Gambling with Gluten

Written by Christina Lorella

The”gluten-free” lifestyle has become the latest and greatest fad in dieting, reaching widespread audiences within the last couple years. Dieters have embraced the “G Free” diet as a rapid weight loss tool, which according to Gwenyth Paltrow, has  helped her “maintain a healthy weight.” Apparently, she isn’t the only one that has tried it.  In fact, according to CNBC, “gluten-free foods racked up $2.5 billion in global sales in 2010  and are predicted to continue to grow as high as $3.4 billion by 2015.” While many celebrities are endorsing the diet, the reality of the matter is that the side effects can be detrimental, and consultation with a medical professional is highly recommended before attempting to cut gluten from the diet entirely.

In fact, eating gluten-free can often lead to a variety of vitamin deficiencies and other health problems.  Gluten-free products are typically very low in B vitamins, calcium, vitamin D, iron, zinc, magnesium, and fiber. Few, if any gluten-free products, are enriched or fortified with these nutrients. In addition, while many think “G-Free” implies low-calorie, they are wrong. As it turns out, “ready-made” gluten-free products are often highly processed and have a higher caloric content than their gluten-containing counterparts because they have to make up for the missing wheat protein by adding fat, sodium and refined carbohydrates.

Only those who are diagnosed with Celiac Disease, or any other serious autoimmune disorder, should consider the diet. Celiac is an autoimmune disorder that effects the small intestine causing the body to develop antibodies against gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and most alcohols. As a result, sufferers of the disease experience abdominal bloating and pain, chronic diarrhea, vomiting, and weight loss, among other symptoms when exposed to such foods. Eliminating gluten is meant to help their ailments subside.  It is not meant to be a tool for weight loss.

Unfortunately, many people, especially young women, are following examples set forth by role models in the media and are making unhealthy choices before consulting a medical expert. Pro-Anorexia websites have clung to the idea of gluten-free as a method to lose weight with a restrictive diet, and to avoid being scrutinized by friends and family for doing so.  As a result, there have been countless cases of people claiming a medical intolerance to the wheat protein, when in fact, no allergy is present.

Forbes Magazine wrote an article on the topic, in which they gained insight from Julia Dorfman, the Director of Nutrition at Philadelphia’s Renfrew Center, the country’s first residential facility for the treatment of women with eating disorders.  Dorfman stated that, “With the eating disordered population, I’d say that 110% of them are using intolerances or food ‘problems’ as a means to avoid eating these foods in a socially acceptable way. Gluten just happens to be the fad right now.”

Stacey Rosenfeld, Ph.D, a psychologist who formerly was affiliated with Columbia University and now serves UCLA, specializes in eating disorders. She discussed the phenomena, stating that, “Nobody wants to be called out on an eating disorder or obsessive eating…so anything they can do to hide it, they will.”

However, because 1 in 133 Americans do, in fact, suffer from Celiac Disease and a “gluten-free” diet is the only cure, many restaurants and grocery stores are increasing their availability of items. While it is fabulous that these people have easier access to the foods that they need to be healthy, it is also important to recognize that this option is being offered as an alternative for those who suffer a serious health condition, rather than as a method of weight loss.  For more information on the benefits and risks of living gluten-free, click here.

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One thought on “Gambling with Gluten”

  1. Great writing. I like how you’ve presented two sides of this as I’ve often wondered if all of the people who are eating gluten-free are in fact, really intolerant of gluten.

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