October 28, 2014

"I’ve been gluten-free these last four years, and it has changed my life.... I would have headaches, nausea, trouble sleeping."

"I know that I’m intolerant because I gave it up and I felt better. That explanation is probably not scientific enough for you. But I know how I felt, how I feel, and what I did to make it change."

A quote in the new New Yorker article about the gluten-free craze by Michael Specter. Read the whole thing. Here's the last paragraph:
I have returned to baking whole-wheat bread the way it is supposed to be made: water, yeast, flour, and salt. I will try to live without the magic wand. But I am certainly not going to live without gluten. That just seems silly.
And by the way, I love the line "I know that I’m intolerant because I gave it up and I felt better" because it's funny to think of it out of context. Think of all the things one might say that about and how wrong you could be. Feel free to write a novel with that as a title. 

50 comments:

Nonapod said...

The power of the placebo effect.

BDNYC said...

Giving up gluten usually mean giving up bread, or only eating gluten-free bread, which at least means a steep reduction in bread consumption.

So yeah, if you go gluten-free, you probably lose weight and that makes you feel better and improves your overall health. It has nothing to do with gluten.

Celiac disease is very rare.

Meade said...

I wish I knew how to quit you, [gluten].

Fernandinande said...

Nonapod said...
The power of the placebo effect.


They coined the term "nocebo" to explain the original, unreproducible reactions to gluten.

MadisonMan said...

I know three people with actual gluten intolerance/Celiac. So it's out there. They introduced me to gluten-free Hard Cider, and for that I'm thankful.

People will always look for a reason that they don't feel as good as they think they should be feeling. And someone (Hi Jenny McCarthy!) will always be around to exploit that.

SomeoneHasToSayIt said...


Correlation is not necessarily causation.

Based on many recent studies (double blind) It's looking like that the 'giving up' of or drastically reducing carbs, is what restores health.

So if avoiding gluten, you are drastically reducing carbs, then that would explain the correlation mistaken for causation.

That's what's so tragic about lap band, too. By severely limiting all food, it is necessarily severely limiting carbs. Lap band people could have lot the weight just by restricting total calories, with few carbs in the mix.

tim maguire said...

The placebo effect is not forever, it peters out after about 6 months. If he's been gluten free for 4 years and has felt better for 4 years, it is not the placebo effect. (And, really, so what if it were?)

BDNYC may well be right--it's not the gluten per se, but his reformed diet is healthier than his old diet and so he feels better when he's on it.

But my primary response is, who cares? Who cares if "gluten" is the culprit? He cut out the gluten and he is happy with the results, he feels better. Good for him.

PB Reader said...

These idiots are certainly entertaining ... when they aren't imposing their nutty near-religious beliefs on the rest of us.

rhhardin said...

On the leading edge in 2009.

Ralph Hyatt said...

What BDNYC said.

And giving up carbs to lose weight is nothing new. When I went through basic training in 81 the DIs told the one fat guy in our platoon that he was not allowed to get any bread, rice, or potatoes when he went through the chow line. A friend of mine who is a few years older than I remembers when a low carb diet was marketed as "The Air Force Diet."

That said, and speaking as someone who is not health food fanatic, commercially produced bread has a lot of preservatives in it. Unless refrigerated, a loaf of bread made at home will go at most a day or two before it begins molding, commercially baked bread will go a week or more before it does so.

Perhaps people are reacting to the preservatives but think they have Celiac disease.

Expat(ish) said...

Funny, I gave up almost all red meat and felt better, but I also lost weight, exercised more, and slept better (alcohol reduction).

So not clear to me that anyone has that sort of ceteris paribus kind of life.

-XC

madAsHell said...

Have you ever tried to dine with a gluten free fanatic? For that matter, any of the alternative diets...vegan, vegetarian, paleo.

They are all very anal retentive. The conversation usually revolves around their life style choices, and how their choices are better than yours!!

Henry said...

My book would be: "I know that it's good for me because I eat it and I feel full."

jimbino said...

"I have returned to baking whole-wheat bread the way it is supposed to be made: water, yeast, flour, and salt."

He'd better add some sugar for the yeast to chew on, maybe some butter and milk powder, too.

Meade said...

"People will always look for a reason that they don't feel as good as they think they should be feeling. And someone (Hi Jenny McCarthy!) will always be around to exploit that."

Not if they choke to death on gluten they won't be!

Unknown said...

Lima beans. I know I'm intolerant because I gave them up and now I feel better.

Gabriel said...

There are always a few people who believe that because placebos "work" there must be something to them.

They "work" because subjective feelings like pain and discomfort are experienced by the mind, and can be affected by the mind. There is no placebo that will grow a leg back or set a bone, or any positive outloook that can do those things.

Gabriel said...

@jimbino: He'd better add some sugar for the yeast to chew on, maybe some butter and milk powder, too.

Yeast does just fine on flour and water without any other additives.

It will take longer, which is what you want if you want tangier, stretchier bread with a more complex flavor. If you're making dinner rolls by all means add other things.

lgv said...

Ralph Hyatt said...
What BDNYC said.

That said, and speaking as someone who is not health food fanatic, commercially produced bread has a lot of preservatives in it. Unless refrigerated, a loaf of bread made at home will go at most a day or two before it begins molding, commercially baked bread will go a week or more before it does so.

Perhaps people are reacting to the preservatives but think they have Celiac disease.


More junk science or non-science. Not disimilar to Jenny McCarthy. Think about it. Preservatives have benn proven safe and effective, while some may have intolerances, it's a lower percentage than those with Celiac.

I refuse to make products without preservatives or with natural preservatives. I refuse to eat processed food that doesn't have preservatives, unless vacuum sealed for single use.

Preservatives have kept people safe and well fed for many years. The science is settled. :)

Shanna said...

What I want to know is why people are so upset that somebody else doesn't want to eat bread. All these campaigns to tell people what they really should and shouldn't do are so irritating. If someone decides they want to eat potatoes and rice and squash and other fruits, veggies, meat, instead of bread there is nothing wrong with that.

I think all the 'gluten free' products are a whole different story (and similar to the 'fat free' gummy bears and other products) and mostly junk, but if you really go with mostly whole foods you will probably feel better. Whether it is because of a reduction in carbs or grains or gluten matters not. What is important is what makes you feel good.

Lord knows the government has a poor track record telling us what to eat.

lgv said...

Apparently, gluten free is the next organic, which replaced the undefinable "natural". We have been approached to make gluten free products. We make topical applications. Head shaking.

There is no definition of natural anything.

There is definition of organic, but it is not scientific. It is arbitrary and meaningless.

Don't won't preservatives, don't take any medicine. They are all preserved and have to pass a challenge test to make sure they are.

All products are animal tested. It's just a matter of which animal the product gets tested on (e.g. humans).

A significant portion of your food stuffs are either gassed or irradiated. You just don't know about it. BTW, it takes a very low dosage to do its thing.

Tari said...

My favorite comment on my Facebook feed recently was from a friend who talked about "how sad it is that the US uses so many GMOs, because so many of my gluten-intolerant friends go to Europe and are able to eat bread there. Gosh I wish we were Europe."

So the demon isn't just gluten, it's the bad US and its bad GMO wheat. Because the problem could never be explained by (1) everyday stress and its effect on your digestive system, or (2) when you're here you eat crap, but on vacation you eat well as a treat. Nope, just gluten! GMOs! no science!

Dad said...

lgv, I love you, man. It drives me nuts to hear food advertised as having no preservatives, as if that's a good thing. Black is white and white is black. People think the preservatives and chemicals used in food production are killing us, when exactly the opposite is true. They are keeping us alive.

Organic food is a fraud.

William said...

I don't think that we know all there is to know about diet, God, and economics. Nonetheless, the deficits in our knowledge does nothing to lessen the fervor of our beliefs. When the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest it will probably be done by someone on a gluten free diet. Then he will turn his attention to you.

jr565 said...

BDNYC wrote:
So yeah, if you go gluten-free, you probably lose weight and that makes you feel better and improves your overall health. It has nothing to do with gluten.

The book Wheat Belly does mention gluten but also how eating wheat affects your diet by screwing with your insulin levels. So, even if its not gluten per se, you are converting wheat into sugar in your body which in turn drives up insulin, which in turn drives fat production. So, not eating bread is probably good even if you aren't strictly allergic to gluten.

Shanna said...

"how sad it is that the US uses so many GMOs, because so many of my gluten-intolerant friends go to Europe and are able to eat bread there. Gosh I wish we were Europe."

LOL! I am not worried about GMO's, the main negative thing I have seen is that some (I think I saw a comparison with corn) have fewer macronutrients which would make them not really harmful, just slightly less healthy? So if given a choice, I would take heirloom versions of fruits and vegetables, but it's not really worth getting worked up over.

If you cook your own food from ingredients, removing gluten from your diet is not really all that difficult. Just use potatoes and rice as a startch instead of flour.

Salt is a preservative.

jr565 said...

Unless you want to run a race or something.

Julie said...

My daughter is allergic to gluten. She's been tested. Not celiac. One bite of a donut, bread, etc. and she'll be doubled over with a migraine. Don't know why she has that reaction. But she can have MSG and not have that reaction. I have had migraines my whole life, I look at sweetner or MSG and I'm sick for days with a migraine. Everyone is different I guess

Peter said...

"I know that I’m intolerant because I gave it up and I felt better. That explanation is probably not scientific enough for you.

Well, I bought a Dustbuster and I haven't had a cold since! Therefore Dustbusters prevent colds.

In other words, "I did this and then that happened." And therefore this caused that?


That's not just "not scientific enough," it's the world's best known logical fallacy: "After the fact, therefore because of the fact."

Shouldn't every high school graduate understand that this is not valid reasoning?

Shanna said...

That's not just "not scientific enough," it's the world's best known logical fallacy: "After the fact, therefore because of the fact."

Sure, it's not scientific, but on an individual level, who really cares? From a practical perspective, if you feel better do you really need it confirmed in a lab? Even if it were a placebo affect, if it continued to work for you I would say go for it. Unless there is a very good reason not to.

Carter Wood said...

I love the marketing: Hellman's Gluten-Free Mayonnaise.

Just Mike said...

Everything's better without gluten. I was skeptical when the salesman assured me that the tires I bought had 100% zero gluten...but my car rides great! We should make gluten illegal. We'd all be better off

Ralph Hyatt said...

I refuse to eat processed food that doesn't have preservatives

Most diets suggest not eating processed foods.

Buy raw or frozen fruits, vegetables, and meat and prepare them yourself is the mantra.

But most people don't see bread bought in a store as a processed food.

Anonymous said...

Scientists try not to be overly impressed by anecdotes, which is basically what the cited testimonials represent.(I can't get the full text of the article) The attitude should be that its an observation that needs to be followed up with rigorous study of a cohort of demonstrably non-gluten sensitive patients (celiac disease ruled out by biopsy, serology, etc) to see if there is measurable benefit to going gluten free.

I look for evidence of celiac disease(true gluten sensitivity) on a daily basis, in a lot of specimens. The disease does happen -and it is significant to those afflicted- but actual celiac disease is an unusual finding.

In my own personal life, I intentionally consume fairly large amounts of gluten rich food every morning, as these foods are loaded with fiber and I am more concerned about avoiding hypercholesterolemia than gaining some nebulous, nonverifiable benefits from arbitrary cessation of gluten consumption.

Also, we should think about how tightly linked the cultivation wheat, and the rise of civilzation, were.

This gluten-free thing has all the earmarks of a fad, and it will go away in due time, as it has no basis in reality.

Meade said...

All things in moderation, as the aphorism goes, but speaking of "wheat belly"...

You know what might be worse than gluten unfree wheat? Answer: beer. Why? Because hops. Hops contain phytoestrogens which are probably fine if you are, say, a menopausal woman or need a natural sleep aid or a herbal regulator for your menstrual cycles.

But if you're a manly man who doesn't want your breasts to be any larger than they already are, your belly to look any more pregnant, or your Viagra prescription to increase... I recommend eschewing the hoppy ale and sticking to something more healthful. Like vodka.

Mel said...

I have celiac disease and GAINED weight when I stopped eating gluten. I was malnourished and not absorbing the food I was eating because my intestines were a mess. Three years out, I'm feeling much better and my weight has leveled out where it was when I got married. (I miss Guinness, but not a lot else.) I have a medically confirmed autoimmune disease. That doesn't mean I think everyone should go GF. It means I have to be GF the rest of my life. I won't force it on you, I eat a lot of "house salad, no croutons and a plain baked potato please" when I go out with my friends. It gets the job done with no fuss. My pharmacist checks my drugs for gluten before filling them for me. (She is a gem.) I buy cheaper shampoo and soap now -- if it's cheap, there's no food ingredient (read wheat) in it for my skin to react to -- and get a good giggle at people who need a certified GF skin product. My moisturizer is this amazing thing known as water, drunk from a glass.

Edmund said...

@tari So the demon isn't just gluten, it's the bad US and its bad GMO wheat.

Well, wheat is not, from what I can see, a GMO food. (Corn and soy are.)

Julie Lockard said...

Ralph Hyatt said...
I refuse to eat processed food that doesn't have preservatives

Most diets suggest not eating processed foods.

Buy raw or frozen fruits, vegetables, and meat and prepare them yourself is the mantra.


So many people ask me how I'm able to feed my kid GF. It's really not that hard. I just make my own food. I don't buy a lot pre-made stuff. I actually had a conversation this morning in the store about it in the check out line. We eat normal. I just make it myself. It can be quite tasty. I really think the GF as a "fad" is actually rather unhealthy. When you walk down the organic aisle looking at all the premade stuff you may as well be walking down the non-organic aisle. It's just about the same but says GF and organic on the box.

Curious George said...

Why is it always lefties that are allergic to gluten?

St. George said...

People just eat too darn much....That's why most folks feel bloated after eating...a giant plate of spaghetti!

I Have Misplaced My Pants said...

It's OK to just treat your body the way you want without either evangelizing about it or addressing the scientific justification or lack thereof.

I don't eat refined sugar and I severely limit carbs because I feel like crap and crave same when I eat starch.

Also, I lost fifty pounds when I made that change.

Works for me. Don't care what the rest of you do or about the science behind or not behind my own personal experience.

Achilles said...

I felt the same way when I went high protein low carb.

The problem isn't when you figure out which kind of diet works for you. It is when you try to force others to do as you wish.

I also find it entertaining to watch people declare placebo effects. That is a scientific designation and should require just as much proof.

Larry J said...

madAsHell said...
Have you ever tried to dine with a gluten free fanatic? For that matter, any of the alternative diets...vegan, vegetarian, paleo.

They are all very anal retentive.


Which is a nice way of saying they're full of shit.

I have a coworker who is very allergic to gluten. Even a small amount can land her in a hospital. For some people, it is a real problem.

Anonymous said...

IHMMP said:
'I don't eat refined sugar and I severely limit carbs because I feel like crap and crave same when I eat starch.'

I applaud that. I havn't had full strength pop or added refined sugar to food/coffee (except when STEVIA is the only alternative) for 30 years. And I remain non-diabetic, normocholesterolemic, and, of fairly normal weight. This is not only scientifically supportable, it also just makes good common sense. If you are going GF and not limiting your intake of refined sugar, you
are practising dietary dissonance.

Zeb Quinn said...

Except in very small and occasional servings, human beings should not be eating grains of any kind, which means no wheat products, no rice, and no corn. Nor sugar, other than what naturally occurs in items such as fruit. We weren't meant to eat these things, and I haven't eaten any of it for years.

HT said...

"Celiac disease is very rare."

About 1 in 100.

"I love the marketing: Hellman's Gluten-Free Mayonnaise."

I know - or gluten free bottled water. The extent people will go to is ridiculous sometimes.

Of course GF is synonymous with carb free, usually. It is if you eat mostly whole foods, it's not if you just replace wheat bread with GF bread, which is very non-nutritious (no added B vitamins incl folate and probably more sugar...but I haven't looked lately) but quite expensive.

I'm sure the celiac community is both thankful for and ridiculing of the faddists.

But Celiac IS a thing, it really and truly is.

I wonder if the person's daughter with a "gluten allergy" doesn't have a wheat allergy.? I don't know, just a question.

"Why is it always lefties that are allergic to gluten? "

So not true. Check out the folks in the west on the celiac message boards - bring up governmental intervention and you'll get an earful. No, not by a long shot are all people who don't eat gluten "lefties."

"What I want to know is why people are so upset that somebody else doesn't want to eat bread."

Exactly.

HT said...

Wish: an edit button.

GF is NOT synonymous with carb-free.

Joe said...

"... you are converting wheat into sugar in your body which in turn drives up insulin, which in turn drives fat production"

And?

Insulin is critical part of your bodies self-regulator system and much more. Regulating glucose levels in the blood is but one thing insulin does. But do note that it's not magic. A surge of sugar may cause insulin to increase and lower your blood sugar level. However, as your blood sugar level drops, insulin converts the stored fat back into glucose.

Insulin also regulates how cells process proteins (hence proteins also cause a jump in insulin levels) and is essential for regulating several minerals.

A logical point: if increased insulin levels caused storage of glucose as fat that would not be reversed, then you would constantly gain weight, even with the strictest diet. (Moreover, many people have demonstrated that you can lose weight on an extremely high carbohydrate diet.)

eddie willers said...

I have a coworker who is very allergic to gluten. Even a small amount can land her in a hospital.

How in God's name did she survive into adulthood?

Nutrition science is as nebulous as climate science. Nobody knows what's really true. Way too many variables and false assumptions.

I'm old enough to have seen Butter/Margarine/Salt etc. swing from good to bad to good to something else. It will change again tomorrow.

And what is it with the now all-pervasive peanut allergies?

They were such a staple during my elementary and high school years that you would have expected bodies to be stacked like cordwood in the halls.

jaed said...

A surge of sugar may cause insulin to increase and lower your blood sugar level.

... if you're not insulin resistant.

If you are, your blood sugar doesn't go down until you're abnormally hyperinsulinemic. In fact, you're chronically hyperinsulinemic if you eat a lot of carbohydrates (which does its own damage).

And you can't metabolize body fat in such a condition, because one of the reactions that turns fat into glucose is inhibited in the presence of insulin.

if increased insulin levels caused storage of glucose as fat that would not be reversed, then you would constantly gain weight, even with the strictest diet

... and guess what happens to highly insulin-resistant people on a strict low-fat high-carb diet?