Scientific American’s Dangerously Ignorant Article: “Most People Shouldn’t Eat Gluten-Free”
I get that some people are behind the curve, stuck helplessly within the confines of conventional wisdom. They listen to the government, love the MyPlate outline sold to them by the USDA, buy food products because they have a shiny American Heart Association sticker on them, and are pretty much all-things-mainstream.
I don’t have a huge problem with those people. They’re wrong, but everyone can’t be right about everything. And they’re not hurting anyone but themselves.
The people I do have a problem with are the so-called experts and the irresponsible media that have seemingly made a hobby out of promoting every wrong idea society has ever come up with (and killing people in the process). Scientific American’s article is the epitome of this, starting with an eye-catching headline, “Most People Shouldn’t Eat Gluten-Free” and misinformation from leading conventional wisdom experts like WebMD, authors, and nutritionists.
The information they present isn’t just wrong, it’s dangerously wrong. On top of that, they’re hell bent on turning people away from the very things that will make them healthier. This type of media coverage has to be battled against at every turn. It’s just too important to not address.
It’s a misconception that only Celiacs are harmed by gluten, wheat, and other harmful grains.
Scientific American: “Gluten is a protein found in many grains, including wheat, rye and barley. It’s found in most breads, cereals, pastas and many processed foods, according to WebMD. People who have a condition called celiac disease develop an immune reaction to gluten that damages the intestine, and so they need to avoid the protein. About 1 percent of the population has celiac disease.”
The implication here is that only Celiacs have an adverse response to wheat. That’s a myth that’s causing a large portion of the population to suffer from underlying issues (headaches, sinus problems, immune deficiency, eczema, joint pain, and so on) while completely unsuspecting the “heart healthy grains” that make up a large portion of their diets as the cause.
The science, of course, doesn’t agree with Scientific American. A much larger percentage of the population suffers from what is now being categorized as a clinical condition: Non-Celiac Wheat Sensitivity (NCWS). So there’s two clinical conditions — Celiac and NCWS. Beyond the two clinical conditions are myriads of people who see improvements in health markers all over the map when they cut wheat and gluten from their diets.
Gluten is only one piece of the puzzle.
The reasoning behind not eating wheat and other harmful grain products goes a lot further than talking about gluten. What about the lectins and phytates? What about the WGA?
Lectins are sugar-binding proteins that attack the stomach lining of animals and cause all sorts of problems. One of the nastier lectins is Wheat Germ Agglutinin — WGA — which is designed specifically to protect wheat from consumption. Phytates bind to minerals and nutrients and hinder their absorption, effectively making those minerals biounavailable to the human body.
How bad is Wheat Germ Agglutinin? It’s pro-inflammatory, immunotoxic, neurotoxic (can pass through the blood-brain barrier, attack the myelin sheath, and inhibit nerve growth factor), and cytotoxic (cause cell death). Further research is showing that WGA may interfere with gene expression, disrupt endocrine function, adversely affect gastrointestinal function, and share similarities with certain viruses.
As an aside: There is a good amount of evidence that most lectins and WGA are destroyed during the cooking process, a point that will be raised by many. Most is not all though, and my reply is: Are we trying to provide our bodies with the most nutrient dense and lowest toxin foods or are we simply running around eating what we want trying to mitigate the damage? There’s no benefit to eating these foods, so why advocate for them…
There is no dietary need for grain consumption.
Scientific American: “…whole grains, which contain gluten, are a good source of fiber, vitamins and minerals, Tallmadge said. Gluten-free products are often made with refined grains, and are low in nutrients.”
Look closely and you’ll see that Scientific American is pulling a fast one on you here. The title of their article suggests that people shouldn’t eat gluten free. Now, they’re busy making an argument against a straw man: refined gluten free food products.
Nobody is insisting that refined gluten free food products are good for you or that they are micronutrient dense. In fact, the vast majority of the anti-grain movement is against refined, processed food products altogether whether they contain gluten or not. It’s important for Scientific American to clarify their argument here; are they against gluten-free processed food products — a position that I share — or are they pro-grain, pro-gluten because they think grains are healthy and gluten isn’t much of an issue? Their above quote suggests the latter.
The myth they’re underlining is that there is a dietary need for grain consumption and that’s simply not the case. Do grains contain fiber and vitamins and minerals? Absolutely, they do. But we also talked about the phytates which hinder the bioavailability of those nutrients. And on top of that, there’s the toxins, digestive issues, immune hindrance and so on that come with grain consumption even if you’re not a Celiac. The important part of all this is that the same vitamins and minerals and fiber that are in grains can be obtained through other sources — and often in larger quantities and greater bioavailability — that don’t have negative side effects. This makes grain consumption wholly unnecessary.
Scientific American: “If you embrace such a diet, you’ll end up “eating a lot of foods that are stripped of nutrients,” Tallmadge said. Studies show gluten-free diets can be deficient in fiber, iron, folate, niacin, thiamine, calcium, vitamin B12, phosphorus and zinc, she said.”
This is an outright lie. If they’re still using the straw man of refined gluten free food products making up the majority of a person’s food intake they’re probably right. But, nobody is suggesting that should be the case. Those of us who are against grain consumption are advocating for the consumption of clean, low-toxin, nutrient-dense, natural sources of food — plants, animals, oils, nuts, seeds, and fruit — while telling people to avoid anything that would constitute a “food product.”
To say that the food our ancestors thrived on are “stripped of nutrients” and “deficient in minerals and vitamins” is ludicrous.
Scientific American: “You can eat a healthy diet without gluten, but you have to be very knowledgeable, and most people aren’t,” Tallmadge said. People who go gluten-free may feel better because, to avoid the protein, they end up cutting out desserts and junk foods, thus losing weight. “They mistakenly attribute that to their gluten-free decision.” There’s nothing magical about eliminating gluten that results in weight loss,” Mangieri said. Any of us that eliminates or removes cookies and candies from our diets, and replaces them with fruits and vegetables is going to feel better.”
How knowledgeable do you have to be to eat healthy meats, vegetables, fruits, and nuts instead of wheat and processed grain products? This isn’t just conventional wisdom run amok, it’s conventional wisdom that’s hell-bent on keeping you dumbed down and seeking out the food products Big Agriculture wants to sell you. This isn’t rocket science.
And they lose weight because they avoid desserts and junk food? Weren’t they just telling us a few minutes ago that people were just replacing that junk food and dessert with gluten free versions? Now they’re pretending the straw man they previously erected doesn’t apply here. That’s hardly journalistic integrity.
How badly do they want you to fail?
Are you ready to watch Scientific American go off the charts in terms of absurdity?
Scientific American: “Before you switch to a gluten-free diet, you should be evaluated by your family physician, and a specialist who can determine if you have celiac disease. (To be diagnosed with the disease, people should see a gastroenterologist.)”
So in order to make a personal decision to avoid toxic foods that harm my body and eat clean, natural foods that my ancestors thrived on I have to get permission from my family physician (who is trained by the government to tell me that grains are healthy)? And then a gastroenterologist, no less?
Are Celiacs the only people who are allowed to avoid grains now?
Scientific American: “If you want to go gluten-free, “do it the right way,” Mangieri said.”
No, that’s backwards. If you want to eat grains, you must do it the right way: by soaking and sprouting them to make them less dangerous. Avoiding grains doesn’t require any special tools or information. The bottom line is that eating grains is dangerous, avoiding them is not.
And then they close with another heaping dose of conventional wisdom:
Scientific American: “If you eliminate wheat from the diet, make sure to replace it with a healthy, naturally gluten-free grain, such as quinoa or buckwheat, Mangieri said. You should also balance the diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, Mangieri said. Lean meat and low-fat dairy products such as yogurt are also good for a gluten-free diet, Tallmadge said.”
They just can’t let you out of their sight without insisting that you consume some sort of grain, can they? And then they go off on the low-fat tangent that’s killing Americans by the boat load.
If you can’t eat fat, what can you eat? That’s right: an excessive amount of carbohydrates (mostly processed or grain-based) and processed protein. Want to know what that equals? Obesity. And it leads people to micronutrient deficiency (the same deficiency they told us we’d get by not eating their beloved grains). They’re feeding us the same misinformation that’s been leading us down the road to diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and chronic illness for years. Shameful. And dangerous. Keep your guard up, rebooters.
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Kevin Geary is the founder of Rebooted Body and host of The Rebooted Body Podcast. He helps men and women finally get a body and life they love with his unique blend of real food, functional movement, and psychology. To work with him personally, choose a program.All stories by: Kevin Geary
A straw man is a type of fallacy where someone misrepresents the opponents argument and then argues against that misrepresentation. In this case, they’re pretending as if those who advocate a gluten free lifestyle are suggesting people should eat a bunch of refined gluten free food products. And that’s not our argument at all.
The rebutal is not based on any defined study. It is based only on the author’s opinion. Show me any definative study that demonstrates the benefits of a gluten free diet please (beyond those associated specifically with celiac disease.) Short of this study, all the points raised are strictly anachdotal.
It’s absolutely my opinion Tom, because this is my blog and I write the articles. I have, in fact, posted links to numerous studies about the damaging effect of gluten on the human body, however. Those are freely found in my archives if you’d like to use the search function.
Or you’re free to counter the article by posting a link to a study that shows how great gluten is for people. Do you have one of those? I’m all ears.
Excellent article, Kevin. I ran across the article on SciAm when WBUR cited it as a “reference” for their interview with David Perlmutter ( http://onpoint.wbur.org/2014/02/26/gluten-free-celiac-diet-wheat ).
One thing I noticed: this editorial content comes from livesciene.com: http://www.livescience.com/36863-gluten-free-diet-healthy.html . I haven’t seen any disclosure about the relationship between these organizations. It appears that SciAm posts the articles verbatim with no fact-checking or editorial control. I’m somewhat dismayed by this abuse of the Scientific American name.
It should come as no surprise that the WBUR OnPoint interviewer focused exclusively on Celiac Disease and ignored the myriad of other problems caused specifically by gluten and grains in general. Perlmutter noted what you did: there is no dietary need for grain consumption, but that astonishing claim was ignored by the interviewers.
Keep up the good fight. I am gratified that someone did a thorough debunking of this article. If I find anything about WTF they published this junk science, I’ll let you know.
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