We have been skipping over writing about the gluten free fad, hoping it would blow over along with “all natural” and other silliness. But when we came across Dogsbars at our dog’s groomers, we knew things had snowballed out of control.
Dogsbars, believe it or not, are USDA organic, gluten free and allegedly contain no salt or sugar. Oh, but they do contain honey and molasses, which of course are both sugar. This is somehow supposed to be better for our dog? Dogs are carnivores, and these rice bars are not particularly nutritious for dogs, who really do not need added sugar. They are basically granola bars for dogs! Has everyone taken a walk with their senses and left them behind? My father would have called this “schnellfracky”* !
Gluten free is just the latest human food fad, and except for the about 1% of people who have celiac disease (an autoimmune disorder caused in these few people by a genetic abnormality) no one benefits from a gluten free diet except food vendors. There is even gluten free Himalayan Salt! Yes, really. Do you think you are being diddled yet? It’s also GMO free (having no proteins anyway) and vegan, to cover as much woo as possible. They don’t say if it is free range!
And in dogs this celiac condition is even rarer, according to Purina Veterinary diets.
Now let us remind you, as Dave Gorski points out, that gluten is just the proteins (gliadin and glutenin) found in wheat endosperm, and in the 1% of people with celiac disease it can cause unpleasant gastrointestinal symptoms and worse symptoms in some cases. These people must carefully avoid wheat gluten. They can almost always tolerate rice gluten, though.
There are some people who claim to have non-celiac gluten sensitivity, but since they do not have any antibodies to gliadin, this is difficult to diagnose or measure. There do not seem to be any good studies on this. And dietician Katherine Talmadge, quoted in Scientific American cautions that if you cut out gluten you may be doing so at the expense of your nutrition.” Gluten is a good source of fiber as well as vitamins and minerals,” she explains, “and many gluten-free substitutes are made with refined flours with considerably fewer nutrients.”
Some people have expressed concern that there has been an increase in protein content and thus in gluten content because of wheat breeding in recent years, but a thorough study by Kasarda shows that there has not been any significant change in gluten content in the last century. There are outliers from time to time, of course, and hard winter wheat and soft spring wheat do differ, but they have not changed appreciably.
An article by Gaesser and Angadi in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics notes that:
- There are no published studies showing that a gluten-free diet leads to weight loss.
- There are no published studies showing that gluten free diets are helpful in treating autism spectrum disorder.
- A gluten free diet may lead to reductions in beneficial gut bacteria.
And nutritionist Ian Marber, quoted in Julia Llewellyn-Smith’s article in the Telegraph notes that three quarters of people claiming to have gluten sensitivity show no such symptoms in blind tests.
Gluten free is a big money maker for food manufacturers as well as dog treat makers and this drives the availability of gluten free products. General Mills Chex Cereals experienced a bump in sales when they were labeled “gluten free.” They have always been made with rice, so this is not a big surprise.
This is a boon to actual celiac disease sufferers, but pointless to pretty much everyone else. And Hank Campbell writing in the Science 2.0 blog in 2012 called Celiac the Trendy Disease for Rich White People. He later backed off a bit in 2013, but noted that the danger of gluten-free products being so much in vogue is that people fail to take actual celiac disease sufferers seriously, treating them more like Gwyneth Paltrow than a friend who needs special diet consideration.
And don't miss Brian Donovan's spoof: "5 Signs your Gluten Allergy is Fake."
And if you have a friend with celiac disease, they might really like these gluten free meringue cookies we make each year during the holidays.
*Schnellfracky sounds like it should be Yiddish, but after consulting with Yiddish-knowledgeable friends who have Leo Rosten’s book, it is not Yiddish, but seems to be a word developed at a few summer camps denoting baloney, or as Rachel Maddow would call it “bull pucky.”