Why this article in The Independent is wrong

Why this article in The Independent is wrong

This article trumpets the message that if you aren’t a true coeliac, you could get diabetes if you avoid grains. It’s wrong to say that and is just plain scaremongering without any recourse to scientific facts. Let’s have a look at the article bit by bit and see which bits are correct and what’s downright misleading.

The bits in italics are from the article; the comments in normal type are mine.

In the last few years the gluten-free diet required and maintained by those who suffer from coeliac disease has become a major health trend. However, cutting gluten from your diet could actually damage your health if you do not suffer from an intolerance to the food.

Scaremongering from the get go.

At least one in 100 people in Ireland suffer from coeliac disease, a genetic condition which affects the lining of the small intestine. For sufferers, the condition causes inflammation of the small bowel when the body reacts to gluten, a food found mostly in products containing wheat, but also barley, rye or, in some cases, oats. So that would be foods such as breads, pasta, pizza, cake, cereal and beer. It can result in symptoms, such as diarrhoea, chronic fatigue, anaemia, weight loss and recurrent mouth ulcers.

The information about the effects of having coeliac disease are correct, and we will assume the data are also correct.

However, if you do not have coeliac disease, a wheat allergy or a confirmed sensitivity to gluten, you could be missing out on vital nutrients by excluding gluten from your diet.

NO! Nonononono. No. Where on earth did they get that from?

Yes, whole grains (less so their highly processed counterparts) do have some nutrients, all of which we need… BUT:

  1. We can get these nutrients from other dietary sources
  2. Pre-agriculture, our ancestors lived perfectly well without grains; they died young from infections, cold, animal attacks, etc, and not from not eating grains
  3. Our guts are not evolved or adapted to deal with grains
  4. Grains, especially whole wheat, contain ‘anti-nutrients’ which harm us

And gluten-free alternatives are often highly-processed and packed with fat and sugar, warns Dr Norelle Reilly from Columbia University Medical Centre in New York.

This is absolutely correct – but where is it written that we have to eat these processed gluten-free alternatives?

She said there was no evidence of adults or children experiencing any health benefits from avoiding gluten when they hadn’t been diagnosed with an intolerance.

Not being diagnosed with an intolerance is not the same as being coeliac (so we are contradicting the message above); putting that aside, this statement is wrong: the studies and anecdotal stories are out there supporting the premise that children and adults do benefit from avoiding gluten.

In addition, it’s not just the gluten in wheat which causes damage and inflammation in the body.

“In fact, the opposite may be true in certain cases, particularly when the diet is followed without the guidance of an experienced registered dietitian or physician,” she said when writing in The Journal of Paediatrics.

Er…?! Eating real food does not need a registered dietician or physician/doctor watching your every move!

Dr Reilly also said that patients who had religiously followed a gluten-free diet often had a higher calorie and fat intake, were more likely to become overweight and could be deficient in vitamins and iron found in fortified foods such as breakfast cereals.

Crumbs, where do we start with that quote? It is just so misleading. Let’s have a quick go:

  1. She is confusing grain free or just wheat free with gluten free: the public often do, but she is a doctor…
  2. Other grains do contain gluten – ‘gluten’ is a group of proteins, not just one
  3. A higher calorie intake may well be correct as the ‘gluten-free alternatives’ stimulate appetite… but she doesn’t specify what extra calories they are eating; if it is more grain-based fodder, then, yes, that is a problem
  4. Eating more fat is fine – we need fat. Of course, the types of fat eaten matters, but she has made no distinctions here (or the article has failed to report them)
  5. So long as we eat real food, we do not need fortified breakfast cereals to get our nutrients
  6. Wheat is one of the biggest causes of iron deficiency because proteins in wheat prevent proper uptake of several nutrients, including iron

They are also at a greater risk of exposure to certain toxins like arsenic, which can build up in people who consume too much rice, a cereal commonly used a gluten-alternative.

This is true… so instead of saying ‘keep eating wheat’ why is she not saying ‘avoid wheat and rice’? (And, just to remind you, rice does contain gluten, just a different one to the one found in wheat.)

The crusade against gluten can also prove to be costly with gluten-free products averaging at 242 percent more expensive than their gluten-containing versions, according to research by Dalhousie University in Canada.

That may well be true… but no-one is making people eat them! Of course, people are being persuaded to by getting wrong messages from medical/dietary professionals and by cunning marketing from Big Food and Big Pharma.

If we eat real food, we see local, in season vegetables (and many imported ones) are really quite cheap; it’s more expensive to buy ‘organic’ but that applies to buying artisan breads as well. If you grow your own, that really is cost-effective and you know what’s been put on them.

Good nutritious meats and fish are more expensive… but once one settles to eating a diet free from grains, one’s appetite goes down and health and energy levels go up – in the end, you may pay a bit more (sometimes no more), but what price health?

Gluten-free diets have become popular with celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow endorsing the benefits and popular “wellness” blogs using negative language when speaking about gluten, describing it as “evil,” “poison,” “contaminating,” and “toxic.”

The good doctor and her ilk are using inflammatory language too. The difference is, their messages are wrong, whereas Gwyneth Paltrow and others’ assertions of the damaging nature of grains are correct. The bad health effects may take a long time to build up/emerge, but build up they do, and we end up with people suffering from all manner of inflammatory diseases including arthritis, premature ageing, obesity, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), poor vision and more.

This language has led to a widespread belief that gluten should be avoided, regardless of a person’s medical history.

Good: the more people who take this on board, the better. However, they must not eat the manufactured ‘gluten-free’ products which are made from other grains and processed, very high carb alternatives; these do indeed contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes and other health problems.

Dr Reilly described the diet as a “fad”.

We can only hope it is not, or our nations will continue to become fatter and fatter and iller and iller.

She said: “The gluten-free diet should be recommended judiciously, and patients self-prescribing should be counselled as to possible financial, social and nutritional consequences.”

Rubbish. See above and elsewhere in this site for ‘financial and nutritional consequences’. As for ‘social consequences’ it is not clear what she means. Does she mean we will be bullied to eat grains, or that the family will get impatient because a person will not take bread with them? Will people who chose not to eat wheat/grains be made in outcasts? Who knows?

Conclusion: Ignore inflammatory grains and articles and just eat real food.

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