The latest and among the more annoying nutritionist fads–the gluten-free diet–is taking a bit of a hit this week, as folks are beginning to look at a study published last August in Gastroenterology demonstrating that eliminating gluten produced no demonstrable effects in a test subjects who rotated between several highly-structured diets over the course of 7-8 weeks.
37 subjects took part, all with self-reported gluten sensitivity who were confirmed to not have celiac’s disease. They were first fed a diet low in FODMAPs for two weeks, then were given one of three diets for a week with either 16 grams per day of added gluten (high-gluten), 2 grams of gluten and 14 grams of whey protein isolate (low-gluten), or 16 grams of whey protein isolate (placebo). Each subject shuffled through every single diet so that they could serve as their own controls, and none ever knew what specific diet he or she was eating. After the main experiment, a second was conducted to ensure that the whey protein placebo was suitable. In this one, 22 of the original subjects shuffled through three different diets — 16 grams of added gluten, 16 grams of added whey protein isolate, or the baseline diet — for three days each.
The authors found that everyone reported improved gastrointestinal symptoms during the two-week low-gluten diet–a baseline diet they seem to have been aware of (at least as I read the abstract)–but then experienced worsening symptoms to identical degrees when they switched to the three rotating diets, one of which was the same as the baseline.
This study–a follow-up to a 2011 paper by the same authors that suggested that “gluten sensitivity” might possibly be a thing–provides the best available evidence that in all likelihood, absent a diagnosis of CD, your gluten-eschewing friends and family may be exhibiting nothing more than nocebo effects, voluntarily eating shitty food in the name of warding off the flatulence, lethargy, and ennui that are, alas, merely the individualized symptoms of a civilization teetering on the brink of an unfathomably nightmarish death.
Obviously, there is a small portion of the population–about one percent–for whom gluten consumption is indeed dangerous. Celiac disease is horrific but symptomatically protean, so it can be easily confused with other medical problems; though it’s relatively easy to diagnose with a blood test, biopsy, and change in diet, individuals with CD endure an average of 11 years between initial symptoms and diagnosis. Those folks should stay the fuck away from gluten, and people exhibiting symptoms of CD ought to see a fucking doctor before adopting trendy and possibly unnecessary dietary restrictions. Everyone else should just shut up and eat your fucking pasta already, or there will be no goddamn dessert for you.
What’s funny about all this, I suppose, is that the gluten-free craze–while luring millions of suckers into a diet of crumbly food–has in the very least made food options more tolerable for the one percent of folks who actually need to avoid gluten. So there’s that, at least.