For the estimated 1% of the poplutation with celiac disease, gluton is a kryptonite that can trigger digestive distress and cause long-term health problems. But for the vast majority of us, gluton is a harmless protein found in grains like wheat, rye and barley that is best known for giving bread its fluffiness.
Nontheless, “gluten free” has become a major selling point, as if it were synonym for “low carb”. Gluten-free Betty Crocker cake mix and beer now line grocery store shelves. Restaurants offer gluten-free menus and gluten-free Communion wafers are available at Sunday service. Americans spent $2.6 billion last year to banish gluten from their lives.
But it is the trend followers rather than the celiac sufferers who are doing the bulk of the buying. A recent survey showed that only 8% to 12% of people who purchased gluten-free products did so because of gluten intolerance. Most simply thought these products were healthier or higher quality or could help them manage their weight.
As for the supposed weight-loss benefits, a gluten-free pretzel will not take pounds off any faster than eating a regular pretzel. In fact, if you avoid only gluten, rather than the carbohydrate-packed foods it’s typically in, you will likely be getting more calories with fewer nutrients because many substitutes end up being high in surrogate carbohydrates and low in fiber. That’s why celiac patients who go on prescribed gluten-free diets often see their body mass indexes increase. Just remember that a gluten-free diet is not necessarily a healthier diet the next time you go shopping.