Why Gluten-Free (the New Low-Carb) Is Not Necessarily Better For You

Are too many of us choosing gluten-free foods with no good reason?

A couple of days ago a perfect stranger in the grocery store told me that my “problem” was gluten and that I needed to go gluten free. I have no idea where she got the idea that I have a problem or that it would be any of her business, but I let her know that I’m not accepting unsolicited health advice from strangers.

I’m always more than a little bit nervous when I hear someone say that they’ve found a new food to eliminate from everyone’s diet but it does seem that more and more people are going gluten free. There are certainly people with celiac’s disease, nonceliac’s sensitivity and wheat allergies who have a very good reason to go gluten-free. But, there’s a large faction of the growing gluten-free movement that smacks of the devotees of the sugar-free, fat-free, and low-carb movements before them. We love identifying a food devil and then paying grossly overinflated prices for foods that have removed that devil and replaced it with something else that’s usually questionable.

Those hoping that this replacement will lead to weight loss should know that there is absolutely no evidence that going gluten-free will help people lose weight, or that it will help people without an actual health condition be any healthier. Gluten-free products often have more calories and higher glycemic index scores than the original and can be more than twice as expensive. As Joy Bauer explained on the TODAY show, there may not be any benefit at all. “If you’ve replaced all those gluten-containing foods with the gluten-free counter parts -- in other words, you pull out bread but then you start eating gluten-free bread, it’s awash. You have the same amount of calories that you started with and you’re not going to lose weight,” said Bauer. But, it's hip to be gluten-free. So, the fact that it might not be beneficial doesn't stop the demand or the influx of gluten-free products on the market.

Listen, people are allowed to eat whatever they want and it’s none of anybody else’s business – so you can go gluten-free all you want but don’t feel compelled to preach your choice to me at the grocery store. My concern is that every time we demonize a food, we end up replacing it with some chemical-filled substitute. We lose sight of the common sense of eating a variety of foods from all the food groups. Instead of trying to find the next diet devil, let’s focus on making sure that all people have access to healthy food options rather than creating expensive foods that won’t help anybody.

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