011, has convinced millions to stop eating, as the author puts it, “a perfectly crafted Frankengrain” that “has exerted more harm than any foreign terrorist group can inflict on us.”

In the midst of this frenzy, it’s easy to forget the fact that only a tiny segment of the Canadian population is strictly prohibited from eating wheat by medical professionals—the roughly 35,000 people diagnosed with celiac disease. Another 300,000 are believed to be afflicted but undiagnosed. Their plight is severe: Just one bite of a glutenous food damages their small intestine and can cause a range of symptoms including abdominal pain, gas, bloating, diarrhea and constipation. The disease can lead to problems including “osteoporosis, anemia, sterility, even carcinoma,” says Peter Taylor, executive director of the Canadian Celiac Association. For them, “every day, every meal, every mouthful” is a matter of sickness or health.

But they are a small lot, certainly “not enough to make a business,” says Ryan. Rather, it appears that the gluten-free craze is being fuelled by the dietary choices of a much larger group of individuals known as “gluten avoiders”—seven million strong in Canada alone, the majority of whom do not have celiac disease or any other medically prescribed reason for eliminating gluten from their diet. Many say they experience gut problems, but their doctors can’t explain why or what to do about it. Some of these individuals turn to blogs and books for guidance on how to go gluten-free. In the process, they may learn of other rumoured benefits: weight loss, chief among them. They share their story with family, friends and co-workers, who in turn try going gluten-free, too. It’s for this crowd that the market grows. The gluten avoider group “is the driver for the gluten-free category,” says Ryan. “It’s the one that substantiates businesses making [these products].”

It’s also the segment of the population that has an increasing number of doctors across Canada confused and worried about the possible dangers of patients going gluten-free without talking to a health professional first. Gluten avoiders may spend money on foods that they don’t really need to eat, that may actually be lacking nutrition and causing them other problems. They may also miss out on important diagnoses, especially if they do have celiac disease and aren’t tested. All this has led doctors to debate in the pages of scientific journals and even out loud: Is Canada facing a new medical emergency about which little is yet understood or is this just the latest health fad gone wild? And most importantly, are gluten avoiders doing themselves more harm than good?

Long before he became the head of the celiac association, Peter Taylor knew all about the torture that gut problems could inflict. For five years, he suffered seemingly inexplicable bowel pain and a terrible skin rash, which he could not cure. He lost 40 lb., because, Taylor later realized, his body couldn’t process his “carb-rich diet.” When his family physician learned of his symptoms, an assortment of possible causes was considered, including irritable bowel syndrome, gall bladder trouble and an ulcer. It wasn’t until a year and a half later that celiac disease came up, and was finally diagnosed. (It’s done using a simple blood test; if a particular antibody is detected, a biopsy is done to confirm bowel damage. This is covered in every province, except Ontario, where the blood work costs about $120.) Within three months of eliminating gluten, his symptoms disappeared. “The irony,” says Taylor, recalling his frustration at how long it took to figure out, “is that my doctor at the time was a celiac.”

However vexed Taylor felt, his experience was resolved pretty quickly by comparison: It takes, on average, a stunning 12 years for patients to be diagnosed with celiac disease from when they first start feeling sick, according to a study in a recent issue of the Canadian Journal of Gastroenterology. That’s largely because the symptoms are so ubiquitous they could hint at any number of disorders. “Gut problems are actually the most common symptoms the population has,” says Mohsin Rashid, a pediatric gastroenterologist and professor at Dalhousie, who co-authored the gluten-free cost comparison study. “That’s why celiac disease is underdiagnosed,” adds Taylor. “It’s masked by the perception that it’s something else.” In fact, “essentially two out of three Canadians every year will have some sort of digestive problem,” says Catherine Mulvale, executive director of the Canadian Digestive Health Foundation, and many don’t know what’s wrong. “Because they can’t get answers, they are scared.”

In the absence of a definitive diagnosis from their doctors, these individuals invariably take matters into their own hands. That usually involves cutting out foods that have been popularly vilified—especially grains. Often, people perceive an improvement in their symptoms, says Rashid, and return to the doctor’s office to confirm that gluten is the problem. Except now, diagnosing celiac disease is all but impossible: A patient must consume gluten every day for at least a couple of months or even up to a year before getting tested. As such, some people are wrongly informed that they don’t have the disease. Others refuse to start eating gluten again so they can be tested accurately—they feel their personal experiment is evidence enough of a gluten problem. “That’s a big pitfall,” says Rashid. “All gastroenterologists are seeing this phenomenon, and family doctors too.”

This disconnect between doctors and patients about who should go gluten-free and when prompted a sharply worded article in the April issue of the B.C. Medical Journal entitled, “Gluten elimination diets: facts for patients on this food fad.” Co-authors Kathleen Cadenhead and Margo Sweeny, both Vancouver physicians and members of the British Columbia Medical Association’s nutrition committee, note that, “Wheat, and gluten in particular, has been given pariah status by the millions who are on the low-carb diet bandwagon, particularly those who believe they are allergic or sensitive to gluten.” But, they insist that “there is no need for patients to avoid gluten” or wheat unless they’ve been diagnosed with celiac disease or an allergy because, the doctors argue, “most of the evidence against wheat or gluten is unsubstantiated by science.”

The article ignited a fiery debate. “I did push some buttons in writing this,” admits Cadenhead, but “we were trying not to be wishy-washy and say, ‘Look . . . the evidence is not there yet.’ ” Specifically, when it comes to a new medical phenomenon that’s being called “non-celiac disease gluten intolerance” or gluten sensitivity. Within the last five years or so, a handful of studies have proposed the emergence of this condition, which may affect as many as two million Canadians. They are thought to experience the same symptoms as celiacs after eating gluten. The trouble is diagnosing it; to date, there is no test that can detect gluten sensitivity. Rather, patients may consider themselves to have the condition if they have tested negative for celiac disease or a wheat allergy, or if they simply “feel better” or symptom-free when they don’t eat gluten.

Given how little is understood about gluten sensitivity, many doctors are hesitant to bring it up with patients, and some even question whether the condition is real. “We are describing a disease that is new altogether. It’s very difficult,” says Rashid. “We don’t know whether it’s a permanent thing; maybe it’s transient. Maybe it’s a dose-related phenomenon, [so] you can take some gluten. [There are] a lot of unknowns.” There is even suspicion that a “placebo effect” may be at play, adds Vincci Tsui, a registered dietitian in Calgary. “Because when people do switch over to a gluten-free diet, a lot of times it does mean eliminating fast foods, processed foods, refined grains, or it means cooking at home more often, eating more vegetables and fruits,” she explains. “They feel better and they think it is the [avoidance of] gluten when really it may be the fact that they are eating better in general.”

The notion that gluten avoiders are eating more whole foods and cooking healthy meals is really a best-case scenario, though. Many medical professionals are actually seeing eating habits take a turn for the worse once individuals avoid gluten. That’s because they are relying on processed gluten-free foods that often lack important vitamins, minerals and fibre, and are made with substitute starches such as rice and tapioca flour that “really have no nutritional value at all,” says Dron. “But they have really high glycemic indices.” In fact, a forthcoming study examining the nutritional content of gluten-free foods by Rashid found that these products may be higher in fat and lower in protein than their “regular” counterparts. “We have a tendency to think that gluten-free is healthier,” says Meghan Walker, a naturopathic doctor in Toronto. “And that is certainly not the case.” In fact, “a lot of people put on weight when they go on a gluten-free diet,” says Rashid.

Further complicating matters is the fact that “most people who think they’re on a gluten-free diet aren’t, unless they’ve really done their research,” says Cadenhead. “If they’re just avoiding pasta and bread,” that’s not enough. “Gluten is in almost everything.” It may be used as a thickener or stabilizer in soups, spreads and sauces, for flavouring in cereals or noodles, spices, teas and coffees, or as filler in processed meats, imitation seafood or vegetarian substitutes. Reading labels may not always make the presence of gluten obvious, either. It may appear in Latin as triticum vulgare or hordeum vulgare or secale cereale. Or the label may feature ingredients that people don’t realize contain gluten, including bulgur, couscous, farina, malt and seitan. Gluten “can be modified to give you all kinds of different properties,” explains Ravindra Chibbar, Canada Research chair in crop quality and a professor at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. “It is a readily available, inexpensive component and industry want to get their money’s worth. That is why people are working to get more and more products out of gluten components.”

That makes good business sense, of course. But it may not serve customers so well—those who don’t realize that they’re consuming gluten, or those who are buying gluten-free foods that are poor substitutes. The whole situation makes doctors such as Cadenhead shudder. “Whenever you see nutritional issues being heavily marketed, it makes me want to protect people from being ripped off,” says Cadenhead. “I would like people to be obtaining the best nutritional value for their food dollar.” Unbeknownst to many gluten avoiders, that may not be happening.

One of the most baffling aspects of the gluten-free phenomenon is how much influence a singular book has had on the diets of so many people. Wheat Belly has been heavily criticized by scores of physicians and lauded by many, many more gluten avoiders as proof their dietary restraint is justified. The irony, however, is that William Davis detests his new-found role as poster boy for the gluten-free food industry—and actually discourages people from buying these products because of their low nutritional value. “This has nothing to do with gluten,” he tells Maclean’s. Instead, he takes issue with how wheat has been grown, and altered through hybridizations over the last several decades, which he believes is harmful to human health. “If we view wheat as nothing more than a vehicle for gluten we are not going to understand all the issues that are important about modern wheat.”

It’s a highly inflammatory view, and crop experts such as Chibbar insist it is without merit. Hybridization means “you take one plant that has a feature you like, you cross it with another one and you get a progeny that has characteristics that you want,” he explains. “It has been going on for tens of thousands of years. It happens with all the crops, it’s not just wheat.” Others, such as Earl Geddes, CEO of the Canadian International Grains Institute, argue that consumers are missing the real problem with the country’s food supply: “Here in Canada we go to the grocery store once a week and we want to buy something that will sit in our cupboard for a week and still be good,” he says. “That’s got nothing to do with the wheat that’s in the product. That’s all the other stuff that we as consumers have insisted gets put into the product.”

While experts debate to what extent the war on wheat is warranted, millions of Canadians are struggling with debilitating gastrointestinal symptoms. Whatever the cause, their pain can’t be ignored or downplayed, says naturopath Walker. “If people articulate that they don’t feel well on a type of food and that is dismissed, I think there is a real danger that they will wind up with chronic issues,” she says.

But there are signs that the situation may be improving for gluten avoiders. Dron notes that an increasing number of manufacturers have heeded calls for healthier gluten-free options, and are launching nutrient-rich products such as quinoa pasta. And at an international celiac symposium in Chicago in September, Rashid will present his latest cost-comparison study, which shows that gluten-free foods are equalizing in price with regular foods—they are now 162 per cent more expensive, on average, rather than 242 per cent. He believes more competition in the market has driven down cost.

In this way, the more gluten avoiders demand information and options for themselves from doctors and manufacturers, the better their prospects for a healthy future. It just won’t happen overnight. “All kind of questions are coming about for which we really don’t have good answers,” says Rashid. “Our problem is people going [gluten-free] without being properly counselled or checked out. It becomes problematic.” He wants patients to request celiac testing before starting this new diet. “It will take some time to sort this out,” he acknowledges, and sometimes “patients can’t wait. They want to get better.” But they may, in fact, make matters worse.




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The dangers of going gluten-free

  1. I once saw a picture of some African cannibals.They all looked extremely fit.There wasn’t one of them who was overweight.

    • This comment was deleted.

    • it’s called “mortality dropout”.

  2. LOL – all those cannibals in the pitcure had to chase their dinner, and they probably never heard of pasta or sliced bread. No wonder they looked so fit :)
    On a more serious note, my symptoms have all but disappeared in the past year. I used to bake all the “healthiest” multi-grain breads at home, and paired them with a diet rich in fruits and veggies – and yet, my skin was bad, hair was thinning, sleep was disturbed, tummy was constantly upset, and my bowels were “spastic” at best. One year living gluten-free has seen clear skin, thicker hair, better sleep, a calm tummy, almost normal bowel function, and a sharper mind overall.
    The trick is to remember that when you buy processed foods of ANY kind, you are bound to add calories and gain weight. My own doctor and his whole family are GF, and he made it clear that as long as we get lots of whole foods in good variety, we will do fine. Whether gluten free or not, processed foods are things to be avoided.

  3. This is a fine balanced article and interview.
    I try to stay away from processed food and wheat, but try not to become fanatical about it. I urge people to read this overview of the issues. Very fair.

  4. We are the Gluten-Free Certification Program (GFCP) and proud to be endorsed in Canada by the Canadian Celiac Association (CCA). The purpose of the program is to help consumers clearly identify safe gluten-free products, by using a credible CCA endorsed GFCP trademark on retail consumer products, which are manufactured in a facility, which has proven they meet or exceed the rigorous manufacturing requirements set out in the GFCP standards. This includes implementing good manufacturing food safety and gluten management practices, combined with product testing and undergoing a third-party facility audit process. For more information please visit http://www.gluetnfreecertification.ca and look for the increasing use of the CCA GFCP trademark on retail products.

  5. I am disappointed there is no mention of the connection between gluten and autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.

    • I agree with your comment. I suffer from Graves Disease (hyperactive Thyroid) and am finding that avoiding gluten is calming my autoimmune system and thus calming my thyroid. The proof will be in my next blood test but I know that I feel better and many of the symptoms are gone or reduced.

  6. I have to say, I’m amazed how many people are glomming onto the GF fad, especially given the dubious health benefits to “normal” people. I was diagnosed with celiac about a year and a half ago and have gone GF myself, so I do know of what I speak!

    Going GF is extremely hard, quite expensive, and the end results are negligible. As the article states, GF replacement products tend to be much much more expensive than their normal versions. But above all, they generally taste terrible.

    As for weight loss, that’s where things get tricky. I did lose weight, but I really don’t think gluten (or a lack thereof) had anything to do with it. In order to avoid accidental glutening, I had to start paying closer attention t what I was eating. Virtually all processed and fast food were written off, replaced mainly by fresh produce. Once my symptoms started to calm down I could start back at the gym as well. THAT is what allowed me to lose weight, not just eating a few tiny slices of alleged bread that tasted more like drywall. (Although for the record, as of today I’m down 30 lbs from 2 years ago… that has nothing to do with this comment beyond bragging.)

    But basically, people who go GF for no actual medical reason are just making themselves miserable for nothing. If you can digest gluten, go for it! Why make yourself miserable for nothing? If you are looking to lose weight, pick any of the other fad diets out there as they will work better. Or better yet, stick with the only method that actually works: consume fewer calories than you expend.

    • I like your outlook and agree with your comments, being diagnosed as a celiac later in life was a huge life changing challenge. Now after 7 years, I believe I have come to the realization that the gross food will just have to be digested and revamped with my own cooking methods. Those who choose to do this diet do not realize that perhaps once they have been on it for so long and want to go back to eating food with gluten, the side effects could make them miserable. I agree others should try the other diets that are out there and leave this one to those poor souls who have been diagnosed with this autoimmune disease, which in fact is also hereditary.

      • Remembering how I suffered for most of my life, I look in the mirror each morning and give thanks for a healthy day, then say, no matter what I give up eating today, I’m going to feel great! And I am a minister in a church of great baking!

    • How about just eating real food instead of eating wheat replacement crap. I’ve been gluten free for years and everything i cook is delicious and healthy. If it has to specify “gluten free” you shouldn’t be eating it in the first place.

      • Spot on, real food is the cure for all.

      • You are absolutely right! I read the Wheat Belly book, and as several of my siblings and their children have issues with bowel and one has celiac disease, one Parkinson’s, diabetes etc. I thought…why not try going GF? I have osteoarthritis and some “element” of fibro so maybe it will help me. Because my daughter has MS, it is something she should probably try too, so I endeavored to follow a diet without gluten to see how hard it would be for her to follow. It isn’t easy if you are already trying to avoid saturated fats, deep-fried foods, processed crap, beef and other red meats and your husband is allergic to seafood. But you are correct…wheat replacement is useless. All you do is incorporate more preservatives and useless calories into your diet. If one is looking for weight control, well, it just happens with eating healthy. It does take some education though.

  7. Sometimes a self-diagnosis is a necessary step, as my doctors were not able to diagnose celiac disease after some pretty invasive testing, and an alarming decline in my health. It was reading a newspaper article that saved me, and I began a gluten-free diet that very same day, 5 years ago. I will not eat gluten again just to have an official medical diagnosis, the symptoms are just too severe to contemplate that, and it scares me. Personally, I do not require medical verification to accept that I have celiac disease, as in the end I am ultimately responsible for my own health and well-being.

    • Elimination was the best Dr. for me, 28 years of issues have stopped or lessened after eliminating wheat/gluten. Testing was always negative….blood and scoping, I laughed at the Dr when he suggested I started eating wheat/gluten again so they could test me some more. You can get just as much nutrition from a GF diet by doing due diligence into the foods you consume, a simple task once you get started and decided to eat what is healthier for you.

      The reason I said “lessened”, is that I have become even more sensitive to CC from wheat/gluten now and possibly developed new intolerance to food/s, but my symptoms are nowhere near as severe as they once were.

      IMHO I think the answer for many is NSGI, Non Celiac Gluten Intolerant, with all the GMO foods out there now and gluten being one of the most GMO’d proteins, no wonder we are seeing an increase in intolerance. http://www.foodreactions.org/gluten/testing_negative.html

  8. When I have to cook for a celiac (have twice), I use all new sugar, salt and any other dry ingredients that might be contaminated including washing all my measures and swabbing down the counters. Both went home, just fine. They are thrilled with the current gluten-free fad (and it is that, just the latest magic bullet to lose weight) as so many good products are now easily available.

    That’s the good news – the only good news, My friend who went gluten-free for months is as fat as ever, however my Irish friend who followed the fasting day diet (500 calorie restriction 2 days a week bracketed by five normal days of eating) lost 40 pounds in 6 months. I lost 25 pounds so far and my husband 20. And all three of us agree it is the easiest diet we have ever been on in our 6 plus decades.

    So energy in must be less than energy expended to lose weight – pretty simple! There are no magic bullets…

  9. The fact is that physicians also turn so snobby when you try to tackle the issue with them. “If you had any problems with gluten you would be super skinny and always sick.” Even if it’s becoming a “thing” in Canada, I think most physicians are still very ignorants when it comes to gluten intolerance (and intolerances in general). It is quite easy to be answer that “it’s in your head.” If they want us not to try a GF diet if we don’t need it, maybe they should listen to us when we say we think we have a problem. I have never been tested, but when I was still eating gluten, living my everyday life was extremely difficult. It’s like my body couldn’t retain anything, like if I was loosing all my vitality everytime I ate. I won’t wait for them to change their minds to be able to live my life like a normal person. Do we have to wait for them to prove that hypersensibility to gluten is a real thing to move on with our lives? At the end of the day, I think that if you have done you reseach, adopt a pragmatic approach and listen to your body, you minimise the risks and give yourself the chance to feel better.

    • Hypersensitivity to gluten is a thing. It’s called Celiac disease. There’s a medical test for it. If you don’t have it, then you either have something else – and it’s still hurting you despite the placebo effect of your gluten free diet. Or, it’s in your head – which is common and ok – then there are other problems. The placebo effect works both ways, the brain is powerful and “listening to your body” isn’t always the right idea. Saying “it’s all in your head,” when it comes from a medical professional isn’t (or at least shouldn’t) be stigmatized, mental illness is illness.

      • I meant sensitivity to gluten, my bad. The article mention findings aren’t conclusive about it, but that it might exists (new medical phenomenon that’s being called “non-celiac disease gluten intolerance” or gluten sensitivity. Within the last five years or so, a handful of studies have proposed the emergence of this condition, which may affect as many as two million Canadians.) I should mention that I’m from Québec, and that seing a physician is so hard that when they see you they just don’t want to listen to you even if you are close to death. So when it comes to intolerances, they almost laught at you. Anyway, insinuating that such huge digestive problems can originate from mental illness is a bit over the top. I mean, when you are sick, you are sick. You don’t need to have a PHd to know that. The problem is, symptoms of intolerances can be very different from one person to another, and from one type of food to another. When I eat eggs, I throw up. When I eat dairies I turn red, I look pregnant and I will spare you the rest of the details. When I eat anything with wholemeal flour in it, I just feel it literally going through my intestin, and trust me, you don’t want to experience that. Tell me again it’s in my head. Lastly, since even gluten hypersensitivity is sometimes not detectable, then yes, it’s important to listen to your body.

        • Hi Edith,

          Have you ever looked into the possibility that you have Leaky Gut? (Western medicine will tell you that it’s not a real diagnosis… just like when Fibromyalgia first became known).

          • Good advice GF_Girl. Don’t forget to add in the bit about avoiding wi-fi, too.

  10. Having lived with migraines most of my life,and tracing gluten as the cause, my health has improved remarkably since I went Gluten-Free. Every time I lapse, I feel the sleepiness and headache coming on again. I have to thank a friend who was celiac for making me aware of all the other health conditions linked to vegetable protein, and, in particular, wheat gluten.

  11. I still don’t understand what the danger is. Some missing nutrients that are picked up in other foods? Or the moneys that the doctors and lab people don’t get?

    • People are buying overpriced products that are often worse for them than the regular stuff, all to treat a condition that they don’t have.

      It’s kind of like homeopathy. If you’re okay with paying twenty dollars for a bottle of water, I guess that’s your prerogative, but it’s not going to make you healthier.

      • There’s really no -need- to buy any of the overpriced products, and ‘worse’ is pretty difficult to define. The products typically have a high glycemic index, but no gluten, so are they really worse choices? Not if you go along with the ‘gluten is evil’ train of thought. As for buying the products, I get along just fine being gluten free without sandwiches, pasta or pizza. I feel better and have lost 15 pounds with no loss of muscle mass, which is an important detail.

        • This one time I couldn’t get it up so I gave up bread and now i can.

        • I am confused. Are you saying that high glycemic index (GI) foods are good for you? LOW GI foods are better for you. Look it up.

          • Yes, you are confused. I’m saying that ‘worse’ is difficult to define. On one hand, they have a high glycemic index (which is bad), but on the other hand, they don’t have any gluten (which is good). I figured the ‘but’ in the sentence would indicate the comparison between a ‘bad’ and a ‘good’, but…

  12. I am gluten free, but not because of a craze. I suffered depression for 7 years. When i cut out gluten 100%, my depression disappeared. I sink back into it when I am contaminated. There is more to going gluten free than just for celiacs. It is not for everyone, but it helped me a lot.

    • That’s very interesting., There is still SO MUCH we don’t know about diet and well-being. That’s probably why so many people have to try so many different things to get relief. There are no one-size-fits-all nutritional rules.

    • Placebos are great!

    • I got to say that he’s right. It is proven that gluten-free diet (I am on Paleo which is great) is good for mental health. I was really depressed over the last few months, especially since my father was diagnose with cancer. I started the paleo diet 2 weeks ago only in order to eat more healthy without having to follow a diet (paleo is not really a diet since you eat what you want, you just choose what’s good). I feel less depressive, more happy, better in my own body, feeling more productive, more energy, etc. I have also lost 6 pounds so far (no exercice I must day). So yes, going gluten-free is good.

  13. This is an incomplete article that ignores the scientific research that has been done on the connections between gluten and health problems, such as, as Drummer says, autoimmune diseases. The reason gluten causes flare-ups with these diseases is because it directly leads to inflammation in the body, which has numerous debilitating effects. This article also glances over the REAL problems that many of us so called hypociondriacts suffer while eating gluten, problems that are highlighted when we return to eating the substance after time spent gluten-free, notably abdominal pain so intense that it makes you walk doubled over and bloating so severe that it literally hurts and gives you the appearance of being pregnant.

    I have undiagnosed IBS, which I took into my own hands by becoming vegan. Yet even this did not fully help me rid myself of my symptoms. Not until I went gluten-free did I ever experience full symptom relief. And, unlike the article assumes, I have never eaten junk food, so I didn’t cut that out. Also, after going vegan, I had already been eating a good deal more fruit and vegetables. The only further difference I made was cutting out bread (the only gluten-based product that I eat), and suddenly my monthly incapacitating bouts of gas and abdominal pain disappeared altogether.

    I’m not really sure where the scientific evidence is to back up the viewpoint of the extremely opinionated doctor in this article, but his lack of thorough research seems dangerous considering what a position of guidance and power he finds himself in. I know he probably won’t see this response, but I hope it will make someone question the validity of this article.

    • Totally agree Mae – Cutting out gluten makes me feel great, more energy, less IBS. I replace wheat flour with other healthy flours (not white rice if I can help it). Fast-food consumption is almost negligible except for the occasional batch of french fries :)

      The “danger” this article speaks of is akin to going “vegetarian” and only eating pop and chips. Obviously there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it, people just need to use common sense.

      The headline of this article is completely overblown, shame on you MacLean’s for resorting to Fox-style screaming headlines that have little to do with the actual content.

  14. as a person who’s body was shutting down before I deleted gluten from my diet and who’d Dr told me, it was all in my head.. I say shame on you Mcleans.. were you not the magazine that published an article a few years ago that stated our wheat in Canada contained Roundup.. maybe that’s why we can’t eat it in such large numbers.. did you ever read the side of a roundup bottle..
    I have Dr’s that have told me it’s the tests they are using that are the problem..it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see know that you feel better when cutting out gluten.
    Funny, they use the elimination diet for all others but when you use it for gluten they deem it no reliable..
    Accept more and more people can’t tolerate gluten.. if it makes us healthier not to eat it what is the problem..

    • And you don’t think rice, quinoa, canola, fruits and vegetables are treated with Roundup and other pesticides and herbicides?

      • This person never claimed those products contain no roundup or pesticides. Dude, you sound like a psycho commenting on all these comments.

        • JMCalico sounds like a wheat farmer from Saskatchewan.

    • It’s true that most of the wheat grown these days is going to be Roundup-Ready and quite possibly there are health effects from the genetic modification involved. However there is also roundup-ready corn, canola, alfalfa, beets, potatoes in our grocery stores.

      I wouldn’t be surprised to learn we are seeing health effects of our food supply systems – I would be shocked if gluten was more than a sidebar to the real problem.

  15. Thanks Cathy Gulli you have posted a great very well
    structured article. In short you are saying that a fatty food takes longer time
    to digestive and get rid of constipation. I have question for you the right
    balance of bacteria is important and previous courses of antibiotics can change
    the balance forever. Honestly your post is very informative I have read
    complete post. Most of the people are not aware of dangers of going gluten-free.
    I hope after reading this post they might can get good information.

    • The genetic test can determine if someone is NOT celiac, but even with a positive identification of genetic markers it can’t prove that he/she is celiac. My daughter has had the test which showed she has both genetic markers for celiac, but unfortunately this only proves that she might be celiac. If she didn’t have the markers, we would know that her digestive problems can’t be celiac. The doctors are pretty sure based on a relief of symptoms when taken off gluten combined with having the genetic markers that she is celiac, but the only way for 100% proof is to have her ingest gluten every day for 3 months and get her re-tested. Knowing how sick she is on gluten, I’ve made the choice to assume she’s celiac and be celiac-level-vigilant about her ingestion. Whether it’s celiac or just a “gluten sensitivity”, it’s just not worth making her sick to find out. Both the specialist and our GP support my decision. When she’s older it will be her choice whether or not she pursues a 100% diagnosis. Maybe by then there will be better tests. The blood test for celiac has a really high false negative, by the way. Up to 30% false negative for children, even if they’re consuming wheat.

  16. A gluten free diet includes vegetables, meat and fruits. That is not unhealthy and should not create new health problems. And, yes, those who strive to eat gluten free must read the label and learn more about what the additives are; the source of the iingredients, what they do why it is included in the product and how they affect a body. I have noticed many gluten free bread with items I had to learn about and later refused to eat products with that particular ingredient in it. I love wheat products but have to avoid eating it because it causes constipation and gas. I am not going to continue to eat wheat products until I get sick so the doctors can run tests to see if I am allergic to wheat. I feel the tests used are not design to identify small symptoms that are causing discomfort in the life of a person. It is up to the individual to test and to identify what they feel is the cause of a physical discomfort and avoid a food if they have they find that it causes them the problem. After all, doctors ability to identify a problem is limited the test results and tests are limited in their ability to check all the details of a health problem.

  17. I had abdominal pain for over a year and had every invasive test there is – the pain was crippling at times. All tests were negative. I gave up gluten and within 1 week I had absolutely no pain – I could not believe it. I don’t particularly enjoy being gluten free as I was very fond of bread and pizza and the substitutes are just not tasty. On the other hand, I feel like I got a new lease on life so there must be something to it.
    I was not overweight but did lose a few pounds as a consequence. I just fit better in my clothes now.

  18. The problem is not foods that are gluten free, but “gluten free foods” that replace wheat with other starches because they’re foods we shouldn’t be consuming in the first place. What is needed is to ensure that basic foods that never should have wheat anywhere-near or in them remain un-contaminated. So often wheat is used as a filler in “meat” products, or is a hidden contaminant or bulking agent rendering that food in-edible by many.

    A gluten free diet is healthy, but a diet that is full of “gluten free foods” is as unhealthy as the Standard American Diet.

  19. This article did miss much of the information necessary to make an informed decision. Firstly like others mentioned, AUTOIMMUNE disorders, and there are many. Any disease that is affected by inflammation, these is things like arthritis, multiple sclerosis, cancer and heart disease just to name a few. And no mention about Chronic illnesses, I do agree that not everyone should eliminate wheat but we have so much Chronic illness in Canada that many might consider it. I am not GF, I am wheat free, Paleo to be exact and I do it for my health. No doctor has helped me to date, they only look at drug options, not diet or lack of vitamins. So I do it for myself.

    • So there’s some magic component in wheat that’s not gluten that’s causing your problems? There are no drugs for Celiac disease, and doctors recommend a diet change to treat it.

  20. Gluten (wheat, barley, rye) and white vinegar intolerance is the
    culprit, but it’s not only Celiac persons affected. Other health conditions are
    strongly affected by it inflammatory and neurological damage, including irritable bowel
    syndrome (IBS), autism, multiple sclerosis (MS), amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), motor neuron
    disease (MND), chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS),
    fibromyalgia (FM), Parkinson’s (PD), Alzheimer’s (AD) and dementia,
    Bi-polar, depression, Crohn’s, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and others. Generally
    it’s the one percent celiac persons that have positive response to genetic test
    for allergy whereas the nine percent gluten intolerant person have negative
    response, yet their health is still compromised by gluten. Milk-casein and
    lactose may also be factors. Many of these health conditions are increasing
    because overuse of pesticides, MSG, asparatames, peroxides, formaldehydes, toxic
    mercury (whitening tooth paste on amalgams), aluminum (additives to water and
    food), arsenic, lead, nickel, copper have comprised our ability to process
    gluten.

    • EVERYTHING CAUSES EVERY DISEASE!

  21. This title of the article is sure to get people’s attention however it is a huge disservice to those that are considering eliminating gluten from their diet. Going “gluten free” does not imply that you are eating healthy. The healthiest diet ever studied is a modified Mediterranean diet. In our practice we modify the diet by eliminating wheat and reducing grains and other starchy carbs as we increase calories from healthy fats and proteins.

    Gluten Free means different things to different people, it is too broad of a diet. Someone can eat gluten free pretzels, donuts, sodas and other crap and be classified as gluten free. If you want to get technical then the best diet to consume is a “gluten free, low carbohydrate, plant strong mediterranean diet”. This is what the research supports.

    Also in the article it mentions that there are only 300,000 people with Celiac’s. When did 300,000 become a small number of people?

    Gluten has been linked to so many autoimmune issues, neurological issues and digestive complaints. You do not have to have Celiac to have a problem with gluten.

    “Gluten sensitivity can be primarily and at times exclusively a neurological disorder”
    British Medical Journal Vol 318, June 26, 1999

    “It is a historical misconception that gluten sensitivity is regarded as principally a disease of the small bowel.”
    Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery and Psychiatry 2002; 72: 560-563

    “Diverse problems such as dental anomalies, short stature, osteopenic bone, lactose intolerance and infertility, among many others may be the only manifestation of celiac disease.”
    American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1999; 69:354-65

    None of these are new studies, we have known with for quite some time. The diagnosis of celiac disease is traditionally done via biopsy and requires complete atrophy of the villi for a diagnosis. However, if the correct testing was done then it could be picked up much earlier before the house burns down.

    This article has virtually no merit and does not report any of the research that is readily available on pub med.

    I think that the only thing these doctors are worried about is useless testing, and doctors visits that affect their bottom line.

    Statistically it takes 5 specialists and a decade of suffering for a Celiac patient to find answers! And somehow eliminating a grain that did not comprise the human diet only 10,000 years ago is going to harm us?

    Let’s get real here. Not everyone needs to eliminate gluten, but there is absolutely no harm in removing it from your diet and eating lots of nuts, seeds, veggies, healthy meats and low to moderate intake of fruits.

    This article does not even mention molecular mimicry that occurs when the immune system mistakes antigens from others foods as antigens from gluten.

    Did you know that there are over 12 proteomes to gliadin and only one is ever tested?

    If you want research supported truth go here where you will find over 170 peer reviewed references: http://thelivingproofinstitute.com/gluten-sensitivity/

    • Dr., eh? Let me guess…chiropractor or naturopath? I thought so.

  22. Finally, an article on gluten that avoids the craziness on both sides. Excellent.

  23. Mostly this article is overlong hogwash.
    True, real celiac is often not diagnosed for years. However, there’s an entire category of sufferer that this article totally ignores: the gluten intolerant. They may number in the millions. Gluten intolerance is virtually impossible to diagnose scientifically; so you just go off major sources of gluten. As long as you look carefully at ingredients in prepared foods and don’t eat the sugary stuff, nothing bad can happen to you, except that you’ll be ripped off by unscrupulous food processors.
    The idea that millions should actually do the celiac full test is beyond ridiculous. It requires you casually make yourself sick again for months on end just so the presence of gluten allergy can be detected.

    Just leave the wheat/barley/oats/ and similar grains out. I’ve done it.

  24. I was diagnosed as sensitive by a naturopath after years of having asthma, being overweight, sinus problems, brain fog and constantly hungry. 10 days off wheat I was no longer was hungry all the time, stopped overeating and one month later went off inhalers that I was on for 15 years! That was over a year ago, no more asthma, normal weight lost 40 lbs, normal blood pressure and cholesterol. I wouldn’t eat wheat or any other source of gluten again for any reason. I do wish I had been tested for celiac though because I will never know unless I ate wheat again which I refuse to. I also don’t recommend plugging yourself with gluten free substitutes, they are more fattening and no better for you. Also, I never had gut symptoms, none ever. Many celiac a don’t. Read the wheat belly book, I’d you are overweight, have rising blood pressure or diabetes do yourself a favour and stop the wheat!

  25. This article brought to you by the Canadian Wheat Board.

  26. What is a “glycemic indice” as mentioned in the article? The writer writes like a know-it-all but doesn’t know what a glycemic index is. Also, she claims lactose intolerant is a food trend. What’s up with that? Very contradictory. Very arrogant. Very uninformed. The article was published to get attention, like all media.

    • “Indice” is not a word and it’s not in the article. The author of the article used the word “indices,” which, is a plural form of the word “index.”

    • You talk about “uninformed”, but you don’t know that Indices is the plural of index. Sad.

  27. I wonder if this article was written by the Canadian Wheat Board?!

  28. What is with the ridiculous interview video with the writer? She sits there acting like she’s a health professional or a nutrition expert of some sort, but her views are completely ridiculous. She refers to lactose intolerance as a trend which is outrageous. Anyone intolerant of anything is not trying to follow a trend. This article is a bunch of balogna and shame on the writer and Maclean’s for publishing such nonsense. And to use scare tactics with the title? Maclean’s – you should be embarrassed. Very offensive to those with celiac disease and those with non-celiac gluten sensitivity. It’s stated in the article that there isn’t enough demand from the 1% of the population who are celiacs for a real business of gluten-free foods? Is the celiac community non worthy? There aren’t enough of them to deserve choices? Come on people, put your thinking caps on!

    • Most of the people in the media who talk about health issues aren’t “health professionals”, they just talk a good game.

  29. What is so dangerous about dropping ingredients that make you feel sick in order to feel better? That’s really dangerous. The government, media, health care system and sickly food supply we are exposed to is what is dangerous!

  30. I figured out I’m gluten intollerant two years ago, there is absolutely no doubt that gluten does bad things to me- the direct and fastest sympton is feeling like I have bad acid indigestion, but the other benefits of stopping it go well beyond that.
    I still know when I eat gluten because the indigestion returns quickly, however I’ve done my research and it is now very rare that I eat it without knowing it.
    Other health improvements: #1 was a feeling of dementia is totally gone, skin irritations/blemishes gone, hair loss in the sink every morning gone.
    Thinking back- I started getting the symptoms around 15 years ago and no, my doctor did not diagnose it when the acid indigestion started getting unbearable.

  31. I went gluten free 2 years ago due to chronic bowel irritation. I found after six weeks that it did nothing for the irritation. BUT what did happen is my constant runny or stuffy nose cleared up and the 4 or more major flu-like allergy bouts per year I was suffering never happened again. Oh, and goodbye to 30 pounds of flab, thank you very much. Probably in major part by switching from fried foods to salads with no croutons, but at 51 years old I’ve never been healthier.

    As for the irritation, apple pectin and Fibercon with every meal got it under control. Likely too much bile and no gall bladder since 1997.

  32. Crappy article. Full of crap. Awful. Terrible. Horrible. Dangerous. Who paid for this nonsense?

  33. I’ve got to say that I fall on this article while looking for Gluten Free recipe.

    I started 2 weeks ago the Paleo Diet with my bf and I did lose 6 pounds (from 146lbs at 5”8) and he lost 10 pounds (from 210lbs at 6”1) so far. We are avoiding gluten as much as we can and eat healthy and fresh food. No more pasta, bread, bagels, cereals, rice, etc. We did not do this for any kind of disease at all. It was only in order to eat healthier. And I can tell you that I feel better than ever. I’m losing weight without going to the gym (no exercices at all), I have more energy, I feel better, people say I look better and healthier, more happy, etc. I think that being gluten-free is a really good way to enjoy life and should be done with a healthy diet (I hate to say diet because I’m eating what I want!). I think the industry is trying to advise people not to go on substitute but go for a healthy diet by replacing your usual bread by something healthier like a good banana-mango smoothie with chia seeds and protein. Just eat healthy. That’s it. :)

  34. Solid, balanced reporting. Thanks for the great piece.

  35. Gluten is not a nutrient, so avoiding it can only have positive effects.
    Until the mainstream medical profession catches up with holistic nutrition, which will take some time because they get virtually no training in nutrition at medical school, patients are going to have to educate themselves.
    The Chicken Little notion that “some” people “may” be missing out on “some” nutrients is a tempest in a teapot. It’s far more worrisome that some people may be missing out on most nutrients by eating a total junk food diet starting with a bag of chips and a can of pop for breakfast.
    Show me one person who subsists on a diet of wholly processed gluten-free products purchased from the grocery store?

    • Gluten is a protein, and protein is a nutrient. So gluten does have a nutritional benefit for those who can digest it.

      • Gluten is a peptide not a protein. It carries biochemical signals. It has no nutritional value.
        I can isolate protein in shoe leather. Do you want to eat it?

        • Proteins are formed from polypeptides — the difference between peptides and protein is one of size, not substance.
          Have you ever heard of seitan? It is a meat substitute used widely in Asian cooking, and it is derived from wheat gluten. It may be just a step above shoe leather ( which has, incidentally, been eaten in time of famine), but it is an important source of protein for some people who don’t eat meat.

          • I’m aware that protein is comprised of peptides, but that’s really besides the point. Gluten is hardly essential for health and seems to be an impediment to the health of many. Our distant ancestors were hunter-gatherers. Human physiology hasn’t changed.
            I don’t buy any processed food without analyzing the label. What I find the most idiotic are the “% daily value” labels. I’d prefer a more in depth breakdown of the ingredients.

  36. Anyone on a Paleo die is laughing right now after reading this article. I’ll gladly give up wheat for the fifty pounds I’ve lost in the past six months and the new lease on life it’s given me.

  37. I agree with those who say this article has over- sensationalized the issue and has not looked seriously at the benefits of going wheat and gluten free. Please be clear about what William Davis is against. You used his name and then skirted over his objections, which are to some nutritionless “gluten free” ingredients. How can things such as potato flour, tapioca starch, and xanthan gum be considered healthy – or even foods ? Like many of your commenters, I, too, have experienced the benefits of going wheat free. My acid reflux and joint pain went immediately and I am less hungry and eat less and have lost weight ( a good thing) as a result. The objections of the physicians make me laugh. They don’t like that they are wrong and have lost control. They have not got the message that patients are abandoning their paternalistic, ill – informed, judgemental, and dismissive attitudes, seeking alternative treatments and figuring out things for themselves – and being way healthier as a result.

  38. After reading many of these comments it’s apparent to me that lots of people are heavily emotionally invested in their gluten free beliefs – science be damned. Anecdotal evidence isn’t science. Without control groups any nonsense can be touted as the gospel truth. Have any of you people heard of the placebo effect. It’s powerful. The fact is there may be many other reasons why people report feeling better on these diets. For example many breads contain lots of salt and sugar. As a result cutting bread out of your diet may result in weight loss and lower blood pressure that has absolutely nothing to do with gluten. Meanwhile savvy marketers are make a fortune selling gluten-free foods? at premium prices. You know what they say, there’s a sucker born every minute.

  39. No gluten. No beer for you!!

  40. i really enjoyed this article, very professional! i am happy a lot of people read it, and from the other comments, the article has perfect result!
    _______________________
    anunturi galati

  41. There seems to be an assumption in this article that wheat is somehow everyone’s birthright unless they’re diagnosed. Buckwheat, millet and sorghum are also natural, healthy grains. You just can’t make a croissant out of any of them.

  42. What this article fails to mention is that this year a major study has rejected gluten sensitivity. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23648697 . ” A new study showed no evidence of specific or dose-dependent effects of
    gluten in patients with non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) placed on a
    placebo controlled, specialized diet, according tot he August issue of Gastroenterology. (Gastroenterology, Volume 145, Issue 2, Pages 320-328.e3, August 2013).”

  43. Ok, so I’m not supposed to listen to my body? My doctor told me my IBS that I’ve had for 15 years was a parasite. I knew she was wrong so I kept a food journal and discovered wheat was the issue. I continued to eat it and took a blood test for celiac and it came back negative. Just for fun, I cut out wheat (not gluten) for a few days and what do you know, my stomach cramps, fatigue and bowel issues disappeared. Now, 2 years later, gluten is starting to bother me. A beer causes cankers, soy sauce and malt vinegar causes extreme fatigue exactly 24 hours later. But hey, according to these guys, I wheat/gluten is not the enemy. Sorry, I know my body best.

    • For the record, I rarely buy ‘gluten free’ foods. I stick to unprocessed meats and veggies that I prepare for myself. I may make gf bread from time to time, or have a hankering for a muffin (gluten free of course) but I don’t waste my money on crap that tastes like cardboard.

    • My body says to eat cake until I puke. What self-diagnosis suits me best, do you think?

  44. So, people shouldn’t make any dietary changes because they may make the matters worse. Please, keep eating a status quo shit diet so you can be tested for celiacs… Honestly what’s the point? If people can only figure out how to eat gluten free by eating engineered food products then they aren’t trying hard enough. Just buying foodstuffs sporting a label that tells you what you want to hear wont cut it. Take life by the horns by informing yourself and trusting in your own experience. The doctor can’t eat for you.

  45. I read the article, but I didn’t see any real “dangers” listed… Food is more expensive? Avoiding gluten may mask diagnosis of other illnesses? You may become increasingly insensitive if you “cheat”?

    That all seems like a pretty low price to pay to feel more energetic, to be less down in the dumps, to experience less stomach pain and/or embarrassment, and to have clearer and healthier skin and hair… This is what going gluten free has done for me.

    As with everything, I believe in “buyer beware”. If you are going to buy into being gluten free, take the time to do your research to make sure you are still eating a balanced diet and to observe the effects on yourself (it isn’t for everyone). Also, try to make everything yourself, rather than buying processed and manufactured gluten free foods.

  46. This article fails to outline what the danger is in avoiding gluten to the individual besides from the diagnostic standpoint which really only benefits the researchers, or what the benefits of eating gluten are. There are NO nutritional benefits to eating gluten.
    I eat gluten free even though I have no ill effects from gluten. I do not rely on packaged foods for nutrition, instead I eat whole foods from the produce isle, or the meat and fish department. No fast foods or processed foods. This can’t be a negative way for people to eat when there is a very sad phenomena of morbidly obese people who are also malnourished and a diabetes epidemic. There are many valid reasons to avoid gluten (and sugar) besides weight loss for vanity, or gluten sensitivity. Its healthier to eat calories from nutritionally dense whole foods.

  47. I think the title is a bit misleading. The author of Wheat Belly didn’t express concer about the dangers of a gluten free diet. He expressed concern about his message about the problems with wheat getting lost on all the focus on just one component of wheat. Also, the article did not present danger of a gluten free diet, it presented issues with eliminating an element of the diet and replacing it with less nutritious foods. Many things made of wheat flour are empty calories (cupcakes come to mind). If a person is inclined to eat healthy they will research what that means and try to make good choices with or without gluten containing grains.

    • It seem’s you must have skimmed through wheat belly.W. Davis mentions many nutritional alternatives.Ie.raw nuts,fresh fruit,veg’s.He also warns too avoid starches etc.

  48. It’s all about nutrient density. I’m a celiac and I ran into these guys at Eat Vancouver, they make “karma”ffins muffins that are actually good for you and taste like they’re bad for you!

    http://www.ubelivinsmart.com/

  49. so many people with a celiac diagnosis want to be so special and they get so mad when anyone goes gluten free without a diagnosis of celiac. its ok, we are all special snowflakes
    0_o

  50. “They may also miss out on important diagnoses, especially if they do have celiac disease and aren’t tested.” So those with genuine celiac will never know they have the disease, bcs they never eat gluten and never experience symptoms? This is like saying those with a predisposition towards lung cancer should smoke, otherwise they might live a long and healthy life, never having known that they are at greater risk to smoking related cancer. Did the Canadian Wheat Board write this article?

  51. Eating gluten with no discernible ill-effects. Love my homemade bread. Love my store bought pasta. Yum.

  52. Hey just put a stack of white bread on a plate and next to it put a plate of vegetables, fruits, nuts, fish, and other real foods, and make your own decisions about what to select from each plate. It should be obvious. You don’t need to read any books, talk to any doctors, or see any nutritionists.

  53. I was diagnosed with celiac about 3 1/2 years ago and I’m still struggling with the gluten-free lifestyle. It’s a difficult process and, as others have pointed out, can be very expensive. I’d give anything to go back to eating “normally”. How I’d love to be able to eat a croissant. Or a soft and fluffy dinner roll. Or a bowl of real Cheerios. If all the faddists who are jumping on the gluten-free bandwagon help to bring about a wider selection of better quality, healthier and CHEAPER gluten-free foods, then I’m all for it. The more, the merrier. Those of us who are forced to be GF because of celiac disease or related medical problems will benefit from this.

  54. Loved this article! I’m celiac, and my sister and I just discussed why it isn’t good for her to go gluten free if she doesn’t have to. I do take a little offense when people make a big stink about something they’re not allergic too. I’d kill to be able to go out and eat without being constipated for 3 days because of cross contamination. For all those who go gluten free willingly, you don’t fully understand the effects and the frustration that actually goes with it. Some days I still eat things because its hard to believe that I can’t.

    • Also, the majority of the comments I see here, are self diagnosed people defending their diagnosis. Doctors are right, it could very well be something else. I grew up with food allergies, which then were linked to MSG, tartrazine and other spice/preservatives. It wasn’t until I had 4 surgeries in 20 months that I started getting really sick. Which was then linked to my medications and wheat ingredients in that. There are so many health problems, that I agree with the doctors. You may be over looking the real problem (if there is one), and could just need to cut out the other crap. I’m now celiac, anemic, and lactose intolerant, so my health issues are pretty severe, so people who play with the idea, really irritate me!

  55. Cathy,
    Thank you for a comprehensive look at the current Gluten phenomenon. However, I think the concern for inadequate nutrition is false. If anyone seriously looks at the processed foods in the grocery stores today I believe they would agree that western society is being poisoned slowly. When you look at our food consumption, Gluten cannot be looked at in isolation. Sodium, sugar, sulfites and preservatives must also be considered. Not to mention steroids and antibiotics. The amount of Gluten proteins in our food is one more ingredient that is over refined and overused.
    The majority food in grocery stores in the western society is not healthy.

  56. Good article. I’m married to someone with celiac disease who never had any symptoms. I think people should know that there are asymptomatic celiacs. His diabetes specialist (he has Type I diabetes) suspected something and ordered tests without even voicing her suspicions. There is a high correlation of people with auto-immune disorders developing celiac disease. Anyone with an autoimmune disease would do well to have the blood tests for celiac disease.

  57. Facts are these:

    As history has proven before what is actually healthy or “good” for you as told by a handful of research, and some personal experience is grossly inflated by the general population.

    Yes there exists gluten intolerance and conditions that go along with it but for the MAJORITY of individuals, we are just playing into the pocketbooks of food companies.

    “Health Check”, “organic”, and “natural” all have started as good intentions but ultimately have all turned into a cash grab by food manufacturers. Do the research. They hop on this stuff and if you were in their position you would do the same.

    You know what is going to be the BEST thing for you REGARDLESS of the fad or diet at the time?!? Eating REAL, WHOLESOME, FRESH, BALANCED, HOMEMADE FOOD.
    There is no substitute. Heck, maybe eat wheat and take it easy on processed sugars, pop, and fast food. Or maybe try cutting out a ton of red meat. Make sure you have explored all avenues first before combining a placebo effect with being aware of what you eat.

    The amount of people who ***already ate very clean and real food*** THEN eliminated gluten and felt better are the exception and are a small percentage.

    Most of you (and don’t post your own personal experiences of how GF saved your life in your special case) will feel better by any diet change that moves you toward less processed foods. Gluten or otherwise. Honestly, do the poll/survey first before you reply to this comment, otherwise save your time by splitting hairs.

    Stop freaking out about this trend or that, eat well in all areas, and be happier.
    FACT.
    END OF DISCUSSION.

    • You’ve got it backwards. The gluten free movement pre-dates the appearance of gluten free foods on the store shelves. People having positive results when going gluten free caused them to recommend it to their friends until a critical mass was reached. After this point, gluten free foods started popping up in the local Red and White.
      From what I’ve seen, gluten free foods just aren’t that good. I think most people are willing to give them a try, but once they do, they’re happier simply going without.
      As a counter challenge, I suggest going gluten free for three weeks. Change as little of your current diet as you can, except for the elimination of wheat. It will take some research, as it’s in more than you may think. What could it hurt?

  58. My wife and I read the article but failed to see mention of genuine dangers from going gluten-free. The title is misleading. Hominids were entirely grain-free until the most recent 10,000 years and most cultures around the world were gluten-free until quite recently. The notion that there is anything dangerous in not eating grain is risible. Calling grain-free a “fad” diet is silly–grain is the fad, especially since the disastrous McGovern report in 1977. There is no logic in saying I should eat gluten, on the basis that if I am celiac gluten will destroy my gut and cause damage and my celiac condition can be detected. If I avoid gluten in the first place, I avoid self-immolation just to figure out I should avoid gluten.

    Yes, if you substitute processed food with a gluten-free version at a higher price you are likely spending money for marginal improvement, if any. Indeed, as Dr. Davis repeatedly cautions, many gluten-free foods use highly glycemic starches that are even worse for good health.

    The reality is that many people have noticed remarkable health improvements by avoiding grains. Sure it is just “anecdotal” that I have had numerous health improvements, including no cold or flu for six years, reversal of wrinkles and greying, remarkably improved skin health, and my wife’s cessation of daily headaches and weekly migraines and her first summer since childhood without summer allergies are likewise anecdotal, but lots and lots of people are experiencing similar anecdotes, There are plausible biochemical explanations for the results based on the effect of grain proteins in the body, but there are indeed few tier one population studies, which are very expensive. Who is going to fund those studies in our lifetime? Certainly not the food industry or pharmaceutical companies. My wife is purchasing a fraction of the medicines she used to require. Good health is bad for business.

  59. As one who was diagnosed by a naturopath rather than doctor, I find the tone of the article a little too negative. I eat a healthy diet with only a few processed gf foods — cookies from Voila Bakery in Oakville, sourdough bread from Zia Rita’s Bakery in Bath, Ontario, and brown rice tortillas from Whole Foods. The assumption is that we are eating more gf chocolate cakes than we would if we weren’t gluten free. Well, it’s just too expensive, so we are likely eating less.
    One concern I have is that their list of foods that shouldn’t be a problem is inaccurate. The main ingredient in most soy sauces is wheat!

  60. I wonder why you quote a naturopath-their go to treatment for any symptom is to eliminate gluten. 30 years ago yeast was the culprit:)

  61. The utter dependency on processed and packaged foods causes a disproportionate portion of dietary problems. People need to put their health first and learn how to shop for and prepare actual real food from base ingredients.
    It really is easy and far less expensive than the plethora of ready-made foods and packages and tins and packets that most people buy. Corporate Fuud (you can’t really call it food because there is so little real food actually in it) only exists because an entire generation has been raised on a pack of lies and pays more attention to what it puts on their bodies than in it.

  62. I don’t think I like the tone of this article – I wonder if the NA cereal lobby had any input in it… Personally, I am glad to see such a great selection of gluten free food. Aside from the “fad”, the majority of people have a good reason to eat gluten free food; instead of doubting and mocking in a underhanded way such people, the article should instead be applying more pressure on doctors to find a reason for all those gastrointestinal problems. People run the risk of damaging their health because they might miss out on important nutrients like fibre or vitamins… Really? McLeans must think that people are really stupid? I’d say most people are aware of this issue and will compensate. Personally, my doctor said I was a borderline coeliac although I have no symptoms if I eat gluten. Still, he recommended that I go gluten free. My daughter (10) is coeliac – that’s how I got tested. More research really needs to be done to find out what happened to wheat.

  63. There are So many points to this article that are very misleading. After feeling so ill for far too many years, going gluten free as well as dairy, yeast and refined sugar has made a Huge improvement of my health. I have heard from far too many people that have gone to doctors to find out what is “wrong” with them, to only get prescribed a medication to take. I even know a couple of people who had their gallbladders removed to try to alleviate symptoms, only to still feel ill. Only after going off gluten did they feel better. Why should someone need to wait years for a doctor to do a “test” to be labelled celiac? If you stop eating certain foods and you feel better, then stick to it.
    Of course, if you are just going to eat many processed foods you will lack in nutrition. It does not take a doctor to figure that out. People who do eat gluten and eat a diet consisting of mostly primarily processed foods would have the same health concerns. Eating gluten free can be healthier if people do their research and cook with different healthier flours. I buy very few processed foods. I have been learning about healthier grains that I can have. I even started a recipe blog for others with similar issues.
    Maybe you should have talked to some people about how they feel on and off of gluten instead of just scaring people into thinking that it is going to hurt them.

  64. Why isn’t the fact gluten has increased exponentially and proven a huge boon to bread bakers noted by the author? I know some celiacs who can deal with spelt, a lower gluten product, who can’t touch wheat. Those who eliminate GF bakery products altogether lose more weight and feel better at least cost than those who insist on substitutes for all their bad habits.

  65. Healthy people (as in non-celiac) should realize that if they ate a proper diet: vegetables, fruit, meat, fish, wheat products, dairy products . . . all in proper quantities, they wouldn’t have any problems and have a normal weight. Fads are for insecure people who need something to obsess about.

  66. The crap white bread isn t good for anyone, all the fastfood places should stop selling it. Its just a combination of sugar, oil and salt with corn sryp thrown in for the extra attraction, this product pedaled by so many fastfood places is high glycemic and low nutrional value. Wheat is not needed in anyones life and yes you can live with out it. Buy whole foods and grab more greens and a good multi vitamin. All celiacs should be taking one, focusing on the B vitamins. There are mutlivitamins out there for celiacs, look for them.

    Doctors make more money if ya gotta keep coming back, so why not go through all the tests for other diseases first. How many hundreds have been found with irritable bowel syndrome and its celiac. Celiac should be tested first, not as an after thought.

  67. The issue with gluten craze is that a lot of gluten free products that are out on the market are full of crap. They may not be harmful to your gut (if your sensitive or celiac), but they can be harmful to your body in other ways. Gluten however is harmful to the body because gluten products are now so over processed, they have been entirely stripped of their nutritional value. Plus people today eat glutenous products in excess, nothing compared to what they ate way back when. You can find wheat and glutenous products in pretty much everything from teas to soup. Eating over processed gluten has been linked to severe acne, thyroid disease and weigh issues. People are meant to eat vegetables and small amounts of meat products. So do yourself a favour next time your at the grocery store, pick up some dark leafy greens such as kale and make some kale chips or a nice salad. You are what you eat, so eat right. Going gluten free can be dangerous if you don’t do it properly and reach for the right products, so if you do go gluten free make good choices and you will notice a huge change in your body. Trust me. xox

  68. A Naturopathic doctor can test for gluten sensitivity. My MD had no idea such a test existed.

  69. To everyone who is now adamantly justifying their self-diagnosis of gluten-sensitivity – there really is no need for you to do so. You can decide to eat or not to eat whatever you want and if those dietary decisions make you feel better – fantastic, all the more power to you! This article is merely trying to draw people’s attention to the importance of researching your decision before embarking on it. Too many people cut out a part of their diet without properly finding other ways to get all of the nutrients and whatnot that the body needs to function. This goes for any diet choice – avoiding gluten, or meat products, or diary products, etc. All are great if that is what works for you, just make sure you are still getting all the nutrition you need :o)

  70. There are no dangers of going gluten-free. If you’re eating too much sugar, starches, or processed foods in your quest for a satisfying gluten-free diet, it’s not the absence of gluten that’s the problem. Every person whether gluten-sensitive or not requires a balanced, personalized nutrition plan. If gluten or wheat don’t cause problems for you, go ahead and eat it. Foods today are highly processed; there’s a lot of cross-contamination, not to mention a variety of seeds being used, as well as pesticides applied to crops. People can react to any one of these factors. There’s nothing wrong with doing an elimination diet to see how different foods affect you. I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in my early 30s and was told I’d have the “disease” for the rest of my life and would have to take expensive, dangerous drugs to suppress my immune system, which was clearly trying to protect my body from something. My rheumatologist – the so-called expert – wasn’t interested in finding out what that something was. She didn’t put much stock into the idea that it could be food-related. I went to a naturopathic doctor who within 2 minutes of my visit suggested I cut out wheat and dairy and see how I feel. Guess what? My fatigue, indigestion, heartburn, and joint pain and swelling all disappeared. I also learned that acidic foods don’t agree with me very well. I’m gluten-free and drug-free today. Our health is in our own hands.

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