A couple of years ago, Harvard Health Publishing, the consumer health education division of Harvard Medical School, published an article (11/8/19) by Dr Robert Shmerling, Ditch the Gluten, Improve Your Health?, that cogently concluded that “the ‘dangers’ of gluten have probably been overstated–and oversold.”
Dr. Shmerling addressed the question whether restricting the gluten a person eats will actually improve an individual’s health. For people with celiac disease, who represent up to 1% of the population, eating gluten triggers an immune reaction that leads to “inflammation and damage in their intestinal tracts and other parts of the body.”
However, Dr. Shmerling took aim at the “health fad” believed by a remarkable 63%, based on a survey by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, that “a gluten-free diet could improve an individual’s mental or physical health.” He rejected this “health fad” noting that there is no compelling evidence that a gluten-free diet will improve health or prevent disease if you don’t have celiac disease, or a wheat allergy. If a person can eat gluten without trouble or feeling unwell, avoiding gluten may not help and in fact may cause trouble. Why? Gluten-free foods tend to have less fiber and more sugar and fat and several studies have found a trend toward weight gain and obesity among those who follow a gluten-free diet.
The Center for Science In The Public Interest in its latest Nutrition Action Health Letter (June 2021) reports on a study of “more than 200,000 men and women who started out with neither celiac nor inflammatory bowel disease” and after roughly 25 years, “those who reported consuming the most gluten had no higher risk of ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease than those who consumed the least gluten.” Further, this excellent advice is given to consumers: Gluten-free on the label doesn’t make breads, crackers, cookies or other packaged foods healthier since many replace wheat flour with potato, corn, or tapioca starch (plus gluten-free flours).
Further, the study of 208,280 U.S. participants (1991-2017), Dietary Gluten Intake Is Not Associated With Risk of Inflammatory Bowel Disease In U.S. Adults Without Celiac Disease, concluded that “our findings are reassuring at a time when consumption of gluten has been increasingly perceived as a trigger for chronic gastrointestinal diseases.”
Users of this website know that one of our favorite directories is our directory of craft bakeries which now includes nearly 100 craft bakeries throughout the United States and Canada offering baked goods and naturally leavened breads, made from scratch and hand-crafted, with the mindful sourcing of ingredients. We recently reported on the praiseworthy Hungry Ghost Bread Bakery in Northampton in the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts which successfully sustained its operation during the pandemic with grateful community support.
In noting why is does not offer gluten-free baked goods, Hungry Ghost Bread Bakery on its “Often Asked” page explained succinctly:
“Gluten is what makes the difference between bread and not-bread: crackers, cooked grain, crepes. Gluten is what allows the dough to develop to trap the gases released in fermentation and rise into a loaf. It is possible, perhaps, to compensate for the lack of gluten in a non-wheat flour by adding eggs or agar or tapioca to approximate a loaf, albeit in a loaf pan. But if we’re doing that for gluten-intolerant people or celiac disease sufferers, then it would need to be quarantined from all the wheat flour dust already in the air of out little shop.”
Gluten-free is a health fad that this “real” bread lover (who is fortunate not to suffer from celiac disease or a wheat allergy) is grateful to discount.
(Frank W. Barrie, 6/25/21)