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Why Do So Many People Think They Need Gluten-Free Foods? (slate.com)
41 points by curtis 1459 days ago | hide | past | web | 100 comments | favorite

My son is extremely allergic to wheat and milk. We have to carry an epi-pen with us everywhere. He swells up, including his face and throat, when he comes in contact with these allergens. It's cost us thousands of dollars in hospital bills, missed work and is a constant worry. If people eat something, don't wash their hands and then touch him, he'll get a bad rash. Most gluten free food is free of wheat and some of that is free of dairy too. I'm thankful for the gluten free trend. Without it, my son wouldn't have much of a chance to eat many common foods. You wouldn't believe some of the things they put wheat in, sometimes for seemingly no reason at all. He can't even play with play dough. So I'll continue to pay 5x as much for a loaf of gluten-free bread because it gives my son a more normal life.


I'm gluten-free by medical necessity, though not nearly as bad as what is unfortunately afflicting your son. And gluten-free products are a) expensive, b) still pretty rare, and c) unlikely to be found outside of specialized sections in large supermarkets or online retailers.

If nothing else, gluten-free faddism creates market forces that increase the availability of gluten-free options while simultaneously reducing their (substantial!) cost. So in that sense, it has some positive externalities.

For example, you can actually get a gluten-free option on most airplane flights these days. That certainly wasn't the case 5 years ago (or at least it wasn't unless you went out of your way to arrange something).

Conversely, the one real danger is that a lot of products are coming to market very quickly, and not all of them are as gluten-free or wheat-safe as they claim. (For instance, a product not made with wheat, but processed in the same factory as wheat products, can get away with calling itself "gluten free," and you need to read the very, very fine print on the package to figure this out). The labeling standards need to catch up to the marketing.

"And gluten-free products are a) expensive, b) still pretty rare, and c) unlikely to be found outside of specialized sections"

Not true. Our whole family has been on the diet for a decade or so for medical necessity of our son. Yes if you "demand" something like gluten containing junk food its terribly expensive and frankly doesn't taste very good, usually. But a perfectly "normal" GF lifestyle isn't any more difficult or expensive than a G lifestyle.

Grilled chicken caesar salad with homemade tasty dressing... just hold the crutons.

Traditional steak dinner with all the fixings, just don't marinate in soy sauce based marinades and don't serve garlic bread on the side.

Beef pot roast with all the fixings except dinner rolls.

Meatloaf just use rice as a binder instead of wheat flour and thicken the gravy with off the shelf cornstarch instead of wheat flour.

For obvious "bun" reasons we tend to cook a heck of a lot more kebobs than burgers and brats. He have had cornbread burger buns and they're not as bad as they might sound... after all corn torilla and seasoned meat is not unheard of, so cornbread and somewhat less seasoned meat is pretty good too.

Lime garlic marinated chicken stir fried

Snack time tends a lot more toward corn chips and salsa or sliced up fruit than toward cookies and cake slices.

You'd be amazed what can be done with cornbread and cornbread batter, but you have to make your own from cornmeal, the mixes in the store use flour as a binder. No problemo homemade is about 1/2 the cost of boxed mix anyway.

I don't like eggs, but obviously for breakfast we do a lot more bacon -n- eggs than bacon -n- pancakes.

I do agree that for social reasons a GF cake costing $10 and tasting like instant potatoes and crunchy rice is kinda ridiculous. So unless there's intense social pressure we don't buy the "GF-products" and stick to naturally GF food instead. Very little baby spinach contains wheat, for example.

All of this is fair and well stated. But:

"Yes if you "demand" something like gluten containing junk food its terribly expensive and frankly doesn't taste very good, usually."

I'm not talking about junk food, per se. For someone who's on the road constantly, or works crazy hours, and doesn't often have time to cook or prepare meals, packaged and restaurant foods are unfortunate necessities of life.

Now, I'm fully aware that there are people who'd consider all such food, by sheer virtue of being shelf-stable and packaged, to be junk food. And I try my absolute hardest to avoid packaged foods in general. But I'm not looking for gluten-free chips or donuts. I'm looking for gluten-free ready-to-eat meals, or gluten-free microwave meals, or gluten-free options on restaurant menus, or gluten-free breakfast bars, or gluten-free breads, etc. All of these things have become much more available in the last half-decade than they've been in my entire life preceding it.

Well... OK. You mention the expensive costs dropping with popularity, then when I point out a plate of fried eggs and bacon for breakfast at the diner has always been pretty cheap and nothing new, and they don't "need" GF pancakes or GF toast to serve naturally GF food, you turn it around and make it an availability argument instead...

As for ready to eat meals and such we've done "ok" with gourmet (aka non-noodle) soups and innumerable granola bars. Also sometimes you just have to try something else. Can't buy GF granola bars at this particular store today? Guess you're having (certain) trail mixes.

GF microwave meals sounds interesting. I'm guessing aside from specialty GF products, something rice based would be the best hope?

"You mention the expensive costs dropping with popularity, then when I point out a plate of fried eggs and bacon for breakfast at the diner has always been pretty cheap and nothing new, and they don't "need" GF pancakes or GF toast to serve naturally GF food, you turn it around and make it an availability argument instead..."

The availability issue was part of my original post, as well (viz., my points "b" and "c"). You assumed I was talking about junk food, and I had to elaborate my position in response. That's a clarification, not a topical shift.

For what it's worth, I totally concede your point about produce and meat. To the extent that you believe that such things invalidate my point altogether, well, that's where I needed to add clarity.

>According to USA Today, up to one-quarter of all consumers now want gluten-free food, even though only one person in 100 has celiac disease

It's almost like people cook for the ones they love!

I've been eating gluten free for months now for exclusively medical reasons. I was having crippling stomach pains and nausea. Marijuana was a gift from the gods for the nausea but nothing stopped the stomach pain. My mother talked to a friend about my symptoms and that friend said it sounded similar to someone she knew. That lead to a recommendation to try going gluten free. After two weeks the pain and the nausea were gone, almost completely, and I'm still having some other GI issues that are being addressed. I don't think I am 'intolerant' to gluten, I think there is something wrong with my gut and avoiding gluten seems to be helping for now. Yes, it's becoming a fad, and it's sad that people just dismiss it simply because of that. Look at some of the comments here, it seems people get angry over it. However, it's been life changing for me, literally. I hope to eat wheat again when all my issues are sorted out, but it's really helped me for the time being.

The latest research on this front really doesn't do much "blaming the victim", which seems to be the default mindset when someone avoids a food or food ingredient. IMO, it's almost certainly not "something wrong with your gut", but rather your gut is ill due to long-term assault from poor external inputs. Eventually nearly everyone gets unlucky. The lucky ones just mistake a "disease of civilization" for a "geriatric condition".

Gluten, gliadins, and lectins, present in wheat and other grains, basically amount to plant defensive chemicals. For many people, consumption of these plays a strong role eventually has various deleterious effects which. The impacts are complex, to say the least, and a matter of ongoing research. However, the basis of treatment is straightforward: eliminate everything with grain. Gluten isn't enough, especially if you have severe GI damage. You may find it helpful to check out resources and books on the "paleo diet" as regards restructuring your eating this way.

Lookup "Nourishing Traditions" online. It's a fantastic research topic for hackers.

It's because of poorly processed foods that gut issues are so common nowadays. If grains (plus legumes and nuts) are prepared traditionally, the pythic acid is greatly minimized, letting your body tolerate wheat much better.

If you miss bread, try eating sourdough bread (wheat flour, salt, water -- no yeast). The fermentation process makes it so the wheat doesn't irritate your gut. My issues were disabling, but I can eat a huge loaf of sourdough in one hour without side effects, when eating just two slices of commercial bread gives me all sorts of trouble.

Might be worth eliminating all other grains, legumes, and nuts. I speak from experience. After you get better, then look into preparing these things traditionally if you want to add them back into your diet.

Anyway, after learning all this (read the book!), I occasionally eat traditionally prepared grain products, but the vast majority of the time I chose to just eat meat and vegetables. It makes meals a lot easier! Don't need to look up recipes at all, just cook your choice of protein (meat, fish/seafood, or eggs), then cook one or two vegetables on the side! You don't need all those fancy gluten-free products, which are generally not even traditionally prepared, meaning, that they keep irrittating your gut anyway!

Plus, a succulent beef shoulder pot roast with a side of spinach creamed with lots of parmesan and butter is so much tastier than anything made with grains :) We eat like royalty at our house -- everyday. And we do so on one modest paycheck.

Our cabinets are empty and our fridge is bursting at the seams. We don't really buy anything that comes in a box.

True, plants have a defense mechanisms from microorganisms, yeasts et cetera, but these defenses can be disarmed to some degree by properly preparing grains: i.e. the old way - soaking, leavening.

I'll repeat a quote from Nassim Taleb: "The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary."

My wife spent years dealing with Gluten intolerance. Usually she would suffer sever stomach pain followed by diarrhea. But it was not a consistent problem. Sometimes she would accidentally get wheat and be ok. Additionally, she could eat other non-wheat whole grains which Celiacs and other Gluten intolerant people can't handle.

Finally, we seem to have found the problem. Additives to flour especially bromated flour. We have conducted our own tests and if she has even small amounts of bromated flour, she reacts. But if we grind our own wheat or use a brand such as King Arthur that has no additives, she never has a problem. (As a nurse, she finds medical research interesting)

We now make our own bread and other flour based foods, but when we eat out, she continues to order gluten free.

We have tried to find any formal medical studies on this. There is plenty of talk about bromated flour being carcinogenic and prohibited in much of Europe and Canada. But very little about people with immediate reactions too it. We wonder if this is the source of many people's gluten issues.

edit: grammar

I should add, that we did do some blind tests. I would not claim anything close to a formal study, but enough for a science minded couple to feel it was good for our needs.

I have gotten really sick (to the point of being hospitalized) and I can basically tell it's related to bread in some way (very strong correlation suggests causation). No doctor has been able to help me at all (this is in the US). In one case, the doctor actually had to go look up "celiac diesase" (hadn't heard of it). Another told me it was just from drinking too much coffee and soda. But my symptoms go away completely and I feel fine when I totally avoid anything that might have bread (and still drink tons of coffee).

This article is probably the most helpful thing I've ever found - I have never been able to figure this out from Wikipedia. And I'll probably be bringing it with me if I ever try again to get help from the medical system.

Years ago my personal Wikipedia research lead me to conclude that there were no helpful tests to find out what I have. People have been telling me for years that I'm wrong. I actually started to believe it - maybe I misunderstood, or Wikipedia was wrong. Well, it looks like maybe I was right.

If anybody with medical experience can comment on the accuracy of this article, that would be great.

It has also been suggested to me that I may have a "yeast allergy" (by a traveller from Europe), so if anyone has any insight into that...

EDIT: To be clear, I pretty much ruled out celiac long ago, because my symptoms are not _that_ serious. I either have wheat allergy, gluten intolerance (most likely), or something simply not listed in this article. The great value of this article to me is that it lists several possible problems and clarifies what tests are and are not available. In other words, it does for me exactly what a physician should have done for me years ago.

I was referred to a gastroenterologist and had an upper endoscopy which was helpful. They can look at the cilia to see if they're damaged in a way consistent with celiac or something else.

It sounds like you already have done this, but there is a diet where you cut out everything that might be causing the issue, and then add things back one at a time. It can take weeks for celiac to feel better after removing wheat however, so the diet method can be a long, laborious route to take.

"It can take weeks for celiac to feel better after removing wheat however,"

My experience with my son is yes it takes awhile for the absolute value to reach "I feel great" but the 1st derivative swung hard positive permanently and obviously in just a couple days. Curious if that's your experience? Like it takes weeks to reach 100 on a scale of 1 to 100, but in just a couple days you could tell it was clearly up an upswing. It might be easier with little kids "oh look he only threw up 7 times today instead of his usual 10 and the number seems to be going down every day..." Then too there is the stereotypical "kids heal faster" mythology etc etc.

It turned out the main culprit for me was dairy, not celiac (though it was a confusing road to get to that diagnosis), so I only know second hand. I have a friend with celiac who said it took a month "to feel good again", but that may have been "to feel great again" like you mention.

When my wife was diagnosed with celiac disease 20 years ago it was after two weeks of significant diarrhea to the point of hospitlization for dehydration. Fortunately the doctor who diagnosed her after a couple of days was young and up to speed, realizing even the hospital food was exacerbating her condition. Simply changing her diet while in hospital and she felt remarkably better after just a couple of days. One physician she saw later in life even dismissed the idea that such a condition existed, even with the GI evidence presented. There's a growing recognition of the condition, and as stated elsewhere it's not actually that hard to eat gluten free if you prepare your own food, and today there are more restaurants that will cater to it, though one always runs the risk of contamination when eating out (about 1 out of 10 I'd say based on experience, but we eat out infrequently anyway). Like anything that becomes a fad though there are people who will dismiss the idea of an intolerance - I once watched a waitress bring back a salad she'd obviously simply removed the croutons from after being asked, again, for a crouton-free salad (a particularly ugly piece of radicchio gave it away). After I pitched a fit, we left, being unable to trust the attention of the staff. Many celiacs develop other food sensitivities - once the cilia is damaged, the body seems more susceptible to future problems.

As for those who think their symptoms being mild means it's not gluten intolerance, the gold standard remains an upper GI examination - it's not that bad (I've had several, for other reasons), and then you know and can react with knowledge vice guessing (there's a blood test not yet approved as I recall). While feeling good again was quick for my wife, it took several weeks to actually consider her healthy again - she had been malnourished for some time prior to the diagnosis, and any such stressful event will take time to recover from.

Bring this article from a few days ago with you instead, it's much better: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/24/opinion/sunday/what-really...

I already saw that, but you see, it's not better. It's not useful at all.

The amazing thing about the Slate article is that it gives a list of several possible issues you can have when you observe that eating wheat gives you a problem.

I have pretty much ruled out actual celiac disease (though not officially); my symptoms just aren't that serious. It's pretty certain I have one of the other two afflictions listed in the Slate article, or possibly something similar that they just forgot to mention.

> To be clear, I pretty much ruled out celiac long ago, because my symptoms are not _that_ serious.

My symptoms were less than yours (constipation once in a while) but I am 100% confirmed celiac. I had positives on the anti-tissue transglutaminase IgG, IgA tests and endoscopy confirmed extensive damage consistent with years of celiac disease. You should rule out celiac disease with the IgG, IgA tests, followed by endoscopy if positive.

Thank you very much. This was actually very helpful. I have some old medical results from years ago, that I don't (didn't understand). I looked through them to see if IgA was there, and it is. I didn't know what that was until now.

My IgA test was negative. The false negative rate for that test is 10%, so I have a small chance of actually having coeliac, but I probably don't.

Anyway, I definitely might end up getting another biopsy done to check for coeliac. (I had one done, but it was too high up, above the duodenum, to say anything about coeliac.)

"Years ago my personal Wikipedia research lead me to conclude that there were no helpful tests to find out what I have"

My son has had celiac disease all his life, from a long time before it became trendy and it'll last till the end of his life a long time after its off the front page. He's one of the 1 in 100. This was before wikipedia. Perhaps a future dating system will number years as in BW before wiki and AW after wiki. Anyway needless to say I recall quite clearly, his pediatrician FINALLY did a blood test as a last resort (celiac is not a profitable disease to treat, therefore rule out everything more profitable first) which had wildly high results, then refer to gastroenterologist who knocked him out and did an endoscopy, "yup all inflamed and Fed up in there" then trial run gluten free diet and his blood antibody numbers started dropping and he nearly instantly had a normal digestive system. And like yourself he gets horrifically sick a couple hours after eating gluten containing foods and it lasts and closely resembles a very, very bad food poisoning incident (like to the point of dyhydration danger, and yes he has been poked with IVs in the ER for this). So I donno about all this "there's no tests" this is extremely heavily trodden ground. Your primary care doc might be pretty ignorant of this specific disease but I can't imagine a gastroenterologist being confused, this is after all kinda their bread -n- butter...

On the other hand I donno if you technically "need" a medical diagnosis. I'll spare you the details, but shellfish and plain ole chicken eggs don't seem to be terribly well tolerated by my digestive system... solution? I don't eat them. I don't need a trendy diet or diagnosis or a pill or celebrity endorsement, I just don't eat lobster or fried eggs.

Note that wheat provides approximately nothing valuable to your body other than empty calories, so feel free not to eat it. Also almost all junk/highly processed foods are stuffed with wheat as a filler so your health will most likely dramatically improve if you stop eating wheat. The reason trendy actresses feel better after stopping wheat is not the lack of wholegrain bread but the lack of twinkies, not the lack of soy sauce but the lack of an entire pan of lasagna in one sitting, etc. Its not at all like giving up citrus or giving up meat where you have to put at least a minimal amount of care into making sure you don't end up with a major nutritional problem.

BTW his whole digestive system got messed up and he's also allergic to soy and milk casein proteins. Supposedly if you "tough it out" for a couple decades you can get cancer from the constant inflamation. Also his growth was pretty stunted until he got a proper diet (at which point he started growing so fast I swear you could watch him get taller). So get this checked out. I may not be a medical doctor, but it doesn't take a PHD to figure out if it makes you sick, don't eat it.

Never eating wheat means I can't easily go out with others to eat (many restaurants in a Southern college town _only_ have things with wheat), can't eat most desserts, and basically can't do fast food (almost everything is breaded). So it's a huge social handicap.

So the idea that "just not eating wheat is not a big deal" is just not true.

I really appreciate your post, thanks.

"Never eating wheat means I can't easily go out with others to eat"

I donno man, obviously we've gone over this ground with my son rather intensely as you might imagine with a grade school kid wanting to go out like/with his friends.

If its a VERY small town yes you might be screwed but his dining choices have been stuff like:

Steak dinner with all the fixings hold the garlic bread.

"grilled meats" on a salad (grilled chicken ceasar salad no croutons is pretty stereotypical)

"lets hit the salad bar"

As for "basically can't do fast food"

Grilled stuff is not breaded. Screwed on fish fry friday night. On the other hand the local BBQ joint will serve him anything, just not on bread. Cajun stuff on rice is good.

Look for low/no carb option even if not heavily advertised/promoted they'll probably do it anyway, just like they'll serve you a chocolate shake even if its never been in a TV ad... Culvers etc will toss a slice of meat on a bed of shredded lettuce. One thing to look out for is some places will fry their french fries in the same oil as they cook wheat stuff, while others will not, while others will tell you its safe but he gets sick anyway.

Yeah taco bell and KFC you're pretty much SOL. On the other hand other than the rolls he does pretty well with almost everything at boston market. Pasta houses like olive garden yeah you're pretty much SOL there too. OTOH the local non-chain non-corporate genuine italian family restaurant has started serving fresh GF pizzas and they taste good.

We've gone to a couple buffet type places and chunks of meat and fish and salads and fruits tend to be pretty good.

If its not breaded, not pasta, and not on a bun you're Probably good plus or minus fillers, flavorings, and contamination.

"So it's a huge social handicap."

Yeah on the no beer thing. In a decade when my son can drink he's going to have to be a rum -n- coke guy like his old man.

"can't eat most desserts"

"Fruit, the original dessert" Bananas Foster aka flambe bananas Ice cream in a dish not a cone. Strawberries and cream Chocolate dipped anything. Chocolate dipped everything. Sherbets and ices and all manner of frozen and gelled creations. I am well over the drinking age so this may or may not apply, also I'm an old married guy so I don't give a F what people see me drinking, so I'll admit I like a little glass of sweet fruit wine for desert or one of those icy "girlie" booze drinks for dessert. If you don't like the taste of a well made grasshopper or a fine sweet cherry wine there's obviously something wrong with you, and I don't need to care if only girls are supposed to drink that stuff. If I made chicken cooked in wine sauce or whatever the leftovers get sipped for dessert.

The stuff you can't eat is cakes, pies, cookies, ice cream cones and not much else.

Look on the bright side, my son is allergic to milk too, so exclude dairy then you're really in for it at dessert time.

One thing to look out for is some places will fry their french fries in the same oil as they cook wheat stuff, while others will not, while others will tell you its safe but he gets sick anyway.

Wait, really? I just want to confirm: Fried foods are OK when they are NOT fried in the same oil as wheat stuff, and NOT ok when they are friend in the same oil as wheat stuff? You can confirm this?

This is a problem area I have. I used to get french fries and they'd be hit or miss, but then somebody told me fried stuff _always_ has gluten, which I didn't really understand, but I mean, I'm not a cook. Now it looks like that person was just wrong.

By the way, graduate students (i.e. my colleagues) don't go to restaurants that serve steak very often :). I can do the grilled meat on a salad thing, but that almost always still leaves me hungry (I'm not big, but I still have pretty high energy demands). Also, I used to eat hamburgers without the bun, but honestly, they usually just taste bad to the point that I'd rather eat alone than eat that around people. It's pretty surprising that a hamburger with no bun tastes that bad. It has to do with the way restaurants or fast food places cook them; if I cook hamburger meat at home, it's 100% delicious.

And yeah, I do have a lot to be thankful for, especially since I can eat milk-based stuff.

"I just want to confirm: Fried foods are OK when they are NOT fried in the same oil as wheat stuff, and NOT ok when they are friend in the same oil as wheat stuff?"

Yeah, fry some stuff at home and look at the results (its fun!).

The first time you fry some fish in some oil and then fry some french fries in the same oil you'll know exactly what I'm talkin about. It does not require gluten issues to see little specs of burnt fish-coating all over your fries. Its crunchy, sometimes tasty, and not overly gross, so most non-GF don't much care. If people complain the fries taste/smell like fish or chicken, then its a cheap place and you're probably going to get sick.

Its not a water/oil polar/non-polar extraction like in o-chem class or something like that, or even microscopic contamination from using the same tools or whatever, its just big ole chunks of batter flaking/falling off and then physically happening to land on the next thing thats fried, like maybe your "GF" fries.

"I used to get french fries and they'd be hit or miss"

Culvers, well, at least the local one, never ever uses the same fryer or same fryer oil to make fish/chicken and fries, therefore their fries are pristinely pure nothing but veg oil and potato. Frankly I like french fries that taste like potato instead of chicken/fish fry night, so I prefer them too aside from my son's diet issues. On the other hand I can personally verify the deli I worked at as a kid (a long time ago) only had one fryer, so our fries got a little fried chicken batter/spice and fried fish flavoring. And the local Burger King is the same deal its all mixed together, ick.

"somebody told me fried stuff _always_ has gluten, which I didn't really understand, but I mean, I'm not a cook"

Kinda true but also kinda false. The absolutely cheapest way to get a crispy battered crust on a fried food is wheat. So guess what the only breading choice is on the general market. All non-GF batters are wheat based because its cheap. If you're willing to pay like 5 cents per serving more you can use a variety of GF rice flour / corn flour / who knows what flours, to make a crispy batter at home. We do home fish fry day (outside) a couple times per year. Much like all non-specifically-GF frozen baked meats (lots of tap dancing around just calling them mcnuggets or battered fish sticks/filets) contain wheat flour, but that doesn't mean the Ians GF nugget/stick products don't exist.

Also as a guy who does a heck of a lot of cooking because I like to, frying does not equal breaded meat. I can fry sausages or hamburgers or homemade hand sliced potatoes all day and no breading means no wheat. On the other hand cross contamination could be an issue, so I can't fry wheat pancakes on the frying pan and then use the same pan without through cleaning to fry my GF son an "GF" egg. I sure as heck can't use the same spatula. This kind of thing over the past decade makes the whole family GF even though only my son has a medical diagnosis... I only eat gluten containing junk food at work or when going out alone.

"don't go to restaurants that serve steak very often"

Well yeah OK. Now realize there are $300/plate steakhouses which I do enjoy visiting on a semi-regular basis but we also go to a lot of $15/plate places. In other words you can go to the "Texas Roadhouse" chain about 20 times as often as some place with a french name you can't pronounce and a wine list that needs reservations.

I/we have had pretty good luck at buffets and they're pretty cheap? Fruit is nature's junk food, you can get fat eating bag after bag of grapes but I don't think its biologically possible to get fat eating iceberg lettuce and celery. So put lots of fruits on your "salad bar salad" if you're hungry.

Sushi, hold the (wheat based) soy sauce and we've had good luck, then again they've gotten "trendy" such that a roll is now like $10. Also Sushi is pure binary love/hate either you'd eat it all day if permitted or be totally grossed out.

We've had good luck with boiled seafood, hold the garlic bread, but lobster can get expensive in some parts of the country.

Whoops forgot to mention another good way to contaminate "pure french fry oil" is with battered french fries especially those curly things. "MOST" frozen french fries are pure potato with a little oil so they psuedo-fry if you bake them, and sometimes a little food coloring/carmelized sugar (weird but true). But you can buy battered fries and that is GF trouble. So its possible the local burger king does segregate chicken oil and fry oil, but they fry wheat battered fries in the fry oil, thus not GF. My local Culvers does not sell battered fries, so...

Thanks a lot for all your words of wisdom! I really appreciate it.

Regarding sushi: I've found that if I get cheap sushi (like the kind in a cafeteria or supermarket), it often makes me feel like crap. So they must be slipping something in there made of gluten. Any idea on what that is and how to avoid it? (Of course, the easy answer is "don't eat cheap sushi," and that works pretty well.)

You can get an allergey test.[1]

[1] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allergy_test

Except the article states that those aren't useful. (Maybe you are trying to tell me the article is wrong?)

> One problem with wheat allergy is that there is no good test for it. In fact, the blood tests for IgE (called RAST tests) are notoriously unreliable; for example, only one in eight children with a positive IgE test for peanuts is truly allergic.

> There’s not even a mediocre blood test for gluten intolerance. The diagnosis simply relies on someone’s subjective feelings of bloating, bowel changes, or mental fogginess after eating gluten

Well, as far as a test for allergies with intestinal symptoms, you could get an endoscopy/colonoscopy and possibly a biopsy while they're at it. A gastroenterologist should be able to tell you more.

So I've spent hours today looking into all this stuff. (This may be TMI for you, but I leave it here in case it helps someone else.)

I actually had a biopsy, but they took all their samples from above the duodenum, not in/below it. For gastroenteritis (stomach inflammation)/vomiting, it makes sense to take them above the duodenum. To make a ruling for coeliac (where it seems that food does not come back up, but apparently is more likely to go out the other end?), you have to take them in the duodenum.

The results of my biopsy were positive for gastroenteritis, which just means you have stomach inflammation, but doesn't tell you anything about what's causing it. They thought it was from coffee/soda, but I now know that's not right, from personal experience with glutinous foods.

Drop gluten for 3 weeks; do you feel better? Feel bad when you get back on it? Problem solved, really. Until science supports our observations, I don't need much more proof than that.

Your reply perfectly sums up why anti-gluten and other food crazes periodically sweep through our culture: science's job isn't to support peoples self-observation and that observation does not prove gluten intolerance.

The gluten-free + gluten/placebo experiment could show whether someone is gluten intolerant or not, until then the approach you mention is indistinguishable from superstition.

For an individual, it doesn't matter whether the effect is placebo or not; it's real to the individual.

If standing on tiptoes and spinning around three times each morning makes you feel better, you should do it.

It's only for determining what sorts of interventions we should use for a larger population that we care about whether the effect is placebo or not.

Sure, but when you make personal choices for your own diet you should absolutely base it on your own observations.

This has nothing to do with fads or crazes, at least for me and many other's that I know.

It is important to apply critical thinking in all aspects of what you do.

Now this is a good reason to prove if farts can be created by placebo effects and superstition.

As pointed out elsewhere in this thread, when you drop gluten, you drop pizza, some ice creams, and a ton of processed foods, so 'not eating garbage' may be helping more than 'not eating gluten'.

The key to this test, is not just that you drop the gluten. The key is that you then try it again (3 weeks should be enough time for anyone who is not elderly). Have a nice whole wheat sandwich with nothing but healthy ingredients if you like; if you feel like crap afterwards, stop eating wheat. Do you have Celiac? Do you have gluten sensitivity? Do you have a wheat allergy? Do you really care? If you truly have any of those three things, you will know, because the resulting symptoms are well beyond what you would reasonably want to imagine/reverse placebo up.

If you suspect you may have any of these problems, this really is the best test to do. All of the formal, medical tests are varying degrees of unpleasant and distressingly inconclusive. This one is conclusive, and easy, excepting the giving up of the yummies for three weeks.

> Drop gluten for 3 weeks; do you feel better? Feel bad when you get back on it? Problem solved, really. Until science supports our observations, I don't need much more proof than that.

Science does support it if you did the observations, recorded fastidiously and properly controlled your experiment. "big name" science does not exclude normal people from conducting scientific experiments. Oblig xkcd: http://xkcd.com/397/

I agree, elimination diets are great. And this is all anyone can really do as an individual to find what works best for them. I did the same thing with dairy. I just feel better without it.

According to the article, a full two third of people who thought the same way did not have gluten tolerance.

The mind is a powerful thing.

Sure, so if you do this, be diligent. Awareness is important.

"Why Do So Many People Think They Need Gluten-Free Foods?"

Because when I eat it I feel bloated and nauseous. When I don't, I feel fine. Q.E.D. I talked about this a little bit the last time it came up[1].

The problem occurs when I eat barley, rye, wheat, and other grains that contain it. So, it's definitely not a wheat allergy. My symptoms aren't as severe as those that celiacs suffer from, thankfully.

Last year, after I thought I knew what was causing the problem, I tried eating some bread after my symptoms had all gone away. They came back within a couple hours. Going back to a strict gluten free diet solved the problem again.

[1] http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5277765

You can also test this by trying foods that you wouldn't assume contain wheat, but they certainly do.

How bout beer, (most) licorice, soy sauce, and (most) taco seasoned meat? That should make you sick too. It made my son sick... well, not the beer; he was just a toddler at diagnosis. But yeah, eat Chinese and throw up for 3 continuous days, even though "fried rice doesn't contain wheat, does it?", well, yeah, it does, in the soy sauce, that kind of thing.

Kikkoman soy sauce is very, very low in gluten, and they actually said so in writing: http://surefoodsliving.com/2007/05/kikkoman-soy-sauce-claims... (Check out the attached PDF.) I've been able to put that back in my diet, and it's been wonderful; it was the #1 thing I had missed. YMMV of course. Then again, Google pops up this, too: http://www.kikkomanusa.com/homecooks/products/products_hc_de...

Nijiya markets in Los Angeles sell gluten-free soy sauce.

> How bout beer

Yep, tragically.

> (most) licorice

Yes again.

> soy sauce

Definitely. Thank god for tamari.

> and (most) taco seasoned meat?

Dunno, I don't eat beef.

"and (most) taco seasoned meat? Dunno, I don't eat beef."

I assure you that well over 50% of the package mixes in stores use wheat flour as a thickener. If you're careful enough to read the packages you can find SOME that use cornstarch as a thickener. Then again why pay $1.50 for an envelope when I can premake ten homemade taco seasoning mixes to my own precise flavor profile for the same price... all this "GF is expensive" is kinda off base.

You might not eat beef but I bet a light dusting of taco seasoning would taste pretty good on fried zucchini slices and perhaps other veg if thats your thing. I bet taco seasoning powder would spice up steamed broccoli pretty well.

Whoops and I forgot to mention the tamari thing, you can get a special GF soy sauce but its almost as easy to just cook orange sauce, teriyaki (careful! read the label! some are made with wheat!) or thai peanut. I don't think you can make thai peanut sauce or orange sauce with wheat so you're good to go.

This is much like the breakfast issue. Yes you can spend $8 on a little box of GF pancake mix that tastes almost as good as "real" pancakes. But F that just fry an egg or serve homemade hashbrowns instead, they're just as GF as GF pancake mix and not nearly as fake.

I'm pretty similar, my wife is a confirmed celiac, so I know that I do not have that as my symptoms are no where near as harsh.

But for me I feel so much better when I avoid it, I don't get "sandwich sweats" I don't feel dopey, and most of all I don't get piles (hemorrhoids).

People try to make out I'm faddy, or that I'm being difficult, but the benefits are clear to me!

Exactly. This is the case for me and it's the case for well over 1/100th of the people I know. Almost all of my immediate family have the same issues.

It's not a fad, it's a collective realization that this is a problem and what gets labeled as a "fad" consists of people, who feel they may have symptoms, experimenting or deciding to be perhaps a bit overly cautious.

Overall this is a very good thing and the "fad" should be encouraged.

Low carb diets became popular with the plebs, so a crypto low-carb diet is needed.

Actually, independent of the whole low-carb craze, there's some evidence indicating that, as carbs go, wheat is a particularly bad one. Substantially worse than corn, rice, root vegetables, and other sources of starch.

People have definitely conflated the wheat gluten allergy issue (celiac disease and other forms) with low-carb dieting in general, which is misguided. As the article points out, the percentage of the population actually suffering from allergies to gluten is tiny. [1] But it may not be a bad idea to cut down on wheat, regardless. Especially products with highly processed wheat as a key ingredient.

[1] Although it may be growing, for reasons not currently understood. Alternatively, we may just be experiencing a boom in the diagnosis -- either a result of over-diagnosing, or rather, correct diagnoses after many decades of under-diagnosing.

> Substantially worse than corn, rice, root vegetables, and other sources of starch.

...can you share the source for this information?

Do you have any sources for that?

This is a pretty poor article. It does not provide any counter points or reference anything in the other camp. The article skirts any knowledge about who is evangelizing the wheat free movement (William Davis [1] wrote an excellent book, Wheat Belly [2] about this exact phenomenon) and why.

It's anecdotal, yes, as is most scientific research early on when there may be a lot of competing arguments. Dr. Davis clearly outlines why he feels that wheat is a problem in our current society (mainly due to the changes in amylopectin in modern wheat, as well as other protein changes that are not present in ancestors to modern wheat). It's worth a read if you want to know more, it is anecdotal but there sure is a lot of anecdotes and empirical evidence, and it's fleshed out quite thoroughly in his book [2].

It seems that anything in our diets that is in over abundance seems to cause us problems, be it wheat or soy. Both of which are in almost everything we eat today, and both of which have undergone some serious changes in the last 40-80 years.

[1] http://www.wheatbellyblog.com/about-the-author/ [2] http://www.amazon.com/Wheat-Belly-William-Davis/dp/144341273...

Counter point to what? The article mentions that a lot of people that don't have celiac disease avoid gluten and out of those 1/3 actually find some relief from a gluten-free diet.

I didn't feel the author was taking sides.

Perhaps you're right. It just seems a little underdeveloped in my opinion. There's a lot of talk around wheat's effects and this article could have included more information.

When authors make links to celebrities jumping on board I often end up not thinking very highly of what the celebrities are supporting. Particularly when the previous sentence is purporting gluten-free to be a 'fad'.

I guess in the end, it's not truly a poor article, it just does not go into as much depth as a feel it could have. I suppose it's all about the audience, and I am not the target audience for this article.

"Wheat Belly" is probably not a shining example to use here. It (rightfully) attracted a lot of criticism over the author's cherry-picking of citations (even those of studies whose own abstracts contradict his claims) and failure to provide concrete evidence for many of his most damning conclusions.

Some examples:



That's great to know, thanks! Do you know of any better examples in support?

I do not. My limited understanding of wheat-free diets is that 1. the vast majority of people are not affected in any measurable way by gluten, and 2. there is too much anecdotal noise obscuring point #1.

I make my own "wheat meat" which is 99% wheat gluten. It's delicious, fun, and interesting. If you arent one of those people who care or cant handle it, I suggest trying it out. There are plenty of recipes online, you'll just need about an hour

For those looking for more information on this "wheat meat", searching for "seitan" will provide.

A vegan friend got me to try it, loved it. But the explosive reaction proved that its not for me.

Tasted awesome though, give it a try, its one of the cheapest proteins and can be so tasty!

Clearly it has nothing to do with people's evolving eating habits and new found rejection of processed carbohydrate-rich flour based foods.


I also understand in the article the author focused on Celiacs vs diagnosed but-not-really Celiacs, but the author should really expand his thesis. You might not even have a medical condition but would still choose to reject white bread, Twinkies, crackers, pizza, etc.

Rejecting white flour is not the same thing as claiming you cannot tolerate any gluten whatsoever.

Yes, but for many it may be a obfuscated way of rejecting white flour.

After recently relocating to San Francisco, I'm concerned that I'm not getting enough gluten.

My son, who is deathly allergic (anaphylactically allergic) to peanut-butter, had a blood test to see if he might have grown out of it (he hasn't; poor kid).

The doctor also order the blood test to screen for specific allergy-causing antibodies to various common allergens, including wheat proteins.

It turns out that his blood had a reaction to albumin (or maybe it was globulin; I can't remember). The Doctor called it a 'wheat allergy' and went on about diarrhea. And Mom and I thought he was just trying to avoid doing the dishes when he'd bolt to the bathroom right after eating: Go figure...

We just look for gluten free because if there is no gluten there is none of the other 4 proteins found in wheat.

Went gluten-free for a month back in 2010, haven't looked back since. I didn't need to lose weight (although it's a nice side effect) but my psoriasis cleared up completely.

The tests for gluten intolerance are notoriously inaccurate. They test for antibodies for gluten in the bloodstream, and this only occurs when you have serious gut permeability.

Self experimentation is the way to go with this until the research catches up. Try it for a month, and see how you feel.

Also I don't see this the problem with a self-diagnosis being wrong. It's not as if by eating gluten-free you are directly harming your body.

For me at least, the health benefits of ditching gluten is quite apparent very quickly (3 weeks). You don't realise how bad you feel eating gluten until you stop. Everyone just starts taking daily stomach aches, bloating, heartburn, indigestion and 2pm food fatigue for granted. They think that's just the way it is. It's not.

That said, I still love bread, but now only eat it sparingly.

When you find blood in your stool, you realize it won't 'just go away'.

First time I learned about gluten or gluten-free diet was when I researched links between ADHD and food, and didn't give it much thought.

Then I read on HN about Taubes and then keto, which led me to /r/keto and I tried it for fun (for science !) for two months (I don't need to lose weight). I did feel A LOT better and lost 2 Kg (which isn't much but I'm 1m76 for 62 Kg).

Improvements were : - no more sleepiness during the day. I had suffered about this since forever. - less headaches (and nauseas). - less belly bloating (I always thought it was normal) - (slightly) better sleep.

Since then I eat an egg & bacon for breakfast, and eat a lot less bread and pasta (and carbs). I miss baguette (I'm French) but I feel great overall.

I guess it's just +1 for anecdotal evidence ! :)

A lot of the anti-gluten sentiment semight be rooted in the need for a quick fix to dieting issues. The idea being 'if I just cut out this one thing, all of my belly fat will go away.' People (myself included) hate the idea that dieting is a change of lifestyle, that you can't just slash one thing for a few months and call it a day. I think the challenge should be: no processed foods for a month. None whatsoever. Then see how you feel. But because we've mostly decided that our budget should go to everything else besides good food, that's a difficult task indeed.

What do you consider processed food? In other words, could you give a one-day meal sample?

All I know is my energy is more level throughout the day and my thoughts are much clearer. I now know I never actually had 'ADD' in grade school - I had 'Captain Crunch' - thanks mom.

I don't care much for 'gluten free' replacement product hype. Just eat normal food - avoid the wheat.

Answer: because these people think that gluten will slowly change gut lining and immune response to the point that they will develop celiac disease or other illness if they eat gluten regularly.

According to my local celiac authority: "because the atkins diet and south beach diet went out of style"

The induction phase of Atkins is pretty much alive with the name of Keto(genic) diet.

My doctor told me to. Been wheat-free for 4 months, and feeling much better. Also, caffeine-free.

> Also, caffeine-free.

You had me going until you wrote that.

You should try it. Headaches last a week, then it's all good. I sleep much, much better, and my mood is better. Plus, I drink no sodas, tea, or coffee, so I am saving several dollars per day. It adds up.

Also, I'm french, and the bread from Udi's is awesome. (http://udisglutenfree.com/)

Udi's is so much lighter and tastier than all other gluten-free breads, I suspect black magic.

Also, best gluten-free pastas anywhere in my experience: Ancient Harvest Quinoa/Corn Pastas (http://www.quinoa.net/145/163.html, sold at Amazon, Whole Foods, etc.) Amazing mac & cheese, amazing spaghetti.

...so you have no idea whether it's from cutting out caffeine or gluten. Great way to not understand your body! Try going on a seitan rich diet for a week (it's basically pure gluten made to taste like meat, and actually tastes quite good: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wheat_gluten_(food)) - if you actually feel any worse (more than the nocebo effect), then you might really have a gluten problem. If you feel better, then the problem was most likely the coffee (or some other ingredient of the gluten containing foods you were eating, in which case you better of on no-gluten, so you'll need a further experiment to clarify this). Experimenting on your body is cool, trust me (yeah, it's boring compared to doing it with some hard drugs or psychedelics, buy still sciency and fun :) )

No, because I went off caffeine completely from 2005 to 2008, without altering my gluten diet at all.

Americans don't ferment or even soak their grains, which the Weston A Price foundation (and many others) believe is one of the reasons Americans have so much discomfort/illness to do with grains:


Soaking and fermentation change the digestibility by altering the structure of the grain, and eliminating enzymes that have potentially painful side effects.

Wheat has been a key part of human diet for something like 10,000 years. The gluten crisis has been with us for 3-4.

It's an ideal chronic condition for the 99% of suburbanites not affected by celiac disease who need something to complain about, conspicuously spend money on and attract attention. It sounds serious, onerous to deal with, and has no stigma attached to it.

When people actually "stop eating gluten", they buy really bad bread for $8 a loaf. They also stop eating food like pizza, a variety of processed foods, ice cream, etc. So they lose weight and "feel better".

I was going to say that wheat has been bred for more gluten content, but in the process of looking around for concrete evidence of that claim, I found this: http://pubs.acs.org/doi/full/10.1021/jf305122s So, nevermind that then.

It is entirely possible that it is simply an improved diagnosis artifact. My paternal grandmother, from whom I have inherited my celiac (yes, hitting my father too), relates a family tale about a great-uncle who was notoriously "lazy" and unmotivated, and who slept a lot. As a judgment of character in late 1800s farm-country Ohio, that's a pretty serious character flaw, but nobody had a clue it could have been diet-related (a suggestion that probably would have been found laughable, in favor of the character flaw theory). Obviously we can't prove it was a celiac case, but it matches our modern experiences in our gene line pretty well, so it is at least not an unreasonable theory. It's not unlikely Celiac's been around with us for a very long time... it's just that it usually doesn't kill you, certainly not prior to breeding age. (For which I am grateful.)

"Wheat has been a key part of human diet for something like 10,000 years."

Thats an interesting anthropological question. That is almost certainly wrong for almost anyone other than descendants of certain rather small cultural areas. I've always found it interesting how some Roman Empire products like wheat are still very popular while others like garum are not so popular. It might have something to do with garum being really gross and donuts and bread being yummy.

None the less its humorous how narrow minded anthropologically some people are. All of us, and I mean ALL, only have ancestors who lived in Switzerland and drank cow milk and lived in southern Italy and ate bread and pasta and no other cultures nor their descendants exist, just us Europeans...

I genetically resemble that culturally imperialistic outlook on history, but I sometimes wonder just how many generations you'd have to go back on my wife's side to find a nation where basically no one drank milk or ate wheat, or at most it was a weird and unusual snack. I'm thinking only about 3 generations. And now hundreds of pounds of that weird stuff getting shoved down the throat per year, that's gotta be a shock to the carefully evolved gut. Go back 200 years and tell my wife's ancestors that my wife would be expected to consume hundreds of pounds of cow milk products per year, and those ancestors would likely be all "uh, and WTF is a dairy cow?" No 10K years necessary. In fact if you told my parents that I'd be expected to eat 20 pounds of soy per year, they'd sound about the same "uh, and WTF is a soybean?" Its just not part of my ancestry, even my very recent ancestry. In fact I'm almost 100% certain my grandma would have had no idea what a soybean was, and now they're shoved down my throat.

Finally ask any biologist, you've gotta go way the heck further back in history that 10K years to find a common biological ancestor who primarily ate grains (like a proto man-cow, I guess). If a space alien landed, after it got tired of sticking probes in the rears of hillbillies and reading the funny resulting tabloid stories, then the alien started dissecting earth animals, looking at our innards it would probably be pretty surprised to discover we like to tell ourselves we're supposed to be grain eaters. Why those idiots are obviously evolved to eat fruits and nuts and meats, WTF are those idiot earthlings doing eating cow-food like grains?

I don't know where your wife is from, but wheat originated in the Fertile Crescent, and was a driving force behind urbanization and the formation of city-states. A substantial number of people and cultures in turn spun out of there. If you are not of Sub-Sahara African descent, you have ancestors from there. In Africa, there were very limited grain crops available... Mostly sourgum and millet iirc.

Just about any northern hemisphere agricultural society relied upon grains. They were (and to some extent, still are) essential to society advancing to the point that people can specialize in things other than gathering food.

Garum seems similar to Korean Kimchi.

My son's blood, independent of his body, produced allergy-causing antibodies when exposed to wheat proteins; I guess his blood just wanted something to complain 'bout in order to get attention, huh?


Your son has a medical condition that is truly horrible. He's the 1%.

20 years ago, the 99% of people who don't have conditions like your son's were refusing to eat products containing eggs, and were loading up on a variety of foods containing oat bran at inflated prices.

30 years ago, those some type of people were refusing to eat pork.

My son got the blood test because of a tertiary condition that warranted a blood test.

It may be just that people aren't going around getting blood tests.

My guess is it would surprise the heck out of you how many food related allergies are not just in people's imaginations.

My wife has done some research on this, and her belief is that ancient wheat was OK, but the modern wheat is engineered for very short plants, many planting cycles per year, and more gluten. I don't know if this is valid, but when I eat bread made with spelt for a few weeks, I seem to feel better but I am not sure if this isn't just a placebo effect. Fortunately spelt bread is very tasty, unlike things like brown rice bread that I don't like.

Also, no need to give up pizza (pardon a shameless plug: http://cookingspace.com/?detail=Cauliflower%20and%20Broccoli...)

The type of wheat we eat has changed dramatically over the last two generations though. See https://www.marksdailyapple.com/the-problems-with-modern-whe... for a comparison of the current form of wheat we eat to older forms of wheat which people may be less sensitive to.

I do eat some wheat though I may try to see if there's a correlation between nausea and wheat after reading the informative comments here. But I hardly eat any pizza or all that industrial processed crap and I'm very light on ice cream. I'm not a food-fetichist at all: but I simply pay attention not to eat junk-food (ready-to-eat pizzas in the microwave oven [or even the regular oven] is junk-food).

Honestly I do "feel better" when I'm fit, which I always am... And so is my girlfriend. And we do sports : tennis and censored.

I know some people think that "fat is beautiful" (probably after-the-fact rationalization but whatever) but IMHO Maria Sharapova is way sexier than either Oprah Winfrey.

Interestingly there seems to be some automated selection process going around: slim and fit women tend to prefer slim and fit men (not always true of course) while junk-food-eater-no-sport-whatsoever women/men tend to find partners attracted by the same lifestyle.


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