It seems like everywhere I look today, I see articles in the news giving “advice” to people to not abandon gluten in their diets. They talk about how gluten free diets are harmful, make you deficient in many vitamins, and can increase your chances of developing heart disease or cancer. They talk about how nearly 1/3 of Americans avoid gluten, when only 1% of them have diagnosed Celiac disease. (source) So what’s the deal?
First of all, the basis of these articles is warped, at the very least. These so-called experts are taking a medical issue, oversimplifying it, combining it with their arrogance and a lack of complete understanding, and then spreading it. And it’s frustrating.
Gluten free diets today are seen as a “fad”, and the people writing articles about how they’re not necessary for 99% of the population are perpetuating that rumor, and hurting people in the process.
Without knowing somebody’s complete medical history, you can’t possibly have the authority to tell them that gluten is good for them, or that they need it in their diet. Every person has different genetics, environments, and struggles.
It’s true that only about 1% of the population has Celiac disease. But gluten free diets are recommended for ANYONE with an autoimmune disease or chronic illness because of the inflammation that it causes, the immune response it invokes, and the damage that can ensue from all of that.
Celiac disease is merely one manifestation of a gluten intolerance.
Some Autoimmune Diseases Related to Gluten Sensitivity:
- Celiac disease
- Hashimotos Thyroiditis
- Graves Disease
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Crohn’s disease
- Ulcerative Colitis
- Type 1 Diabetes
So while celiac is 1% of the population, what about those with Hashimoto’s? Lupus? Type 1 Diabetes? Rheumatoid Arthritis? There are over 80 autoimmune diseases that doctors know of right now. Add all of those together and it’s estimated that 50 million Americans have an autoimmune disease and SHOULD be avoiding gluten. That’s not including people with chronic Lyme disease, that are also recommended to avoid gluten (about 2.8 million people, with an additional 300,000 being diagnosed every year).
Just because those people don’t have Celiac disease, doesn’t mean that gluten isn’t harmful for them. So while people are being told that only about 3 million Americans need to avoid gluten, the number is closer to 53 million. That’s quite a difference!
With articles being published saying that those who don’t eat gluten are following a fad diet, just trying to lose weight, or not really sick are potentially harming the rest of us.
Every time that I consume gluten (and it could be as small as a thumbnail sized piece of bread), my body will fight that immune reaction for 6 months. SIX MONTHS.
My thyroid will be attacked by my immune system, causing my hormones to wreak havoc. My body will be less likely to be able to fight off common viruses and bacteria because my immune system is busy with the gluten. I don’t have Celiac disease… but I can’t eat gluten.
Some of the bogus claims for not following gluten free diets include:
- it makes you deficient in vitamins because wheat is a good source of fiber and vitamins
- gluten free diets are full of refined grains and are low in nutrients because of that
- “studies show gluten-free diets can be deficient in fiber, iron, folate, niacin, thiamine, calcium, vitamin B12, phosphorus and zinc”. (source)
- “whole grains contain 31 differentantioxidants“
You want me to believe that bread is the best form of fiber that I can get? No. I can still get plenty of fiber from vegetables, fruit, nuts, brown rice, and oats. Plus, bread often contains ingredients like high fructose corn syrup (which just adds to the sugar you’re eating daily) or bromine (which depletes you of iodine, which is critical for thyroid health).
The only way to go gluten free is to replace regular cookies, crackers, and cereal with gluten free cookies, crackers and cereal? This doesn’t even make sense. Cookies are cookies, gluten or not. If you’re suffering from a disease and have talked to any healthcare professional that wants to help you heal yourself, then you’ve probably been told to change your diet. As in, no more Standard American Diet.
No replacing processed wheat foods with processed gluten free counterparts. Only real food! Fruits. Vegetables. Meat. Eggs. Nuts. Oils. Whole foods, healing foods. Chock full of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. And naturally gluten free.
I can’t get antioxidants from anything but my whole grain cereal? Actually, the best sources of antioxidants are fruits & veggies, nuts, herbs, and green tea. Again, naturally gluten free.
So the bottom line here is this: You don’t NEED wheat to be eating healthy. It’s NOT a fad to go gluten free. You don’t KNOW what someone else’s medical history is. DON’T MAKE ASSUMPTIONS. If someone said they were allergic to nuts, you’d take them seriously, wouldn’t you? Why not give any allergy or intolerance the same courtesy? They all mean the same thing: our body can’t handle the food.
What have you found to be the best way to avoid gluten without going nutritionally bankrupt?
This article was originally published in June 2016 and was updated in April 2018.
I am not a doctor and this information should not be considered medical advice. You should seek the advice of your own medical professional for your own situation.