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Are you gluten, dough?

If you read a health and fitness magazine or a nutrition article, you will probably read about gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat that gives dough that elasticity it needs to be formed into such delicious things as bread. For some people, however, gluten might as well be poison. They have a hypersensitivity to gluten, called Celiac Disease, and eating gluten can be very, very painful. And it can be very serious. According to the Mayo Clinic website, this is what celiac is all about:

“If you have celiac disease, eating gluten triggers an immune response in your small intestine. Over time, this reaction produces inflammation that damages the small intestine’s lining and prevents absorption of some nutrients (malabsorption). The intestinal damage can cause weight loss, bloating and sometimes diarrhea. Eventually, your brain, nervous system, bones, liver and other organs can be deprived of vital nourishment.”

It’s a serious thing.

However, there are those who advocate a gluten-free diet even if you are not sensitive to it. Their reasoning ranges from “if it’s bad for some people, it’s probably bad for everyone” to “you’ll lose weight and feel better”. The evidence is still hit-or-miss when it comes to gluten-free diets. Some evidence shows that it’s good. Other evidence shows that it’s no better than a regular, well-balanced diet.

Still, there are people who go with the gluten-free suggestion, but they have no idea why. Jimmy Kimmel sent his cameras out to ask people if they knew what gluten was. Here is what happened:

Of course, we don’t know if the producers of the show edited out all the correct answers and we’re seeing only the funnier wrong ones. But this is pretty much par for the course based on my experience. Someone pushes some diet fad, and a lot of people go with it without knowing why they’re going with it. After all, “gluten” sounds unnatural, so why eat it, right?

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René F. Najera, DrPH

I'm a Doctor of Public Health, having studied at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
All opinions are my own and in no way represent anyone else or any of the organizations for which I work.
About History of Vaccines: I am the editor of the History of Vaccines site, a project of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Please read the About page on the site for more information.
About Epidemiological: I am the sole contributor to Epidemiological, my personal blog to discuss all sorts of issues. It also has an About page you should check out.

3 replies

  1. Around where I live, I’d not be surprised to not only hear the same kind of responses, but also hear someone tell me of the evils of President Gluten in Russia. 😉
    More seriously, the other “evil” still being touted as the be all of dieting is a carbohydrate free diet. With equal lack of comprehension on what a carbohydrate is.
    So, we end up with dieters not eating potato products, but guzzling down sodas. Avoiding bread, but enjoying pizza.
    Which, of course, is a bread.


      1. Yet another evidence free fad diet. :/
        Personally, I prefer a mediterranean diet, though it’s still a poorly documented diet due to regional variations.
        When finances aren’t up to such a diet, I’ll carb load in the morning and at dinner, eating slightly more meat than previously (or other high protein sources) to offset protein lost from kidney damage from a heat stroke I suffered a few years back. Regardless, I eat as much leafy greens as I can get my hands on and am infamous for chomping on celery, fennel bulb or carrots as a snack at such a level that I’m asked if I’m on a diet.
        My usual remark is, I’m on a see food diet, for I see food and eat it. 😉
        Actually, I just like the taste.
        I’m also known to have cottage cheese with fruit on top for breakfast, a habit I picked up from when my father was placed on a “low cholesterol diet” decades ago. Since he wouldn’t eat it and I liked it, I ate it.


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