Lindsey Mathews is the owner of Moxie Full Body Fitness, a quarterly fitness boot camp that focuses on weight loss and overall fitness. With a BA in Human Development from Brigham Young University, Lindsey’s boot camps are just as much about building mental and emotional self-confidence as they are about getting in shape.
In 2011, researchers concluded non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) “may exist.” This study sparked a gluten-free craze that took the nation by storm.
Gluten-free products and gluten-free diets cropped up in stores and in weight loss forums, all emphasizing the benefits of avoiding gluten.
This gluten-free fad has had a huge economical and nutritional impact, with estimated sales totaling about $10.5 billion in the year 2013.
But, here’s a newsflash: new evidence shows gluten isn’t a bad guy after all.
Undoing the Gluten-Free Craze
The same research team behind the 2011 non-celiac gluten sensitivity study conducted another study on gluten-sensitivity, and this time the results were surprising.
a substance present in cereal grains, especially wheat, that is responsible for the elastic texture of dough. A mixture of two proteins, it causes illness in people with celiac disease.
A more concise testing method was applied to eliminate any outside variables. All individuals were assigned to a low FODMAP (short-chain carbohydrate) diet for a 2-week period and then assigned to 3 diets containing varying amounts of gluten: 16 g gluten per day, 2 g gluten with 14 g whey protein isolate, or a placebo of 16 g whey protein isolate.
Interestingly, no gluten-specific effects were observed in the individuals on a low FODMAP diet. Each diet, including the placebo diet, caused test subjects to report gastrointestinal symptoms like bloating, nausea, and pain.
What Does This Mean?
A red flag was raised when test subjects experienced side effects on the placebo diet. Researchers believe the nocebo effect may have influenced test subjects.
The nocebo effect is a condition in which test subjects may suffer anticipated side effects from a treatment, even if that treatment is a placebo. Because test subjects anticipated side effects, they experienced them.
This nocebo effect may be the reason there are roughly 18 million individuals who identify themselves as gluten-sensitive but only 1.8 million have celiac disease.
Non-celiac gluten sensitivity is often a self-reported diagnosis. Other psychological aspects, like the power of social influence by celebrities and fitness-junkies, may have added fuel to the anti-gluten fire, so to speak.
So Who’s the Real Bad Guy?
Evidence is far from conclusive; however, there are hints another villain causes gastrointestinal issues like irritable bowel syndrome in individuals who once identified as gluten-intolerant: FODMAPs.
FODMAPs are short-chain carbohydrates that some individuals have a difficult time digesting. If these FODMAPs are not digested and absorbed properly, they may ferment in the stomach, leading to gas and bloating.
If you experience gastrointestinal problems, here are some foods you should avoid that contain large amounts of FODMAPs:
And, here’s the bottom line: if you don’t suffer from celiac disease, you don’t need to turn and run from gluten.
Gluten-free alternatives tend to be more expensive, so you can save money by first cutting high FODMAP foods from your diet to see if your symptoms improve. If they don’t ask your doctor to test you for Celiac disease before spending your hard-earned cash on unnecessary gluten-free products.
eSupplements Article Recap
- A 2011 study sparked the gluten-free craze.
- New study shows no negative effects of gluten.
- Try avoiding foods high in FODMAPs.
2014's 10 Best Multivitamins
-  “Gluten causes gastrointestinal symptoms in subjects without celiac disease: a double-blind randomized placebo-controlled trial.” Biesiekierski JR, et al. Am J Gastroenterol. 2011 Mar;106(3):508-14; quiz 515. doi: 10.1038/ajg.2010.487. Epub 2011 Jan 11.
-  “A Big Bet on Gluten-Free.” Stephanie Strom. The New York Times. Feb. 17, 2014.
-  “No Effects of Gluten in Patients With Self-Reported Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity After Dietary Reduction of Fermentable, Poorly Absorbed, Short-Chain Carbohydrates.” Biesiekerski JR, et al. Gastroenterology. Vol 145, Issue 2.
-  “Beware the Nocebo Effect.” Paul Enck and Winfried Hauser. The New York Times. August 10, 2012.
-  “Characterization of Adults with a Self-Diagnosis of Nonceliac Gluten Sensitivity.” Biesiekierski JR, et al. Nutr Clin Pract. 2014 Apr 16.
-  “Low FODMAP diet for Irritable Bowel Syndrome.” MONASH University: Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences.
-  “IBS Diets: FODMAP Dieting Guide.”