Gluten Free – one fad to rule them all

Tom Blackett   |  06/06/2016

In this blog, you will see me systematically tear down the fad that is the ‘gluten free diet’.  I genuinely went into this blog with an open mind and am (despite what you may think) very happily proved wrong.  However on this particular occasion it would appear my gut instinct was right.. gluten free IS just another marketing fad farted out by the health and fitness industry.. SURPRISE SURPRISE.

It is no secret that millions of people around the world are giving up gluten.  In the UK, The pollster YouGov reports that 60% of adults have bought a gluten-free product and 10% of households contain someone who believes gluten is bad for them.  I’m guilty of occasionally throwing a gluten free cereal or pasta into my trolley and I tend to feel good about myself for doing it – but now I know not to waste my time or money on this crazy fad.

However before I continue, perhaps it would be a good idea to explain/figure out what gluten actually is.  Gluten is made up of two protein groups, gliadin and glutenin, and is sometimes defined as being specific to wheat, but is also found in barley, rye and a grain that is a cross between wheat and rye called triticale.  It is unique among proteins in that it cannot be broken down completely by human beings into amino acids. The best we can manage is to break it into chains of acids called peptides. These simply pass through most people’s bodies, but ‘coeliacs’ are genetically predisposed to flag them up to the immune system, which believes it is being attacked by microbes.

So what are ‘coeliacs’?  ‘Coeliacs’ refer to people with coeliac disease which is a digestive condition where a person has an adverse reaction to gluten resulting in any of the following:

  • diarrhoea
  • bloating and flatulence
  • abdominal pain
  • weight loss
  • feeling tired all the time as a result of  malnutrition
  • intestinal damage
  • children not growing at the expected rate
  • osteoporosis (weakening of the bones)
  • iron deficiency anaemia
  • vitamin B12 and folate deficiency anaemia

Now I get it, this all sounds rather scary, however, according to numerous credible sources including the NHS, The National Foundation for Coeliac Awareness, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney diseases, AND the Coeliac Disease Foundation a maximum of 1 in 100 people are affected by the disease and about 3% are affected by whats known as ‘non-coeliac sensitivity’ where one may experience symptoms similar to those with coeliac disease yet lack the same antibodies and intestinal damage as seen in the full coeliac disease.

This means that at worst 96% of cases of gluten intake will cause no problems whatsoever.  “BUT gluten free is so good for you.. it helps you lose weight and all the best athletes are doing it wa wa wa” is what you might hear.  Well No, just no!  Having spent some time delving through the US National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health I found a killer study to keep these gluten warriors gagged. In the study a mix of competitive male and female non-coeliac athletes were given both gluten free and gluten containing diets for seven days and made to train in controlled environments with the aim of discovering gluten’s effect on performance and well-being.  The study concluded that a gluten free diet offered absolutely diddly squat with no benefit in performance, well-being, weight or anything else for that matter. Rubbish!

SO in conclusion, in the highly unlikely scenario that you have coeliac disease or non-coeliac sensitivity then yes.. a gluten free diet is a good idea.  However for the vast majority of us a gluten free diet will offer no benefit whatsoever, all it will do is make you poorer and possibly dumber.

See the study here