Gluten is a storage protein that can cause harm to some people when they ingest it.  It’s found in grains, namely wheat, barley and rye.  Since it is a generic term used for “storage protein”, you often see the word ‘gluten’ applied to other grains as well, although these don’t normally cause harm to people.  Long known to cause failure to thrive in young children, improved knowledge and testing in recent years has found that gluten causes more harm than was first realized, including slowly developing, long term nerve damage.

The words have been in the news so often it's easy to se how some people can have developed misconceptions about gluten and it's effects.  For some, eating gluten free food is a medical necessity, but for others it seems like a means to an end.  There are many rumors circulating about removing gluten from your diet, and some are a lot truer than others.

no glutenCredit: wiki commons

Myth 1

Gluten-free is a weight loss diet.

This one always amuses me, as if somehow removing gluten from the foods you eat makes them magically able to remove excess weight from your hips.  Um, no.  Eating gluten-free cookies will pad your backside just as much as the flour-filled ones.  Don't bother switching brands in the hopes that you've discovered the secret to staying slim.

Reality: Most mainstream processed are full of gluten; if you remove those and replace them with healthy, unprocessed foods you might lose weight, but it has nothing to do with the gluten itself.  Only a change of diet/eating habits and some exercise will help you lose weight.  Make healthy eating choices of vegetables and lean meat if you want to lose weight, and skip the cookies, whatever they may be made of.

Myth 2

Gluten-free is a fad diet.

I promise you, for many people it is not.  Some “experts" may tell you that without a positive test result of some sort, there is no reason to remove gluten from your diet but the reality is that some people test negative for everything, but still are very sick. 

Reality: If removing gluten from your diet makes you feel well, then ignore the experts and listen to your body.  A lot of people have found that skin conditions, nerve conditions and, of course, gastric conditions can be “cured” by completely removing gluten from their diet.  Just because they haven’t come up with a way to test for it doesn’t mean it isn’t real.

Myth 3

Gluten free is easy.

Well, I guess if you’re just avoiding gluten because you think it’s unhealthy then I suppose it is easy, but if it makes you sick, then it’s a different story.

Reality:  Wheat is used as a cheap filler in almost all processed foods.  This fact alone means that even if one product produced by a manufacturer doesn’t contain wheat, it may still be contaminated with wheat from the factory or equipment used to produce other products.  Oats, which are frequently grown and harvested with the same equipment used to harvest wheat are considered contaminated with gluten unless they have been certified to be gluten free.

Myth 4

It’s ok to cheat on a gluten-free diet

Again, if you haven’t tested positive for any gluten related disorders, and you receive no obvious health benefits from removing gluten from your diet, then sure, eat any way you want.  If neither of these concepts apply to you, then no, you can’t cheat.

Reality:  If you have had a positive test, then you are damaging your body every single time you eat gluten.  Think about this, the tests measure damage from gluten so how could it be possible to eat even a little without causing more damage?  You can’t.  Honestly, there is nothing tasty enough to put in your mouth that is worth the risks caused from chronically damaging your body.

But what if the tests were negative but it makes you sick?  Well, why would you eat something that makes you sick?  If for some reason that doesn’t dissuade you, remember, maybe you are causing damage but they haven’t found the right test yet.

Myth 5

Children outgrow celiac disease.

This used to be the thinking; just get the kid through to adolescence or so, and everything will right itself.  Sadly for many people diagnosed years ago this hasn’t proven to be the case.  What does happen is the child’s body learns stop responding to the damage.  This means that although your kid isn’t telling you he feels sick, his intestine is still being destroyed.

Reality:  People in their 40’s and 50’s that “outgrew” celiac disease are now finding that they have permanent nerve damage or have developed numerous other food intolerances due to a severely damaged intestine.  It’s just not worth risking a child’s life for the convenience of packaged foods.  Kids don’t outgrow celiac disease.

Myth 6

Avoiding gluten will lead to intolerance.

Sometimes people stop eating gluten because of a diet trend or in support of a spouse.  When they return to their normal diet they discover that bread and pasta are now making them sick bringing up the question: Did I do this to myself?

Reality:  No, just as avoiding broccoli will not make you broccoli-intolerant, removing gluten from your diet will not cause you to suddenly start reacting to it.  What has happened is that your body has realized that you had been ingesting something it perceived as toxic, and now that it's gone, your body plans on making sure you understand just how evil it was.  Kind of like, when you don’t realize how cold it is until you go somewhere warm.  Your reaction was always there – you just didn’t realize it.

There are many other inaccuracies out there about gluten intolerance and your body's reaction, but these are the most common that I have heard.  As someone who has no choice but to follow a gluten free diet, I hope to spread as many truths as possible to counteract these fallacies.