by Jen Thompson, MPP
The clinical research on gluten sensitivity has been less than illuminating. In a small, double-blind randomized study of 34 patients self-diagnosed with gluten sensitivity, Gibson et al found that 68% of participants who received a diet containing gluten reported worsened symptoms, compared to 40% of participants who received a gluten-free placebo. Gibson and colleagues then performed a follow-up study, also double-blind and randomized, in which patients were first fed a diet low in fermentable, poorly absorbed, short-chain carbohydrates (otherwise abbreviated as FODMAPS. Read more on FODMAPS here.) The patients then received diets containing high, low, or no gluten. In that study, all patients reported improved symptoms on the low-FODMAP diet, but only 8% reported worse symptoms after consuming gluten. The follow-up study prompted one science writer at PBS to proclaim “Unless You Have Celiac Disease, Gluten Sensitivity is Probably Just in Your Head.” But then again, maybe not: when commenting on a third study, in which a third of “gluten sensitive” patients reported worsened symptoms after consuming gluten, Dr. Gibson concluded “the controversy rages on.” Other recent studies have found evidence both for and against the existence of gluten sensitivity.
So what is the average eater to do? It’s worth noting that for most people, a gluten-free diet may offer few benefits. Processed gluten-free foods are almost always more expensive than their glutinous counterparts, and may actually contain fewer nutrients and more calories, sugar and fat. Personally, as someone entering her second decade with celiac disease; if you still want to try the gluten-free route, be serious. Don’t ask for a gluten-free entrée in a restaurant, then complain when the waiter doesn’t offer you bread. That sort of cavalier approach isn’t likely to do much for your health or your waistline, and it only makes things harder for those of us who can’t eat it at all.