By Sean Zucker
Remember the scene in Alien where that vile little hammer-headed creature explodes through that unsuspecting guy’s chest and scares the bejesus out of everyone? Of course you do. Well, this is increasingly how people view gluten—an unwelcomed foreign parasite, snaking its way through our stomachs while it tears our bodies apart inside out.
Our collective gluten phobia begs the question of how mankind has survived all this time with a calorie-filled menace lurking about our digestive systems ready to poison us? The answer is simple and surprising. Despite the recent frenzy, recent studies reveal that gluten is not only fine but necessary for almost everyone.
Limited Risk Gluten is an umbrella term that refers to a family of proteins known as prolamins—a substance often present in many grains, starches and flour. While some of these proteins may resist digestion, a diet with moderate gluten has no adverse effect on overall health or wellbeing for the vast majority of people.
The root of popular gluten-free diet fads and the generally unfounded fear of prolamins stems from the few legitimate conditions that result from genuine gluten intolerance. The most prevalent being celiac disease, an inflammatory autoimmune disease caused by genetic and environmental factors along with wheat allergies. People suffering from these conditions absolutely must avoid gluten or risk inflammations and damaging various body parts, including their intestinal tracts. For those at risk, the threat is real. But the number of people at risk is incredibly small. For everyone else, a gluten-free diet is not only unnecessary, it may be harmful, according to the Celiac Disease Foundation.
Gluten Phobia Growing Unfortunately, there is no official medical evaluation to definitively determine gluten intolerance. This uncertainty has fostered the public’s misperception of the threat, allowing gluten hysteria to build. In turn, a growing number of people are now convinced they’re gluten intolerant when they are not. The journal Digestion underscored this disturbing trend when it reported that 86% of people who claim to be sensitive to gluten can tolerate it quite well.
Ultimately gluten intolerance is quite rare. The most generous estimates suggest 1% of the population is impacted. In comparison, about 7% of people are allergic to bee stings. The bottom line? Next time you’re at the Olive Garden – sit back, relax, and enjoy the breadsticks.