According to a new study about one in 140 people in the US have celiac disease. This is about 1.8 million people who should adopt a gluten-free diet to be healthy.
About 1.6 million people in the US are on a gluten free diet, so it sounds like these two numbers match nicely.
But here's the interesting part: this study, which looked for celiac in a nationally representative sample of almost 8000 people, (the researchers measured antibodies used to screen for celiac, and surveyed the medical histories and records of all the subjects to make the diagnosis of celiac disease) found that 29 of the 35 people with celiac had no idea they had the disease.
On the other hand, of the 55 people in the study who were on a gluten-free diet 49 did not have a clinical history or any laboratory evidence of celiac.
Gluten-free as a diet fad
Gluten is probably one of the only food proteins most of us know by name, and now that the name's out and is associated with a bona-fide medical condition - and not an uncommon one - gluten is feared. Gluten avoidance has been adopted not only for celiac, gluten sensitivity or intolerance, but also as a treatment for many other unrelated conditions, and also for weight-loss and as a healthy lifestyle regimen.
Celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow, Victoria Beckham and Novak Djokovic are touting gluten-free's slimming powers and positive influence, while other celebrities are feeding gluten-free diets to their kids as an autism remedy.
Is removing gluten indeed a cure-all?
You can lose weight on a gluten-free diet: if you replace muffins and donuts with fruits, veggies and quinoa you'll also be eating better.
You can also gain weight by going gluten-free if you replace bread with gluten-free chips and cupcakes. It's not easy to make baked goods without gluten; therefore many gluten-free baked goods have lots of calories and fat.
In fact, gluten-free has nothing to do with weight-loss or with treating autism.
What's wrong with gluten?
It's great that gluten-free standards and products are available -- these foods are important for the health of some of us.
But for 99 percent of the population gluten presence or absence is irrelevant. Gluten-free is as immaterial to the general public as "may contain peanuts" is to people without a peanut allergy.
Gluten-free has become a marketing tool, and we've fallen again into the old trap of nutrition confusion feeding us lots of junk. In much the same way that fat-free and low-carb led to highly processed food innovations containing loads of sugars, trans-fat and artificial sweeteners, we're now running away from gluten, replacing it with whatever's gluten-free.
Gluten, my friends, is a component of whole grains, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with it for most people. Gluten is what gives bread its traditional structure, strength and texture and bread in an historic and cultural staple.
Gluten-free foods can be nutritious or pure junk, and if you're looking to eat well the gluten-free declaration isn't a shortcut -- you'll have look at the ingredient list.
"Are we really all going to spend our last years avoiding bread, especially now that bread in American is so unbelievable delicious?"
― Nora Ephron, from I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman