Why joining the no-gluten club won’t help your health or weight loss
I once attended a 2-day “movement course” some years ago. The idea was to learn how to jump onto stuff, off stuff, carry people up a hill, climb a rope. I was between touring with the band at the time and it seemed like a fun way to spend a couple of days.
I remember arriving. A quick glance around the room told me I was the odd one out. The course seemed to consist of CrossFit and kettlebell instructors. There was a lot of talk of being primal and getting back to basics. The air was thick with Paleo. My heart sank.
Later in the day, we had to sit around cross legged on the floor to discuss our diets and what we ate day to day. There was no mention of this in the course details. One by one people started to open up to the group. To my surprise, no one actually talked about what they ate or liked to eat. Instead, they told everyone what they cut out or avoided. Sensing that he might be out done, an Australian CrossFit instructor with curly hair and a chiselled jawline launched into a speech explaining why gluten was a “poison” and how people are throwing their lives away every time they make a grab for the toaster. This speech met large scale nodding and murmurs of approval by the group. If they were giving out bottles of purple kool-aid at the door, the whole lot of them had drunk it.
Gluten is poison
I have a friend who if she eats peanuts, she dies. Peanuts, to her at least, might as well poison. But, after a pint of bitter is in me, a packet of dry roasted is a rather welcome distraction. And I’m still alive and kicking. “One man’s meat is another man’s poison” as they say. But how many people are actually allergic to gluten?
Here are some stats
- peanut allergy prevalence ranged between 0.0% and 2.8%
- egg allergy has a prevalence of approximately 2% in children and 0.1% in adults
- worldwide prevalence rates of fish allergy ranges between 0%-1% and 0.2%-0.9% for shellfish allergy
- milk allergy in childhood can affect between 2% and 6% and in adulthood 0.1% and 0.5%
Have you ever decided you were allergic to something? Without fail, every single one of this primal superiority group exalted the many virtues of fish, eggs, shellfish, and (raw) milk. Did any of them refer to any of these foods as a poison? Nope.
- Actual gluten allergy affected 0.58% of a recently studied population.
- Self-reported gluten sensitivity was as high as 7.6% in the same population
What’s actually going on?
Story vs truth
A good story always sells better than the truth. It’s something I’ve written about before, and it’s one of the reasons that evidence based nutrition is so hard to deliver. It’s just not as exciting.
Every decent story has a hero and a bad guy. It’s how our brains work. Black and white are so much easier to process. Paleo spins the yarn that eating like our primal ancestors will result in us becoming healthy, lean, and jacked. People fail to realise that if their diet up to this point consisted of crispy pancakes, alpha bites, and 2 litres of cola a day, anything will work. They’re sold before they even see results. Once they actually shift a bit of weight and feel better, their new religion has taken hold.
It’s not you, it’s the industrialisation. It’s the gluten. It’s the pesticides. This is more powerful, this is so much more compelling than the truth.
The real reason
Ever wanted to change something but were too scared to admit it? Have a think back. What lengths did you go to disguise the real reason? Gluten gives you this option.
Want an easy way to give up cakes, bread, pizza, beer, and doughnuts? Yep, just say gluten is bad for you. Instead of going out to eat and having to admit that you don’t want the fried chicken because of the calories, you can now say it’s because of the flour. Instead of judging you or taking the piss, your friends become attentive and listen. You’re a health authority now. You know stuff! You don’t want to look better in the mirror, you care about your health!
Some actual facts
- Contrary to the belief that gluten will melt your insides, give you wheat willy, and make you fat, “High intakes of vegetable protein from gluten may have beneficial effects on cardiovascular disease risk by reducing oxidized LDL, serum triacylglycerol, and uric acid”
- Despite what the latest tennis prodigy or Formula 1 driver says, a gluten free diet “had no overall effect on performance, GI symptoms, well-being, and a select indicator of intestinal injury or inflammatory markers in non-celiac endurance athletes”
If you feel you need to lose weight but don’t want to admit to it. Addressing that first is a better initial idea than avoiding healthy and balanced diets containing gluten. If you think you’re allergic to gluten, you need to see your GP. Self-diagnosis of an allergy is as ridiculous as deciding you’ve got a brain tumour because you’ve had a headache for the last few days.
Whatever you choose to do with your diet, it is always up to you. But make sure the choice is for the right reasons. Beware of trends, misinformation, and cultism.
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