Yesterday, TheGloss posted about Miley Cyrus‘ dubious announcement that she has a gluten allergy—which she says explains her recent weight loss (not an eating disorder or crash diet, like some people-with-too-much-time-on-their-hands have been speculating). Whether she’s jumping on a diet trend for weight loss or health, we can’t be sure—but Miley’s tweets about gluten were less than illuminating for people who are confused about why so many people are suddenly going gluten-free. So here’s a crash course on the topic, and the trendy foods to avoid—whether you want to lose weight or improve your health.
First, it’s important to understand the main problems people have with wheat and gluten:
- Gluten Sensitivity—can range from mild to extreme reaction to gluten, but won’t show up on blood tests for Celiac Disease (this is also often referred to as a gluten allergy).
- Celiac Disease—an autoimmune disorder by which eating gluten causes an immune reaction that destroys the lining of the lower intestine, causing an inability to absorb certain nutrients and, in worst cases, can cause deficiencies that severely damage the nervous system and vital organs.
“Gluten intolerance” is a vague term that indicates a wide spectrum of reactions to gluten, including gluten sensitivity and celiac disease.
According to recent research, gluten sensitivity and celiac have both increased dramatically in recent years. Gluten allergies in particular have increased exponentially—some believe as many as 5 to 10% of Americans suffer some form of it—while it’s less clear whether celiac has grown as rapidly. One study last year indicated that it’s five times more common than it was in the 1950′s, but researcher’s aren’t sure if that’s because of increased awareness and diagnosis, or an actual change in our immune systems.
And explanations abound: While some researchers claim that the increase in celiac is because we have become “too clean,” causing a weakening of our immune systems, many doctors claim the rise in gluten sensitivity is due to the genetic modification of wheat in recent years (like many plants, wheat has been altered for higher crop yields, and different taste and texture to suit modern tastes and food product needs).
But whatever the statistics and explanations, many don’t believe the hype; in fact, a study published earlier this year basically called bullshit on anyone claiming gluten sensitivity who doesn’t test positive for celiac disease.
The skepticism, at least in part part, is probably due to the simultaneous boom in “gluten-free” foods on the market. A New York Times article published last fall cited statistics claiming the volume of products sold went up 37% in 2011, making the gluten-free market a $6.3 billion industry and growing. With that kind of market opportunity, it’s not just niche health food companies who are jumping on the bandwagon; corporations like General Mills are also looking for a way to get in on what seem to be recession-proof profits.
But many of the doctors urging patients to ditch gluten for improved health don’t want you to take part in those products at all; common sense says that replacing empty calories like white bread, crackers, and pastries with lean protein, vegetables, and whole grains will help most people lose weight and feel better. But swapping out processed junk for gluten-free processed junk isn’t likely to improve your health or change your body much (although those products do help people suffering celiac disease get their fix of cookies now and then).
If you’re considering jumping on the gluten-free bandwagon for health or weight loss, try to avoid foods like these: