The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Farewell to gluten free: Why we are so easily fooled by pseudoscience

hanseata's picture

Farewell to gluten free: Why we are so easily fooled by pseudoscience

and marketing gimmicks when it comes to food. Very interesting article!

I can only say "Amen" to that!


PaddyL's picture

Of a woman standing outside a shop with the sign "Free Gluten" in the window.

golgi70's picture

I've been saying this "gluten free" thing is just the next Atkins.  Balanced diet and exercise is the cure.  We (myself included) are gluttons.  That is the problem.  At first I thought a tax on fast food was silly.  But lately I've started to think otherwise.  Thanks for sharing the article.  


ericreed's picture

I get very tired of pseudoscience and fads in food and medicine. Nice to see a little dose of reason.

As an aside, I enjoy your blog. I'm in Maine as well. I've seen you mention Standard Baking Co in Portland; have you tried Atlantic Baking Co in Rockland? At the risk of blasphemy, I prefer their croissants to Standard. (Of course, Atlantic doesn't do gibassier, so that's a mark against them.)

hanseata's picture

Yes, now that you mention it, I have bought wonderful bread from them some years ago (no croissants, though). Unfortunately we rarely visit Rockland - shame on us - we usually go straight to Portland, since we have a condo there. But we wanted to see the Farnsworth Museum again for a long time, and I'm sure, I can convince my husband to go.

Ambimom's picture

Why this became a national obsession, I'll never know.  It reminds me of  the oat bran craze of 20 years ago.  Everything had oat bran added to it.  I've met people who are convinced gluten is making them fat.  Why?  They don't know.  One woman told me with a straight face that she gave up gluten and lost a whole pound.  I just grimaced and walked away.  

Once people stopped cooking from scratch and began eating higly processed convenience foods, all these strange bugaboos began cropping up in popular culture aided and abetted by agri-business, food science, and assholes like the great and powerful Dr. Oz (who's as reliable as the proverbial wizard -- all hype, little substrance.).  

trial and errorer's picture
trial and errorer

Love this article! 

dabrownman's picture

who have the horrible multi-combination of irritable bowels and autoimmune disorders, bloating and lethargy, diabetes, depression, autism and schizophrenia - gluten free must have been a godsend for a short while.

Oddly, massive amounts of gluten actually cured Lucy's bipolar hebegebie pumpernickel boredom syndrome.  The horrible disease.  It is a rare one where people are frantic to make and bake a pumpernickel but, at the last moment ,can't seem to actually fire the oven up to bake it.  Now she happily sleeps 16 hours a day and  doesn't feel the least bad about that either. 

It is weird that whack jobs seem to pick on bread over and oer again for some reason as the basis of their scams that so many are easily fooled with....The Internet seems to be very helpful for these scammers to weave their web too.

Now I'm starting to wonder about Floyd's motivations in getting us all hooked  on TFL :-)

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

That's what ails me!  ... and I thought it was Spring fever.  Time to inoculate a rye starter and quickly!   

Don't forget to get immunised against rye-pucks.  

           Rye that's not absurd!   

DavidEF's picture

"Don't forget to get immunised against rye-pucks."

Oh no! Where can I get this immunization? I've never been exposed to that dreaded disease, but I've been asked by a friend to make him some rye bread and now I'm worried, as I will be introducing rye flour into my kitchen for the first time! Ya gotta help me!

Wild-Yeast's picture

I used to have friends who became allergic to gluten. It would have been mildly humorous except the fact that they were professionals and should have questioned the science behind the claims. I found out later that the malady had become quite the thing to have among certain social salons. 

I didn't bother taking them off the Christmas list though I don't listen to anything much they might say anymore...,


ericreed's picture

I agree that we need more science on the matter. As far as it goes, NCGS is still very controversial. Perlmutter has raised interesting questions, but it is very very far from settled. It may not even be gluten that is causing the sensitivity in some people, but other candidates such as amylase-trypsin inhibitors. To make strong statements regarding gluten or recommending complete avoidance goes far beyond the current state of the evidence. A new diagnosis requires either a syndrome with clear diagnostic criteria or it needs a known biological mechanism that can be tested for, such as antibodies to gliadin in celiac disease. NCGS has neither which should make us cautious. The few studies that have been done have largely suffer from small sample sizes or other methodological problems, which again doesn't mean it's not real but counsels caution.

The link between dementia and gluten is still completely speculative. You are certainly free to not want to take the risk lest there prove to be a real causal link, but risk assessment is a funny thing. Presumably you get in a car frequently, or engage in countless other activities that have risks of death or injury orders of magnitude higher than the potential for gluten to contribute to dementia, yet take those risks without a second thought. All of us are prone to cognitive biases and errors of thought, and it's good to often examine the assumptions we make and foundations of our beliefs too see how well they hold up to the light of reason and whether our beliefs are consistent. (In philosophical circles this is known as "reflective equilibrium".)

Lastly, a paleo diet is clearly non-scientific. There's simply no question there.

ericreed's picture

I don't doubt that there are some people who have reactions after eating wheat or rye products. But we know that many people (2/3) who believe themselves to have non-celiac gluten sensitivity, do not in fact show a reaction to gluten. For the remaining people, we don't really know what is happening, it could be gluten, it could be other proteins, it could be a wheat allergy, and so on.

The idea that sourdough fermented wheat reduces gluten comes from this study. But the reporting on it has been horrible. What they did was find that you could create gluten free flour using sourdough bacteria and fungal protease, which when used in baked goods didn't trigger a response in a (very small) sample of celiac patients. But you would need to do all the usual tricks necessary to create palatable gluten-free bread. The normal sourdough process you might do in your home would not have this effect.