The Problem With the Gluten-Free Diet Trend. ~ Candie Borg Cardona

Via Candie Borg Cardona
on Mar 1, 2014
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‘’Gluten- free” is the latest cliché in the world of trendy diets for some, but it is a necessity for others.

How has ‘gluten-free’ become a trend?

Until a few years ago, the gluten free diet was mostly followed by people with certain medical conditions that warranted this diet to prevent a wide range of symptoms and complications.

This has changed: the gluten-free industry has exploded with people claiming that gluten is evil to the body. Gluten-free products are being marketed as healthy, and some people are following the diet simply to lose weight. Although eating products that are naturally free from gluten may or may not lead to weight loss, replacing gluten containing products with their packaged gluten-free counterparts definitely will not.

I have been following a gluten-free diet for years, and my dreams of becoming a ‘bikini-tastic’ Victoria’s secret model have long been gobbled up by my ever increasing waistline. Gluten-free products tend to be high in sodium and saturated fat. They may also be lower in fiber, iron, folic acid and B vitamins. In fact, no benefit has been found in excluding gluten from the diet when there is no medical condition to warrant such elimination.

Sadly, some people seem to have difficulty separating the facts from the fad, with the result of mockery of those who actually need to follow the diet.

This is made worse by articles written in the media that are full of inaccuracies about the diet, or that are apparently written in jest.

In one particular article I came across recently, the author claimed that she wished that she was allergic to gluten because her life would be so much easier.

First of all, if anybody made a claim like that about any other disease, it would not be funny, and rightly so. If diabetes, cardiac disease or cancer are not funny, what gives people the right to write an article ‘in jest’ about celiac disease? And why would anybody actually find it humorous at all?

The facts:

1) The term gluten allergy is not an accepted medical condition. The correct terms are celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) or what is known as gluten intolerance and wheat allergy and they are three different medical conditions.

2) Celiac disease is an auto-immune condition that affects approximately one percent of the population. When gluten is ingested the immune system is triggered to attack the small intestine. Repeated ingestion of gluten results in poor absorption of nutrients from the small intestine and if undiagnosed can lead to infertility, osteoporosis, anemia, neurological problems, tooth decay and in a small percentage some forms of cancer and lymphoma. The only treatment is a strict gluten free diet for life. Even a trace amount of gluten is harmful for celiac and an accidental exposure to gluten can lead to multi system symptoms.

3) People with gluten sensitivity experience gastrointestinal symptoms when gluten is ingested. Although it is not an auto immune condition, present guidelines suggest that these individuals can experience symptoms similar to those of celiac disease. No long term damage appears to occur when gluten is ingested. However research on this relatively new condition will hopefully give us more insight about this condition.

4) A wheat allergy is an allergic reaction to wheat, in which the person suffers from near-immediate or slightly delayed (by no more than a few hours) symptoms following a meal that includes wheat products. Symptoms are often respiratory in nature (stuffy nose, wheezing, watery eyes) but in the most serious cases can include difficulty breathing and shock.

I am sure any author or person who treats the gluten free diet as a trend does not realize that people with medical conditions that warrant this special diet spend their lives agonizing about dining out, reading labels to search for hidden gluten ingredients, worrying about cross-contamination and wishing that just once, they could join in with others without risking being labeled as fussy.

I do know that thanks to the rise in popularity of the diet, the gluten-free industry has literally exploded, with an ever- increasing range of products available. More and more restaurants and businesses are claiming to serve gluten-free food, although, at the moment, anybody can put a gluten-free claim on their product.

The gluten free diet is not as simple as having a burger with no bun.

I believe that too many are treating the gluten free diet as a joke. This is only made worse by articles and the media who continue to portray the diet as a fad. I assume that they have no clue about the facts about the serious conditions that warrant this, or they would not dare to make a mockery out of them. I think it is about time that they informed themselves.


Relephant reads:

Basic Tips: Going Gluten-Free. 

Sunday Morning Dance Bread (Gluten-Free). 

The Gluten-Free Lifestyle.


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Editor: Renée Picard

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About Candie Borg Cardona

Candie Borg Cardona is a physiotherapist who was born in Australia and now lives in a tiny island called Malta in the centre of the Mediterranean sea. She was diagnosed with celiac disease seven years ago and has followed a strict gluten free diet since. She is a physiotherapist by profession but is currently on a career break to look after her two year old pocket rocket. Please check out her blog and facebook page.


27 Responses to “The Problem With the Gluten-Free Diet Trend. ~ Candie Borg Cardona”

  1. KatherineLLF says:

    Thank you for the informative post. I and my daughter suffer from NCGS. Although my daughter was diagnosed with NCGS she may have Celiac, yet she cannot be tested due to the extreme reaction she has when she is in contact with gluten. Her reactions are nausea, vomiting, migraines, aches/pains, lethargy and they can come on as soon as a couple hours and most symptoms stay for at least a week. In order to be tested she would need to consume gluten for at least a period of a month, and I believe it will put her in the hospital due to the severity of her vomiting and diarrhea. She doesn't wish to be gluten free, it's hard on her especially at school or eating out. Any mishandling or cross-contamination will keep her in bed for days. Going gluten free is not advantageous for her nutritional health, as the gluten free food is low in nutrients. Any person who goes on a gluten free diet as a way to loose weight, may in the long run be doing more damage to their bodies, those of us who have to be gluten free, have to suffer with this knowledge while busy finding alternatives to fulfill our proper nutrient needs.

  2. Sharon says:

    Thank you Candie for a great article! For those of us with Celiac Disease or those with NCGS, our lifestyle is not a choice. It is the only way we can avoid being seriously ill. So sick of people thinking it's okay to make fun of our disease! And sick of restaurants who have climbed on the band wagon and claim they serve a gluten free menu, but are in fact only catering to those on the 'trendy' diet – their GF menu isn't suitable for anyone who is celiac or who suffers from gluten sensitivity because eating at one of those restaurants means we get seriously ill!

  3. TARA FAULKNER says:

    I have had celiac disease for eight years now and this is one of the best articles that I have seen explaining it and the fad going on now. I know its confusing to people but like you said, a lot of people are misinformed. Thank you for writing the article.

  4. Mavis says:

    Great article. I believe it's important to also recognize the neurological and muscoloskeletal symptoms those of us with Celiac can have. Most of my symptoms fell into these categories. Coordination/balance problems, ataxia, vision problems, malabsorption and infertility eventually led to the appropriate diagnostics necessary for my diagnosis. I've never had gastrointestinal symptoms. The biggest challenge eating gluten free has presented for me is eating enough gluten free foods that contain fiber. I immediately had to eliminate all of the high fiber whole grain foods I loved so much. Replacing that fiber was an adjustment for me but I am now eating greater quantities of legumes, nuts, seeds, gluten free grains, fruits and vegetables. I fell into the trap of packaged gluten free food at first and packed on more weight than ever before. Keep it real with whole foods and you can't go wrong.

  5. julie says:

    I must eat gluten-dairy-soy-garlic-preservative-coloring free and low sodium… so I cook and bake most of my food that requires such… big on fresh fruits and veggies, too! AND my cooking taste better, too! Is higher in protein, lower in carbs… Convenient prepackage isn't the way to go no matter your dietary needs… and it wastes resources and increases the size of landfills…

  6. Tiffany says:

    Thank you! My 2 year old has a wheat allergy as well as a gluten sensitivity, and we have many friends with Celiac disease. It is important to know the difference and for these medical conditions to be taken seriously. We hope that companies and restaurants will increase their awareness and be more careful with their 'gluten-free' claims and cross-contamination policies.

  7. Amy Cook says:

    I think there is still a contingent of us that are left out of your "definitions" and get stuck in this "oh, so you're not really celiac" although I do have to be really careful. But yes, I won't get instantly sick to my stomach. I have Hashimoto's Disease and am having a heck of a time getting it under control. I do everything my doctor (naturopath) says and still can't get my antibodies down. She thinks I am getting gluten contamination somewhere. Also it might be a cross reactor. Whichever it is my immune system is on overdrive and one little slip of gluten could send me off for weeks. It is extremely frustrating and difficult and I HATE having to ask about this or that at restaurants but then when they say "is it serious, you have celiac?" I have to say no. And really I don't feel like I am any part of the whole gluten free thing because I don't buy ANY processed GF foods. I eat real food. I think the dividing line is that there are those that do it here or there and those that do it to lose weight.

  8. katwhit says:

    Thanks for this article. I'm working on reviewing and critiquing a book that promotes this sort of unnecessary gluten-avoidance right now – this article would have been helpful in my last section.

    With so much misinformation and fear-mongering about inflammation, 'leaky guts', 'anti-nutrients', and other popular terms of the day, it's no wonder people are so very confused about this topic. No one should WANT to have any sort of food allergy, food sensitivity or auto-immune condition. What does it say when so many people are willing to label their bodies as 'sensitive' just because someone said a little gas means you can't eat wheat?

  9. Rebecca says:

    Let’s be really clear- there is no benefit to replacing gluten filled products with manufactured, processed, pre-packaged gluten-free products. Certainly.

    The benefits of replacing pasta/bread/anything manufactured with whole foods including veggies, nuts, seeds, lean protein, eggs, and naturally gluten free grains like millet, teff, or kasha?


  10. goatfishdoula says:

    Great article. Two things I'd like to add…

    Symptoms are not always gastrointestinal – it took me a while to figure out that my peeling and puffy skin was due to gluten. I've experimented since going GF and have confirmed several times over that my skin issues are directly related to gluten. Hashimoto's thyroiditis runs in my family, so I feel lucky to have caught on in my twenties.

    The celiac and sensitivity tests are not always accurate, I know a few people who struggled for years and had repeated tests before confirming their conditions (one has a wheat allergy, the other two have celiac). I encourage everyone to pay attention to how they feel.

  11. Thank you for your feedback. I am so sorry to hear about the intense reaction to gluten your daughter has. I can just imagine how hard it is for a little one to have to follow a special diet, especially when eating out or going out with friends. With a little planning a gluten free diet can have all the nutrients needed for a healthy lifestyle- the important thing is to know what foods to eat and to consume alot of natural healthy gluten free foods that are high in fibre and vitamins. It is the pre packaged gluten free substitute products that are not so great- some people think that if they replace normal bread and crackers with gluten free ones that it is somehow more healthy. That is the problem.

  12. Thanks for your feedback Sharon.

  13. You are so right Mavis. Because coeliac disease is an auto-immune condition, the symptoms are multi system ones. The range of symptoms is so vast with some having no symptoms except anaemia, others having gastrointestinal symptoms and others experiencing neurological or other symptoms or a combination of all. I am so happy to hear that you are doing well on the diet and that you chose to make healthy choices. Take care.

  14. Great to hear you are making healthy choices Julie.

  15. Hi Amy. Thanks for your feedback. Have you been tested for celiac at all? According to NICE (National Institute for Healthcare Excellence), autoimmune thyroid disease is one of the groups that should be tested for celiac. You are so right, not everybody fits into the ''definitions'' though. When they ask if you are celiac at a restaurant, you might say, ''no, but I do have another condition/disease that requires that I follow a strict gluten free diet. And yes, it is serious''. It is great to hear that you are making healthy choices in your gluten free diet.

  16. Caitlyn says:

    I like this article. I know people who have medically-mandated gluten free diets, as well as people who see quacks (or self-diagnose), and choose not to eat gluten. There are a few specific ingredients that I know make me ill, and I hate sounding like a picky princess at restaurants as well.

    What I don't understand, is why electively "g-free" diet people are often talking about it and telling other people they should do it too, almost like a religious zealot. I was a party once where they served sliders as appetizers, on a serving tray for each table. One person at my table helped herself to three, removed the buns, and proudly announced, "I'm gluten-free!" Who cares? Who wants to hear about it at party? And why does she feel it entitles her to take more than her share of a dish, discarding more than half of it??

    I think it's the annoying behavior of the trendy diet people, who make it hard on those who actually have medical restrictions.

  17. Melissa says:

    You are right, media doesn’t help.

    I would like to correct fact n.2: it s now more than 5% of the population who is afflicted by celiac disease and the numbers are increasing since the last 15 years.

    It s a very painful and hard to diagnose disease who had lead people to depression, suicide and no social or family life at all. Doctor’s doesn’t even know how to properly identify the symptoms and false negative testing are legions, leaving the inflicted even more sick and restless untill properly diagnosed. Sides effects can lead to graver sicknesses such as colon cancer. People shouldn’t wish to have this disease and if they want to cut the crappy food, they can start by buying real food and non processed products. They will feel healthier instantly

  18. DC Stanfa says:

    I need a glutton free diet.

  19. Scott Webb says:

    Please comment on the news that reactions to gluten are due to chemical drying agents used on grains. Wheat itself is not the culprit according to news sources.

  20. Bill Ross says:

    While I totally agree with your argument, I think that there is one factor that is being overlooked here. My mom has celiac disease and has been eating a gluten free diet for many years now. This trend has made her day to day living a lot easier. A lot of restaurants all over the place have gluten free menus, and are able to prepare their dishes without gluten. So while many people that are following the gluten free diet fad are seriously misinformed, there is a plus side to this. My mom can eat gluten free at a number of restaurants and giggle at yuppies talking about their gluten free diets. Thank you for the details, this article was very informative! And I do hope that the gluten free claims of these restaurants become more and more legitimate as information like this spreads.

  21. Sunny says:

    Thank you for the article. I agree that gluten-free has become trendy and I appreciate your comparison to other diseases.

    I was recently diagnosed with Celiac disease and although I’m relieved to have a conclusive reason for my symptoms it has been a struggle to make the shift. At home it’s no problem, we were eating mostly gluten free anyway, but going out is complicated to say the least and trying to explain to family that I can’t eat gluten is like trying to explain global warming to Chevron execs.

    I’m going very soon to a small town to visit family for the first time since my diagnosis and I’m anticipating a lot of confused looks. In addition, I have a 7mo old daughter and I’m hoping that she gets to gluten digesting enzymes from her father because it seems tragic for a little kid to have to avoid all the yummy gluteny things in life.

    All the best,


  22. Robert Ray says:

    Read the book " Grain Brain" by Renowned neurologist Dr. David Perlmutter, MD, blows the lid off a topic that's been buried in medical literature for far too long: carbs are destroying your brain. And not just unhealthy carbs, but even healthy ones like whole grains can cause dementia, ADHD, anxiety, chronic headaches, depression, and much more. Dr. Perlmutter explains what happens when the brain encounters common ingredients in your daily bread and fruit bowls, why your brain thrives on fat and cholesterol, and how you can spur the growth of new brain cells at any age. He offers an in-depth look at how we can take control of our "smart genes" through specific dietary choices and lifestyle habits, demonstrating how to remedy our most feared maladies without drugs. With a revolutionary 4-week plan, GRAIN BRAIN teaches us how we can reprogram our genetic destiny for the better.
    I personally do not want Alzheimer's, and according to the book and much recent evidence, gluten is implicated as a major cause along with sugar. I have given up gluten.

  23. Molly says:

    Yeah, I didn't get that post. It was like saying "I wish I had to undergo chemo so I wouldn't have to do my hair every day; I'm so darn bad at it!" The appropriate response to that is, "If you hate doing your hair, cut it short—and shut up." Similarly, the response to "Confessions of a Wannabe Celiac" is, "If you hate baking, don't do it—and shut up."

    I liked your take much better. 😉

  24. Tracy says:

    I have uncontrolled Hashimotos. When my latest endocrinologist pretty much gave up on me, I decided to go gluten free. I really just did it because I didn't know what else to do. I didn't think I felt much different until three weeks in to total gluten avoidance I ate a slice of pizza. I was sick for two days after, muscle pain, joint aches and fatigue. (I felt like I was getting the flu). I slipped one more time a couple of weeks later and had the same reaction but also with GI symptoms. I believe now that it really does effect me and will not slip up again! Time will tell if it helps with my autoimmune thyroid condition.

  25. Grace says:

    I need to, wish I didn't have to but am glad there's more awareness for it nowadays..