There are a lot of myths and downright lies about the gluten-free diet and celiac disease that I want to set straight in this article.
It’s likely you or someone you know follows a gluten-free diet or has celiac disease, and perhaps you’ve imagined yourself following a gluten-free diet too for whatever reason. If you do venture into the gluten-free world, especially those of you doing it by choice (vs. having to because of a medical diagnosis like celiac disease), make sure you read this article to uncover the truth behind the gluten-free diet.
Myth #1: A Gluten-Free Diet Will Make You Skinny
When I was first diagnosed with celiac disease, one of my friends told me I was going to become so skinny. This is such a myth! You might lose weight on some level because you naturally crowd out bread and unhealthy foods. However, if you opt for gluten-free packaged goods, which are riddled with sugar and refined grains, your chances of losing weight are slim to none. If you want to lose weight, you must eat whole foods that are naturally gluten-free – like avocados, apples and organic meats. At the end of the day, a gluten-free cupcake is still a cupcake. Oftentimes celiacs will find themselves gaining weight once they go gluten-free because their bodies, for the first time in a long time, are absorbing vital nutrients from the food they eat. Celiacs may have to adjust how much they eat once they stabilize their energy.
Myth #2: You Don’t Have to Worry about Cross Contamination Because You’re Not Celiac
Oh how wrong you are! If you want to follow a gluten-free diet, your body must be free from the damaging protein altogether. Even a little will set you back. Avoid foods that may have come in contact with gluten-full foods, like those that have been deep fried in a shared fryer, or those that have touched gluten-y products. If you really want to feel better and give yourself a chance to heal from whatever digestive distress you’re experiencing, then you need to go gluten-free all the way. If you are a celiac, even a gluten crumb can trigger an autoimmune attack.
Myth #3: If You Eat Gluten-Free You’ll Automatically Feel Better
This is not true for most people who venture into the gluten-free diet. If you want to follow a gluten-free diet, you need to make sure you’re adding in plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits and other healing foods. Going gluten-free isn’t enough and it took me years to heal from the damages of undiagnosed celiac disease. If you want to heal your gut you must stop eating sugar, refined grains, sick food, GMO-laden foods, etc. Take my Heal Your Gut Challenge with 7 Changes if you are serious about healing from the inside out.
Myth #4: It’s Gluten-Free So It Must be Healthy
This is very untrue – especially as the gluten-free packaged foods industry experiences explosive growth. Just because it’s marked “gluten-free” doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Actually, the very opposite might be true in many cases. For example, a gluten-free baking mix might have more white grains and starches and more sugar to compensate for the gritty taste and lack of elasticity because it’s free from gluten.
Myth #5: Gluten Has Nothing to Do With (Fill in the Blank Health Condition)
Researchers are finally taking a close look at how the foods we eat and our tainted food supply are corrupting our health in multiple ways. Just because you don’t have celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from a gluten-free diet. Research is being done on how gluten-free diets can help anyone suffering from autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia and Hashimoto’s, and how a gluten-free diet can help prevent and treat diseases such as Alzheimer’s, arthritis, diabetes, cancer, skin rashes, acne, chronic aches and pains (migraines, back pain), anxiety, depression and overall mental health. Go ahead and Google, “gluten-free diet and YOUR DISEASE” and see what people are saying about how a gluten-free diet is – or is not – helping them feel better.
Myth #6: Something Labeled “Gluten-Free” is 100% Gluten-Free
This is a tricky one because there are products that are properly certified gluten-free by a qualified third party agency, and these are guaranteed to have less than 10 parts per million (ppm) of gluten. You can read about these gluten-free certifications in this article. In order for a product to bear the wording “gluten-free” the FDA says it must contain less than 20 ppm of gluten, must not contain any type of wheat, rye, barley or crossbreed of these grains, must not be derived from these grains that has not be processed to remove gluten. By FDA standards, that means products can be labeled gluten-free even if they contain a tiny bit of gluten (less than 20 ppm). If you are severely allergic to gluten, you have to be extremely careful even if something is labeled “gluten-free” – and you’ll want to stick to naturally gluten-free foods like meats, fruits, vegetables and cheeses. For the rest of us, even those with celiac disease, we can survive within the 10-20 ppm gluten without adverse affects (at least in my experiences).
Myth #7: Oats are Gluten-Free
So this is sort of true – oats are naturally gluten-free. However, during the growing and production of oats, they are rampantly cross-contaminated with wheat. Oats are grown on shared fields, often rotated with wheat crops. They are harvested on the same equipment and stored in the same storage bins. Independent agencies have tested products containing oats and no other gluten ingredients. They found that products containing oats tested higher than the FDA’s allotted 20 ppm. You can read more about why oats have become such a hot button issue for the gluten-free and celiac communities over at the Gluten Free Watchdog.
Myth #8: Gluten-Free is Just a Fad
Indeed it is not. I would venture to say that gluten-free is here to stay as more people turn to the diet to feel better – and as they see results! Plus, we are only getting sicker and sicker because our current food supply is poisoning our bodies with chemical-laden, highly processed, GMO-riddled, pro-inflammatory, and nutritionally devoid foods! Thanks to Big Food, we now have all sorts of food allergies and diseases that not even Big Pharma can fix. The food companies have no interest in feeding us healthy food and the pharmaceutical industry has no interest in helping us eat better.
Myth #9: Celiacs are Allergic to Gluten
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease – not an allergy. An autoimmune disease is when your immune system is triggered to defend itself against a foreign body. In the case of celiac disease, the body sees gluten as a foreign body and mistakenly launches an immune system attack on the lining of the small intestine, an organ that is crucial for absorption of vitamins and minerals from the food we eat. The result of a celiac eating gluten is two-fold – they usually have some sort or inflammation, whether in the form of digestive distress or chronic pain, and/or they suffer from malnutrition due to the failure to extract nutrients from the food they eat. Autoimmune responses can be launched on any tissue in the body depending on the disease. For example, in the case of Hashimoto’s disease, also an autoimmune disease, the immune system killer attack is launched on the thyroid. An allergy, on the other hand, causes the body to launch a histamine response to the offending food or allergen. Someone who is allergic to wheat, for example, may experience symptoms such as runny nose, itching, hives and in extreme cases, difficulty breathing and swelling of the tongue, throat and airways.
Myth #10: If You Eat Gluten, You’ll Get Celiac Disease
Celiac disease is genetic and ingesting gluten “turns on” the gene. If you have celiac disease, you have it and gluten will only turn it on, not cause it. The inverse is true – if you have celiac disease and stop eating gluten, you’ll “turn off” the gene. Nearly all celiacs have one of two versions of a cellular receptor called the human leukocyte antigen, or H.L.A., which increases someone’s immune response to gluten. There is growing research to suggest that our gut bacteria plays a role in whether we develop allergies and autoimmune diseases, as does whether or not we were breastfed as an infant. You can read more about some of the research behind what causes celiac disease in this New York Times article.
Myth #11: You Can Grow Out of Celiac Disease
Celiac disease is a lifelong affliction and requires strict adherence to the gluten-free diet. Even if you feel better, you still need to adhere to the gluten-free diet. Perhaps in our lifetime we will better understand the cause and effects of gluten – and perhaps there will be a cure – but for now, you cannot “grow out” of celiac disease.
Myth #12: You Have to Suffer from Digestive Issues to Order to be Diagnosed with Celiac Disease
While a majority of celiacs suffer from digestive distress such as gas, bloating, constipation and diarrhea, a good number of them have little to no digestive symptoms. Celiac disease can often show up in blood work done to treat or diagnose skin conditions, thyroid issues, migraines or other unexplained ailments. I have met several celiacs who have zero digestive issues when they eat gluten.
There you have it – 12 myths and downright lies about the gluten-free diet and celiac disease. If I’m missing any other myths or lies you’d like me to address, please leave a comment to share.