It seems that there has been a lot of push back lately from the media and certain celebrities about just how "real" gluten sensitivity is. There have been admonitions from so-called "experts" extolling people to not give up gluten unless they have celiac disease, implying that it's unhealthy to do so. Add to that a recent study looking at people who had digestive issues to see if it was caused by gluten. The problem was not in the study itself but how some people chose to interpret the results. They determined that for most of the people experiencing digestive problems eating gluten that it wasn't the gluten itself, but the fact that wheat is a FODMAP, a short chain carbohydrate that is not well digested and easily ferments in the intestine. This isn't exactly news. Of course all grains fall into the FODMAP category. How do you think humans developed grain based alcohols? This was published in an article titled "Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity May Not Exist". The author concluded that because the digestive issues were being caused by the fact that wheat is a FODMAP, that non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) probably doesn't exist.
The problem is that 70-80% of people with celiac disease and NCGS don't have digestive issues. The vast majority of complaints and symptoms happen outside the intestine. The study did nothing to address those issues. All those folks out there saying, "See! Gluten sensitivity is a myth!" never read articles like: "The Dietary Intake of Wheat and other Cereal Grains and Their Role in Inflammation".
Gluten is a known factor in stimulating zonulin which is the hormone that regulates intestinal permeability.
Jennifer Esposito recently posted to her blog about this growing phenomenon of attacking the idea that gluten sensitivity outside of celiac disease is a myth. Like her, I lament at how those of us with NCGS are being trivialized. Her hypothesis is that this is a reaction to the fact that the gluten free industry has become a 25 billion dollar industry. That's 25 billion dollars not being spent on wheat products. As such, those whose income is derived from the wheat industry have an economic interest in ensuring that the "gluten free fad" is as short lived as possible.
While I agree that a lot of what's happening in the name of gluten free food is fadish and based on a false understanding of the actual benefits (or lack there of) of going gluten free, let's get this straight:
Gluten free is NOT a weight loss diet!
If you're giving up gluten to get a smaller waist, then you're doing it for the wrong reason. Can you lose weight giving up gluten? Yes, maybe. It depends on how you're giving up gluten and what you're substituting it with. If you're just buying gluten free breads, cookies and crackers to substitute for the gluten full ones, then you're wasting your time. You're just substituting one starch for another and probably adding in a bunch of extra sugar and not improving the nutritional density of your diet.
If you're adding more organic vegetables, fruits, quality meats and fats, then yes, you have a much better chance at not only losing weight but of getting healthier in general. Do you know what they do to fatten up cattle for slaughter? Feed them grains. Yep. Grains are fattening. So if you want to lose weight, then give up grains.
Another point to make:
Eating gluten free is NOT unhealthy!
There are those that would argue that going gluten free is unhealthy unless you have celiac disease because you're going to miss out on some important vitamins as well as all that fiber in whole grains.
Well, first off, if going gluten free was unhealthy for non celiacs, then why in the world would it be any less unhealthy for celiacs? Yet celiacs get much healthier abstaining from gluten. They aren't suffering from malnutrition from a lack of nutrients or from insufficient fiber in their diets. What's so magical about being celiac that they can be healthy on a gluten free diet but a non-celiac can't?
Second, the only reason this appears true on the surface is because people's initial idea of going gluten free is to substitute gluten free baked goods for the gluten filled ones (and I already mentioned above that this is a bad idea). Yes, a gluten filled baked good will have some additional vitamins not found in gluten free baked goods. Why? Because the gluten filled baked goods have had their wheat flour artificially fortified with extra vitamins that were removed in the processing of the flour and gluten free flours aren't similarly fortified.
However, if you substitute the vegetables, fruits, meats and fats I also mentioned above, you'll more than make up for any loss of vitamins in the gluten filled foods and you will get plenty of healthy fiber, too. In fact these foods are much more nutrient dense than grains. Plus, since grains are easily broken down into sugars which cause your blood sugar to spike, you reduce the risk of developing insulin resistance and Type II Diabetes when you give them up. At one time, it was the norm for diabetics to be told to reduce or eliminate grains from their diet. That changed with the publication of the Food Pyramid by the USDA in the 1970s that recommended adding more whole grains (in direct conflict to what was recommended by Dr. Louise Light, former USDA Director of Dietary Guidance and Nutrition Education Research who thought grains should be limited to 2 servings a day and only as whole grains. See Death by Food Pyramid by Denise Minger).
Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity is REAL!
I can point to the tests that were run on me that prove that NCGS is a real thing. In 2010, I had an IgA (immunoglobulin gamma A) test for gluten antibodies. The more antibodies you have, the more your body is reacting to gluten. A weak positive result (meaning you have gluten sensitivity) is 15 units. A strong positive is 30 units. My test results came back at 50 units. I also had a genetic test through Enterolab to see if I carried either of the genes for celiac disease and I had neither of them, though I did have two copies of genes associated with gluten sensitivity. While the test is not 100% telling (they only test the beta portion of the gene so there's still a chance I carry one or more genes for celiac disease on the alpha portion). I had no endoscopy to biopsy the villi of my small intestine or other blood tests as I went straight to a gluten free diet when I got the positive IgA result (you have to have been eating gluten on a daily basis for some time in order to properly test for other celiac disease factors). See Gluten Blood Tests on Dr. Rodney Ford's website for more information. Frankly, I didn't know about them back then. I also had no digestive issues so I'm not sure if knowing what I do now I would have bothered having the tests. False positives are rare, but false negatives aren't, so the tests may not have proved anything one way or another.
More importantly, I went from having 2-3 debilitating migraines every week to none within 2 months of giving up gluten. Chronic sinusitis? Gone. Systemic inflammation that my doctor was seeing in my annual exam also disappeared. Chronic anemia, also gone. So to folks like Charlize Theron and Jimmy Kimmel and Jimmy Fallon who trivialize those of us who have to be gluten free I say, keep your uninformed opinions to yourself. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity is real. It has a simple solution. So what if you're inconvenienced a little. It's nothing compared to the years, the decades of ill health that people like me have suffered due to a lack of diagnosis or the frustration we feel when we go out someplace and find there's nothing safe for us to eat. Suck it up. Pull on your big boy pants and learn to treat people with some compassion.
Oh, and if you had a gluten free baked good and found it tasted like cardboard, then you were doing it wrong. I've frequently made gluten and grain free baked goods that were indistinguishable from gluten filled ones. It's not that hard. Just check blog posts on Gluten Free Bread or Gluten Free Pot Stickers or my Pinterest boards.
Additional reading: Is Gluten Sensitivity Real by Chris Kresser