The “Paranoia” Surrounding Gluten

Celiac disease is thought to affect roughly one percent of the population. The good news: it can be treated by quitting gluten. The bad news: many celiac patients haven’t been diagnosed. The weird news: millions of people without celiac disease have quit gluten – which may be a big mistake.

The Demonization of Gluten Podcast by Stephen J. Dubner on Freakonomics

For years, a very good friend of mine has claimed to have celiac disease. He went to a doctor but wasn’t actually diagnosed to have it, though the doctor did say that he could be one of those folks that has a non-celiac sensitivity to gluten. But he has so thoroughly convinced himself that he has this sensitivity that he has foregone many gluten products like pasta. Frankly, I think his sensitivity is more psychosomatic than anything else. I know that sounds a little insensitive of me, But here’s the rub: He can eat as much of the bread I bake as he wants with no side effects.

What’s actually funny is that even though he gobbles up my bread, he catches himself and says, I really should go easy on this stuff as if he’s telling himself he has this allergy or sensitivity; a belief that is bolstered by all the marketing around “gluten-free” products. It has gotten so bad that some bottled water companies advertise that their water is gluten-free. WTF? The gluten-free craze has really gotten out of hand.

Though I’m no scientist, maybe people’s recent sensitivity to bread has more to do with all the shit that’s put into mass-produced bread, like sugar and vitamins and preservatives. Maybe people’s bodies have absorbed the limit of what they can take and their systems are reacting.

I shared this thinking with my friend and also added that the bread I bake as well as that of other artisan bread makers has just four ingredients: flour, water, salt, and a leavening agent. There are no enrichment materials, no preservatives. The bread we make is made the way bread was originally made for literally thousands of years.

In the excellent documentary series on Netflix called “Cooked,” author of the book on which the documentary is based and star of the show Michael Pollan delves into this subject of how mass-produced bread has taken us away from the traditional healthy aspects of bread. The specific episode is called, “Air.” He too posits that perhaps most people who claim to have a gluten sensitivity may not be sensitive to gluten at all, but all the other stuff that’s present in mass-produced bread, suggesting that perhaps people with a gluten sensitivity try out traditional bread and see how they react.

Having said all that, I don’t want to discount the fact that there are people who have a real intolerance to gluten. But the only way to really know is if you are diagnosed by a doctor with having celiac disease. With respect to my friend, I pointedly asked him, “Did your doctor specifically diagnose you with celiac disease?” He said no, to which I replied that I while I didn’t want to discount his possible sensitivity to bread that it’s telling that he doesn’t react to bread made in the traditional way.

Gluten has really gotten a bad rap. Even I was kind of falling for this gluten-is-bad craze. But that kind of went out the window once I started baking. And I also started becoming a lot more aware and sensitive to the marketing behind the anti-gluten movement. Beware of companies using the term “gluen-free” with products that could never have it in the first place, like… water. Bear in mind that they’re using that phrase to convey that their products are somehow superior because they’re gluten free.

Unfortunately, this kind of marketing has created a paranoia around gluten. Obviously, you’ll have to decide for yourself what direction you take with respect to gluten. For me, after having done a bit of research, I’m not falling for it any longer. And no… I ain’t no conspiracy theorist…


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