Why the Gluten-Free Trend is a Bad Fad

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by Jennifer Fugo on September 14, 2010

I’m gluten-free and, though it pains me to say this, I am starting to hate the gluten-free fad. Some might call it a trend, but I believe it’s become a fad thanks in part to all the mis-information that’s out there equating gluten-free with weight-loss. I’d like to be the first of those who are gluten-free to say (in the words of my dear husband Nick)- STOP IT!  So, here begins my mini anti-gluten-free manifesto hoping to combat all the food marketers and invested parties who’ve been presenting an unfair and misleading tale of the GF diet.

I often wonder where is the uproar from the GF community about the negative news campaign that is brewing about the GF diet.  Instead, there seems to be silence.  Well, I have to live GF. It’s my way of life because I can prove with photos, medical tests and other documented health issues that gluten is a problem for me. Fad or no fad, I’ll still be looking for items and foods that are GF long after everyone has moved on to the next dieting craze.  Despite my own situation, I will never, ever tell people that they should go gluten-free simply because they need to lose weight. I even preface all client conversation that I have with the fact that I do not ever push my way of eating on anyone else. Yes, I have clients that not only eat gluten, but also feel well doing so. And then I have others that are sensitive and need help removing it. I’m okay with everyone’s gluten status no matter what side of the fence they sit on.

What I’m not okay with is people who own GF food product companies making statements picked up by the mainstream press that are just downright incorrect and mis-guided. Especially when they themselves should and possibly do know better. I question what the motives behind what they’re saying…especially when the GF market is exploding and profits in the GF sector are skyrocketing. As an example, let’s look at Erin McKenna. She’s the owner of NYC’s vegan bakery called BabyCakes which offers many selections of GF desserts. I’ve eaten many delicious cupcakes and cookies from her store, but I would never say that her food offers me or anyone else the ability to lose weight while indulging.  Yet during her Today Show interview, Ms. McKenna said that the GF diet is gaining popularity with celebrities “because their nutritionists are learning that actually removing gluten from your diet is a key to weight loss.”

What?!?!  Seriously?!?!  I was pretty disappointed as were several friends whom I know in the food and wellness business.  We all acknowledge that everyone in this nation could benefit from removing a certain amount of the overly abundant gluten protein found in the American diet, however it will NOT cause everyone to lose weight.  Let me repeat that just in case it didn’t sink in the first time.  A gluten-free diet is NOT great for weight-loss.  If some people like myself suffer from inflammation due to a sensitivity that has resulted in bloating and weight-gain, then yes, it will help in that particular situation.  But if you’re not in this boat, then it actually may not help especially if most of the GF things that you’re eating come from a box or bag (ie. food product).  Pasta is still pasta.  Cookies and cake are still…yes, cookies and cake.

Though I appreciate Ms. McKenna’s food contribution to the GF world, her statement does not serve any helpful purpose in educating the general public about a gluten sensitivity or allergy.  And yes, I also question the motives behind the media for printing the soundbites that they do (I will write more about that in another post).  However, the purpose here is to highlight the possible financial motives that GF food product producers have in making statements to the media in order to sell more product.  I’m certainly not saying that GF companies should close up shop and go home, but I think that at times they’re falling to the same level of deceptive tactics similar to the larger food companies in order to sell products.

If I could talk directly to these GF food companies looking to cash in, I would say this: Look at the attention the GF diet is getting.  You’re helping to turn a primetime media awareness moment into a huge bust.  Health claims are flying all over the place that simply don’t belong in the discussion.  The articles and news segments are negatively bashing what should have been a great opportunity for those of us who actually need to be GF.  Stop saying that going GF will cause weight-loss.  Stop making claims that only apply to those with actual sensitivities.  News flash- not everyone has one.  If you want to educate the public as to why decreasing the amount of gluten Americans generally consume would be healthy and how to do that without totally relying on food products, that’s another matter.  But right now, I have friends who attend Celiac tradeshows appalled at how mis-lead the general population is that’s showing up to these events and how good that is for your bottom line.

And for the regular person confused as heck – Don’t buy into any of the marketing out there, GF or not.  Take everything with a grain of salt and know that you are most certainly welcome to email me questions.  If you’ve got any now, please comment below.  Just know this- I don’t buy many GF products.  In fact, my grocery cart is filled mainly with fruits, veggies, legumes, grains and some meat.  Many of my recipes here are not intentionally ‘created’ to be GF.  Actually I’ve found that you don’t NEED to use gluten in everything and that there are many things we Americans commonly eat that don’t contain gluten.  There are also many other cultures who traditionally don’t use much gluten, so it makes their food much more accessible for me to pull ideas from.

Perhaps I’m opening a can of worms here.  I want everyone to realize that gluten-free products aren’t your easy ticket to weight-loss or good health.  Products in general aren’t going to connect you to your best health ever.  Real food will.  If you want to try something out that’s GF, go ahead.  Sometimes its similar and other times much different from the ‘normal’ version.  Just know that GF food companies have a bottom line and some are seeking to turn a specialty market into a mainstream boom.  It’s the ones saying questionable health claims and truly looking to capitalize off the media frenzy that  I want to call out here.  They’re turning our moment from legit awareness to a big bust.


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