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Free the Glutens, or When a Cookie isn't Just a Cookie
By Michelle Shires
Posted on: 10/23/2011
Michelle Shires shows us that free isn't always free, even in nutrition and health.
Gwenyth Paltrow, supposedly. And Zooey Deschanel. Keith Olbermann, for sure. And Oprah endorses as well, the new, cool, hip, rad thing: the Gluten-Free diet. Now, to be fair, Olbermann has Celiac Disease. He is actually allergic to gluten. Everyone else has just chosen not to eat the stuff. And why, you may ask, should you care? If Jennifer Aniston doesn’t eat gluten, more gluten for me, right? But there’s a reason that this fad diet came into being. And that reason is more dangerous than the diet can be itself (and yes, a gluten-free diet can be dangerous).
Bristol Farms has aisles and aisles of gluten-free foods. As does Whole Foods. Most major labels are beginning to carry and loudly proclaim that their products are gluten free. Jack in the Box and McDonald’s are beginning to offer gluten-free fast food. And there is also available gluten-free beer. Make-up counters are quick to let you know that their foundation is gluten free now. And most high-end baby lotions and bubble baths boast that not only are they “cruelty-free” but that no glutens were harmed in the making of their products, either.
A quick Google search revealed that less than 1% of Americans are afflicted with Celiac Disease, an allergy to gluten which causes moderate to very-severe reactions if gluten is ingested (not put on one’s face, by the way.) In comparison, about 8.3% of Americans have diabetes, according to the National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse. Yet one would never know that standing in the bakery section of Bristol. There is an entire section devoted to gluten-free cakes, scones and brownies. When I asked the manager where I could find the sugar-free items, she said, “We had an apple pie once…” and that was it.
So, just what is gluten and why must I fear it so? Gluten is a protein found in wheat and other wheaty things like rye and barley. If you have Celiac Disease your immune system will attack the gluten when it reaches your small intestines causing severe pain and illness. For those who don’t have Celiac Disease, gluten just passes through, which isn’t scary at all really, is it?
Yet, many, many people are now eliminating gluten from their diets even though they do not have Celiac Disease. There are literally thousands of websites devoted to ridding oneself of gluten and just as many claims of benefits. “Gluten-free diets have also been shown to be beneficial to those suffering from thyroid disease, cystic fibrosis, multiple sclerosis, anemia, autism and irritable bowel syndrome.” Italics added by me because where “cancer” used to be the buzzword of the Woos, now it’s “autism.”
So you might be asking by now, how did “gluten-free” become the health fad that it has become? I know I would be if I were reading this.
In 1998 a guy named Andrew Wakefield (yes, that Andrew Wakefield) and some of his colleagues wrote up a case study of 12 kids who had some issues. I say “issues” in a sort of vague and condescending way because there really was not one, specific, uniting illness that these kids shared. They seemed to have some gastrointestinal problems, although these problems ran the gamut of symptoms and onset. The kids also seemed to have cognitive functioning issues as well. Wakefield attempted to show with this small group that there was a problem with the Measles/Mumps/Rubella (MMR) vaccination. He tried to show that the MMR vax caused a gastrointestinal problem that resulted in Autism. Some believe when gluten breaks down and passes into the system of children it…
“…act[s] like morphine in the body.”But see, the problem here (actually, one of many, many problems) is even in Wakefield’s study, not all these kids started having problems after the vaccinations. According to Wakefield’s book, Callous Disregard (2010), few had their cognitive functioning issues before they’d been vaccinated (see pages 30 and 33 for examples). And I say “cognitive functioning issues” in a sort of vague and condescending way because even though Wakefield nodded towards autism, these kids, Wakefield’s case studies, exhibited every kind of behavior known to man. Everything from hallucinations to excessive screaming to excessive masturbation (see pages 30-35) was reported by parents. An important thing to note here: not one of these symptoms is indicative of autism (and they weren’t caused by shots or by eating waffles, either).
“The peptides then alter the person’s behavior, perceptions, and response to his environment.”
“When a child with leaky gut ingests foods that contain casein and gluten, the peptides enter the blood stream, head to the brain and attach to opiate receptors there, prompting the child to have sensory issues and to react with unmanageable behavior.”
Enter the Young Über Mommies. The Yummies. Not satisfied with just driving their kids to soccer practice, the Yummies are challenging The System. Instead of “My Child is on the Honor Roll” bumper stickers on their minivans, the Yummies have “Subvert the Dominant Paradigm” stuck on the back of their mint-colored Suburban Outbacks. These women “question authority,” home-school their kids because traditional curriculum is too oppressive and use quotation finger thingies when referring to the “experts” in any field. Because being a mommy makes them an “expert” on children and following their own magical mommy instinct is much more important than any book-learnin. (Yeah, sorry about that last link. It really has nothing to do with anything except that this Yummie is just so annoying).
Jenny McCarthy, the Überest of the Yummies began appearing on Oprah a few years back, to talk about her son and her battle with the “experts” regarding his autism. Jenny blames vaccinations for her son’s autism, and used a gluten-free/casein-free diet along with a bunch of bullshit (and real proven interventions) to “cure” her son of autism. Oprah had Jenny on her show often, and eventually gave Jenny her own blog on Oprah.com. In 2009, Oprah signed Jenny to a multi-level deal, which could lead to a talk show for Jenny similar to the Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz shows. And there is a phenomenon called The Oprah Effect. Like it or not, if Oprah endorses something it becomes ingrained in popular culture as the Truth, the Way and the Light.
So, in the summer of 2008, Oprah announced on her show that she was going on a “21-day cleanse.” She removed all the nasty, usual suspects — sugar, caffeine, fat and… gluten — no doubt influenced by Jenny preaching on the show that gluten causes an addiction reaction in the brain. And soon 25% of Americans began shunning gluten. And people like Jennifer Aniston and Gwenyth Paltrow did too, adding weight to the idea that it was the thing to do. Suddenly, 25% of Americans became “gluten intolerant.”
How do I know if I’m gluten intolerant? According to Glutenfreenetwork.com (no relation to the Skeptic Friends Network, by the way), here are the symptoms of gluten intolerance:
So, if you’re experiencing these symptoms you may be gluten intolerant. Or, you may be pregnant. I had all but two of these symptoms when I was pregnant. There are tests that a doctor can run that show certain antibodies in the blood that can indicate an allergy to gluten. But most people self-diagnose after Googling the symptoms like I have just done. Or they listen to Oprah. Or they listen to Rainbow Bright at the local Whole Foods. And they are off and running to pay three dollars more for a muffin than the $1.25 that a full gluteny muffin costs.
- Weight loss or weight gain
- Low iron levels
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Fat in stool
- Irritability and behavioral changes
- Irregular menstrual cycle
- Cramps, numbness and tingling
But again, why should I care if a bunch of stars believe a bunch of hooey started by an anti-vaxer’s study that has led to a resurgence of childhood diseases that has resulted in kids getting really sick and dying? Why should I care if Yummies chose to treat their autistic kids with special cookies instead of using tried and true behavioral interventions that actually help? I mean, this is America and thin is in! Well, will a gluten-free diet really make you thin?
In the long-term, switching to a gluten-free diet… can lead to weight gain. It is not unusual to put on two to three stone.Before you start Googling, a stone is 14 pounds!
Furthermore, many gluten-free products contain extra sugar and fat to make them more palatable and can be packed with more salt.In a study from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston it was found that participants with Celiac Disease who removed gluten from their diets were “not getting adequate Daily Recommended Intake (DRI) nutrients from the gluten-free foods they’re eating, including iron, calcium, vitamin D, fiber and virtually all of the B vitamins.” Dr. Peter Green of New York Presbyterian Hospital says, “It’s been demonstrated that if you’re on a gluten-free diet long term you can actually become B-vitamin deficient.”
Also, gluten-free products are typically two to three times more expensive as their gluten-full counterparts. Which may be another reason why Whole Foods and Bristol Farms are happy to cater to the Gluten Freebies. It’s big business, and an easy way to cash in. “In the U.S., sales reached $1.2 billion last year, more than double that of five years ago.”
So go ahead. Free the glutens. Eat that five-dollar, gluten-free muffin and wash it down with a bottle of gluten-free beer while you bathe in a tub of gluten-free, fourteen-dollar kids’ bubble bath. But while you are there realize that you are bathing in bullshit. You are buying into a very expensive lie that was started by a very dangerous liar whose callous disregard hurt and killed kids. Understand that you are supporting a trend that was started by anti-vaxers, pushed by a Playboy bunny, and finally, was touched by the hand of Oprah, but has never proven to make you healthier. In fact, it has shown to make people sick. And fat. And broke. But go ahead. No, really. It’s just a cookie, right?
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