Gluten-Free can be Bad for 99% of Us.

Via Waylon Lewis
on May 18, 2013
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gluten free, elephant journal, cookie monster

A: Yes, this is a well known and well studied phenomena in weight loss. Basically, it doesn’t actually matter what you do–if you consciously make a choice to diet, you’ll lose weight.

“I’m a celiac, and while I enjoy the glut of new products that are gluten-free, I resent the dieters that don’t take advantage of their functioning GI track. EAT A DOUGHNUT. SOME OF US CAN’T…

Celiac here too, and 100% with you on that one. I understand that a lot of people feel better w/o gluten even if they don’t have CD (my husband, for instance), but damn, wish I could eat a sugar raised doughnut just one. more. time. But then it would be off to the ER for me, so, no.

Or a double decker from Taco Bell. Or even just cheez-its! Or soft french bread and brie…” [Reddit]


Many, many more perspectives here:

The Tastiest Gluten-Free Stuffed Artichokes You’ll Ever Eat. ~ Paige Vignola {Recipe}

Eat a Gluten-Free Diet for Type 2 Diabetes & Celiac Disease. ~ Sarka-Jonae Miller

A Gluten-Free Treat to Start the Day. ~ Terri Tremblett

Link: 1% of the population has a genuine need. For most of the rest of us, we’re just eating processed, pricey, nutrient-light “wellness” products.

Here’s 8 Gluten-free Things that are Actually Bad for Us.

Don’t get suckered by the Gluten-free gold rush. Just because it’s GF doesn’t mean it’s good for us. Stick with real food, that’s naturally gluten-free. Cook more, love more, slow down. Avoid heavily-processed hype:

New read: Food fadism: exposing the gluten myth (

“If it’s packaged or processed — gluten or no gluten — it’s not as healthy as other whole foods you could be eating. The best gluten-free foods aren’t products at all; They’re fresh fruits and vegetables!”

When I was video host at Natural Products Expo West, recently, interviewing some of the newer GF companies, it felt like I was talking with a bunch of fad and money-focused business people—not foodies or wellness experts. I do like some GF companies that focus on health, not just GF. ~ ed.

Beware buzz-words. They mean something, but they don’t mean enough that we can turn off our critical intelligence.

Much of the general population’s newfound gluten-intolerance is, likely, psychosomatic—i.e., imagined. The point: eat healthfully, read labels, don’t follow fads or be a sucker for corporate hype claims.

It’s the same with organic. Folks think organic means healthy. It means something: but not necessarily good-for-you.

In a recent poll, 30 percent of adults said they wanted to “cut down or be free of gluten“…About 1 percent of the population has celiac disease…people who unnecessarily shun gluten may do so at the expense of their health, Tallmadge said…whole grains, which contain gluten, are a good source of fiber, vitamins and minerals, Tallmadge said. Gluten-free products are often made with refined grains, and are low in nutrients…[like] fiber, iron, folate, niacin, thiamine, calcium, vitamin B12, phosphorus and zinc. “There’s nothing magical about eliminating gluten that results in weight loss,” Mangieri said. Any of us that eliminates or removes cookies and candies from our diets, and replaces them with fruits and vegetables is going to feel better.”

Via @waylonlewis via @hukitchen on Instagram (follow’ em):

gluten-free health bad

1. Soda is Gluten-free. This is what one sip of soda does to your body.

2. Cocaine is Gluten-free. Bonus: on Fair-trade Cocaine.

3. Some gluten-free cookies: many are still bad for you. “just two of Glow’s cookies contain as much saturated fat as 10 McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets and more calories than seven Nabisco Ginger Snaps!” Some are pretty healthy. Read the labels.

4. Some gluten-free granola: the store-bought stuff is generally full of sugar and canola oil. Yum! “With 20 grams each of both fat and sugar, Udi’s granola resembles a dessert…”

5. Some gluten-free bread is all canola oil and eggs: read, fat and calories. And weight-gain!

6. Gluten-free bagels: “The listed serving size may be half a bagel, but don’t be fooled—few people will stop at half. To add further insult, Glutino’s also manages to pack in more fat per bagel than three scoops of Breyer’s Original Strawberry ice cream.” Jaw, meet floor.Gluten Free Aisle

7. Gluten-free Cake? Bad for you: “Tia’s “Totally Healthy” cake contains as many calories as 8.5 Fudgesicles, as much fat as 3.5 McDonald’s Hamburgers, and more sugar than 10 feet of Fruit by the Foot candy.” How would you look with 15 extra pounds? Eat a couple of these a week and you’ll find out.

8. Gluten-free soups…are often all “flour, butter and milk or cream.”

“…Many of us paying a premium to avoid gluten are doing so without any legitimate medical reason.

First of all, why is gluten — a protein found in wheat, rye and barley — so bad? Well, for most of us, it isn’t.”


Bonus: If you can tolerate gluten, this is my favorite kind:


If you plan to go gluten free, select more fruits, vegetables, and lean meat, and more naturally gluten-free grains like brown rice, quinoa, and buckwheat, rather than just buying prepackaged products labeled “gluten free,” Sandquist says.

glutenfreecupcakes copy


Men’s Health.

Scientific American.



For another pov: Slate.

Common Sense (look it up, it’s in your own head)



About Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of elephant magazine, now & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat." Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword's Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by "Greatist", Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: "the mindful life" beyond the choir & to all those who didn't know they gave a care. | His first book, Things I would like to do with You, is now available.


78 Responses to “Gluten-Free can be Bad for 99% of Us.”

  1. Teresa says:

    Amen, I wholeheartedly appreciate the call to skepticism toward corporate health fads. It’s so disheartening to see companies vie to exploit their customers’ interest in health and well-being. Eating real, sustainably and ethically produced food can be an act of political conscience!

  2. Karlbaba says:

    This is the point I wanted to make so thank you. Gluten is implicated in leaky gut syndrome which causes indigested proteins to enter the bloodstream, potentially stimulating an autoimmune reaction. You don't have to be Celiac to have leaky gut. One Academic study observed thyroiditis reversing from simply eliminating gluten. The author makes a good point that processed Gluten Free foods may not be the healthiest, whole foods are better, but it's dangerously untrue that only 1% of the population may have a real problem with Gluten.

  3. Marlene Martin says:

    8 years ago, I suffered from a very bad bout of candidiasis. I went on an an elimination diet for 6 months and my candidiasis decreased until I had no symptoms. When reintroducing wheat back into my diet, I suffered stomach pains, swelling, and sinus issues. I went to the doctor and was given a blood test that determined I did not have celiac’s disease. I consulted with my doctor regarding my symptoms, and- simply put she said, “Those are allergic reactions. Don’t eat wheat.” Several times since, I have attempted to reintroduce wheat into my diet. Unfortunately, every time, I have experienced the aforementioned symptoms. I don’t like gluten free bread substitutes. I enjoy whole grain breads. But I can’t have them. Because it hurts and makes it difficult to work and live.

    I eat organic produce and avoid processed foods (they make me feel yucky too) but I miss bread, and good pizza, and some of my childhood favorite foods that were always made from scratch by my grandmother, from the whole foods my grandfather grew in our big backyard- no- wheat wasn’t one of them. It does touch a chord in me when I read this article… Because if I could, I would not be gluten-free. I do eat quinoa and brown rice and buckwheat and millet, but I miss crusty bread and even- dare I say- croissants. So, please be more careful when speaking about a condition most of us have no control over. The truth is- it kind of sucks… Even when you eat well.

    Thank You.

  4. Miranda says:

    It is a disservice to share an “opinion” piece on a medical allergy. This article is narrow minded, insulting, and simply incorrect. Two years ago, I found out that Gluten was the cause of my debilitating migraines. I cut it from my diet and have been headache free since. I feel really judged when someone thinks I am Gluten Free to lose weight or be part of a “fad.” This article could have been more accurate, health conscious, and enlightening.

  5. Sara says:

    I agree with you there as i too have an allergy to wheat although i can eat gluten in other types of grains without any problems, at the end of the day anything processed is bad gluten free or otherwise

  6. Okay so as a holistic Nutritionist I just wanted to make a comment/suggestion here. Gluten is not good for any of us because of the way Gluten is now. Some of us show a strong reaction to it and some show no visible or apparent reaction but our body is definitely not liking it. Does that mean I do not eat the occasional slice of pizza or grass fed burger? No, it does not. But do I buy the hybridized processed bread products, no, I do not. And I actually feel like if you are not Celiac or have a major problem/reaction and you jump on the fad wagon and completely are strict about it, you can actually cause yourself to have a severe reaction in the future where you cannot have even the occasional slice. If you are a health conscious foodie such as myself the thought of giving up bread is scary……but there are amazing bread companies out there now that are making their bread in the traditional way which is using a sourdough starter/fermentation process and allowing the bread to rise on its own. My girlfriend who has severe reactions can tolerate this bread;) You can find a recipe for this Traditional way of making Bread in Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon. Or you can go to your local farmers markets that is where you will usually find these amazing bread companies and ask how they make their bread? Love your publication by the way!!! Thanks for keeping it going;)

  7. Leslie says:

    I agree with Amanda. I have Celiac’s and I am delighted to have more than 2 brands of sub-par bread to choose from. My daughter has Celiac’s and deals with Autism, she finds dual benefit it a gluten-free diet. My husband, who deals with arthritis, benefits from a gluten-free diet with reduced joint inflammation. My Mom has lupus, which has gone into full remission since she went gluten-free. In other words, more than 1% of the population benefits from a gluten-free diet.

    Wheat isn’t the same as it used to be. The amount of gluten in wheat had increased over the last century and I believe it causes more irritation and health issues as a result.

    With regards to comparing a gluten-free cake to a white flour cake, I’m saddened by your “low-fat” approach. To compare ground rice, tapioca, and sorghum, (all whole foods finely ground to create flour) to bleached and processed white flour is absurd. Also, I don’t see many, if any, specifically gluten-free baked goods made with hydrogenated oils and they typically exclude high-fructose corn syrup. I would venture to guess you’ve not done a lot of gluten-free baking and cooking. Creating a gluten-free baked good comparable to one containing gluten can at times be challenging and necessitate using more sugar, fat or starches.

    Regarding fat, out culture still lives by the myth and premise that fat is bad. Healthy fats and oils are essential to proper brain function, healthy skin and many other things in the body. I am not overweight, nor is anyone in my family and we do not shy away from including fat in our diet. I believe balance is key. I make a lot of my own foods and agree that cooking and baking at home eliminates a lot of the headaches of processed food. Still, it is nice to be able to go to the local natural food market and buy cookies or a cake on occasion and it’s really nice to not have to make my own bread. What’s more is now I have a selection.

  8. Keri says:

    I get what your saying about health bandwagons. Whole foods absolutely should be the focus. I’ve been GF for seven years and haven’t had so much as a cold or flu in that time after a lifetime of ill health. I’m not a celiac but eliminating wheat from my diet was nothing short of miraculous. I’m worried that had I read this seven and a half years ago, I might have disregarded something that could have been life changing for me. I get your point but you overreached.

  9. lmno says:

    I think the point of the article is to read labels. Don't assume because something says "organic" or "gluten free" that it is healthy or good for you – which MANY people do. If eliminating gluten makes you feel better, awesome! But, is it because you are now eating a healthier, cleaner diet, or because you replaced processed gluten for processed gluten free?

  10. msannomalley says:

    What bothers me about the "fad" is that those who legitimately need to eat this way feel stigmatized. I fear it's only going to get worse when the "fad" is over and the food industry jumps onto the next big bandwagon. I have friends who have Celiac's and they have no choice but to eat this way. I don't want to see them lumped into the same group as those who jump on whatever bandwagon without doing their homework first, because that's not fair.

    But I think we can all agree that there is a segment of our population that wants the "easy" fix and will follow whatever is being marketed to them without actually doing things like reading labels or doing their homework on gluten-free foods.

    I'm not a doctor nor am I a scientist, but IMHO the rise of gluten-intolerance is a mix of more awareness about it and eating foods made from GMO wheat. Instead of buying into what food companies sell, I wish people would also work harder to demand GMO labeling in the US and access to more non-GMO foods.

    I think the point that was being made here was to do your homework. Read labels, do your homework, and don't buy into the marketing.

  11. Kalina says:

    Clearly research for this article wasn’t fully done because almost all sodas are not gluten-free.

  12. ella says:

    As a celiac, dairy intolerant, sugar free IBS sufferer with major digestive malfunction… Why would you want to do this to yourself? To be thin? (Yes yes… This is actually why mist people do it…) Well it works but not in the way you’d hope. Boobs tend to be one of the first things to shrink, just so you know. If its weight loss only cut down on sugar and processes foods and exercise. Don’t emulate sick people. Being sick is no fun. Life is depressing when you can’t eat….

  13. ella says:

    Sorry about all the typos. My phone has a mind of its own.

  14. Heather says:

    Gluten free is not a fad. It's science that has only recently become well known.

    Before the "fad," people simply suffered their entire lives with ailments like IBS, arthritis, and depression (and take prescription medication to manage the symptoms).

    To the author: You should try a gluten-free diet for six months then write about your experience. You'll most likely be surprised by how much better you feel. I'm sure most readers would welcome such a follow up.

    You should also realize that someone with gluten intolerance may have worse symptoms than one with celiac disease. After ingesting gluten, I am immediately doubled over in pain and stuck in bed for days, yet I don't have the gene that also destroys my small intestine (thank heavens). Someone I know with Celiac gets a little diarrhea, but the gluten is wreaking her intestines. Celiacs most definitely are not the only ones gluten affects.

  15. Heather says:

    If your goal was "critical thinking" about gluten-free diets, you failed. The article was not so much about gluten as it was about junk food being bad for you. And to that, all readers of elephant journal say, "Duh!" (You of all people should know your audience!) For an article that contains critical thinking, you need to present both sides, avoid generalizations, and compare apples to apples (or grain to grain).

    "Much of the general population’s newfound gluten-intolerance is, likely, psychosomatic—i.e., imagined." This sentence is insulting to those of us in the general population (i.e. don't have celiac), who are intolerant. If you could be in my body when I ingest gluten, you would realize this.

    Also, you should remember that the medical community often dismisses what they don't understand as "psychosomatic." Just look at all the diseases of the brain as well as autoimmune disorders.

    8. Gluten-free soups…are often all “flour, butter and milk or cream.” If soups contain flour, they aren't gluten free!

  16. Tara says:

    Good point Amanda. I also avoid all wheat/gluten products except for barley on the rare occassion. I've been told by one ND that I most likely had celiac, and I have terrible digestive issues so avoiding wheat/gluten is definitely worth the trouble to feel better. I have also looked into the idea that the actual *wheat* is the problem for most people, not necessarily the gluten in other foods. Wheat has been so adulterated from the way it was before the 1950s that there is little nutritional value in it, and it behaves differently in our bodies than it used to. It just seems like a not so good grain to be chosing for many people. I am happy for the gluten free movement because a) more food for me!, and b) it helps me avoid wheat as well as gluten.

  17. Ciara says:

    Great article, in essence. Yes, all those replacements for foodstuffs that contain gluten are just a big list of lab ingredients, and not at all something we should be eating. I always thought it seemed bizarre to give up something for health reasons and then go and start eating things you never would otherwise. However, while there is always the people who get sucked into a fad, I do believe this epidemic of gluten intolerance is real, simply because we have stopped eating a seasonal diet where our bodies have a rest from certain foods at different times of the year, and now eat wheat based products for breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as snacks in between. Personally, I think the idea of our bodies reaching a saturation point after a lifetime growing up eating like this makes a lot of sense of what is happening.

  18. Nutrition is actually really easy to understand. This article contains some good points, yet I disagree with the notion that only 1% of society needs to avoid gluten. As an inflammatory mediator, the many types of wheat products seem to cause the worst reactions due to their genetic modification of the original seeds, and the farming methods and depleted soils. That said, for most people oatmeal is just fine – although it contains gluten. Processed "crap" is not good for you whatever label you put on it. I suggest readers begin by reading labels and educating themselves on what each ingredient is.

  19. Laura says:

    Waylon, I think that while your overall message (just because a processed food is labeled “GF” does not mean it is healthy) was spot on, what seems to have rubbed some people the wrong way was your generalization and assumption that the majority of people going GF these days are uninformed, bandwagoning hypochondriacs who don’t deserve to call themselves gluten sensitives because they are not among the percentage of people who have been formally diagnosed with celiac disease. As you can probably tell from the comments above, that isn’t the case. Many research-backed articles about Frankenwheat and leaky gut leading to gluten sensitivity are available on the interwebs and people are smart enough to gauge what is going on in their own bodies. Not to mention not everyone has had health insurance for the last decade or so, so going for rounds of expensive tests to get a doctor to tell you what you already know is out of the question, especially when the medical community is just now realizing what is going on anyway. However I do believe there is more to this story than just gluten sensitivities and I believe that missing link is yeast overgrowth. Yeast (candidiasis) can cause problems similar to gluten and can be exacerbated by sugar, alcohol, caffeine, grains, citrus, and more yeast. Many people (as with gluten) don’t realize they have a yeast problem until it is out of control. We have all been given an over abundance of antibiotics whether we have actually taken them or not- they are in our food supply, same as there are traces of Prozac and birth control pills in the groundwater. These all lead to problems with a decrease in healthy intestinal flora and leaky gut, which cause very real symptoms that cause us to look for solutions, and changing our diets is the best place to start. Yeast and gluten sensitivities often go hand in hand and once that balance is tipped in the direction of having a digestive sensitivity then it is difficult and painful to correct it. The bottom line is, as you said, all of our bodies are being bombarded with environmental pollutants, and all benefit from a clean, non-processed, plant- and clean meat-based (if you eat meat) diet. The problem isn’t the sheep, it’s the shit diet the farmer keeps trying to feed the sheep to make more money.

  20. Jessica says:

    Read the book wheat belly…Enoughg said

  21. Jed says:

    Gluten causes inflammation of the brain for more than 90% of us, aggravating all sorts of problems, according to recently released Grain Brain. Up to half of us are also intolerant, while 1 to 3 percent have Celiac and must avoid Gluten at all costs. Wheat Belly is also a must read book. Read both, then write this article again…

  22. Andrea says:

    Totally agree! I have Celiacs and eat mostly fruits, veggies and chicken/fish. The gF products are overpriced, overloaded with calories and sugar and too fattening. Most of them still have gluten in them, even below 1% is harmful to me. It is a capitalists dream, selling bread at 3 times the price because they can.

  23. Thomas says:

    I know this is an old post, but I want to respond. 'Gluten' is wheat barley and rye. So if you aren't allergic to these things I think most people are goign to be fine. Just keep your carb intake and try to over all eat low glycemic index foods. I think there is no real benefit to COMPLETELY avoiding wheat, barley and rye unless you have celiac disease or an allergy to those 3 things. The real problem is that the American diet puts wheat in the majority of foods that people in in large quantities regularly. I really don't agree that there is a large benefit for most people based on my research.

  24. frances says:

    I love bread. Gluten makes it tasty! Many of my friends have become gluten-free (for now…we'll see how long it lasts) and they don't have celiacs. For those 1%, it is necessary to shun "the gluten." Moderation, people. moderation.

  25. Meg says:

    I appreciate the sentiment of the article, but I think it has been misinterpreted by many – I think the author is trying to point out that going GF isn't a fad, and that it doesn't mean you are eating "healthy" just because you're eating GF. I have Celiac's Disease, diagnosed three years ago. My father (who is a doctor, I might add, and stubborn as hell) was finally diagnosed almost two years ago. The first sign in our family, though? My older sister who does NOT have Celiac's Disease, but is highly gluten sensitive. She cut gluten out of her diet and her entire world changed. Her skin, her weight, and other things that do not need to be mentioned changed drastically.

    All in all, the gluten we cut out was the obvious- no breads (besides the odd GF English muffin) and cutting out gluten otherwise. It's really not that hard to eat healthy, gluten free or not – fruits and veg, minimal or no GF snacks once in a blue moon (cookies, crackers, etc)… I really don't understand how people have such a problem with this!!!

  26. Tracy M says:

    Ummm… she says in the beginning: "Celiac here too, and 100% with you on that one. I understand that a lot of people feel better w/o gluten even if they don’t have CD (my husband, for instance), but damn, wish I could eat a sugar raised doughnut just one. more. time. But then it would be off to the ER for me, so, no."
    I think people are so hyper-sensitive and defensive about this topic… yes, many people are not just celiac, they are allergic or intolerant… she seems to acknowledge this… she's saying, for the rest of us, "enjoy" yourself! Eat one for her! Don't be a lemming! Eat what you can and don't eat what you can't! PEOPLE! You really need to get a SENSE OF HUMOR! It's a HUGE fad right now and there are some really beneficial nutrients in gluten products! I am now hypothyroid because I was vegan for years and years and I ate/drank too much soy… good LORD, what a bunch of uptight individuals! Spread some JOY tomorrow to atone for your stick-up-your bum today!

  27. Tracy M. says:

    There are also many articles/books, etc. about the good in wheat and gluten products in their natural forms… there are many scientific theories but not all are absolute… the problem we face is eating too much overly-processed foods… Really… it's OK to be OK with some healthy grains here and there… as long as it's not anywhere near the majority of your diet… in fact, it's OK to allow people to do with their bodies, minds and spirits whatever they feel good about… this has become some kind of weird, who-is-the-healthiest war that is so unnecessary and, quite frankly, mean in spirit… there are many "facts" out there that only show the extremes or don't show the entire picture… everything in moderation, everything as unprocessed as possible and you win… No Judgement. No Absolutes.

  28. natasharenee07 says:

    I agree with the main point here: gluten-free junk food is still junk. But in the foods that you list, the unhealthy culprits are sugar, grains, and additives, not the saturated fat content, or eggs, or a high calorie count. We know now that the saturated-fat scare was completely unfounded, and that animal fats from well-raised animals are really good for you. Maybe we can't all tolerate butter and cream, but there's no reason for everyone to be so scared of it. I'd much rather eat a high-fat food that's high in calories and actually going to keep me full than the gluten-free fluff that manufacturers are targeting toward me.

    Also, just because someone doesn't have to go to the emergency room because of eating gluten (or even with a milder reaction like I do) doesn't mean that they should eat gluten for the sake of those who can't. I get that it's a joke, but come on – we know wheat isn't a health food, whole or otherwise. There certainly aren't any essential nutrients in it that we can't get elsewhere, like a source from which we might actually be able to absorb them.