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Debunking the Debunking
I recently came across an article in Foodnavigator-usa.com titled “Four gluten-free myths debunked” that for obvious reasons got my attention. I couldn’t help but notice that it was meta-tagged with the term “Wheat Belly” – prompting me to consider if this was just another PR piece of some grain-promoting organization. Voila! The article featured the opinions of Cynthia Harriman, Director of Food and Nutrition Strategies of the Whole Grains Council.
I prepared myself for the same old tired arguments so often put forth by grain advocates, reminding myself that in human history there were people and even great minds who thought the world was flat, and that didn’t mean they were horrible people. As such, and in light of my own incredible experiences with wheat elimination, reading these types of arguments normally provides me with only a light chuckle or eye-roll or two. But this time was different, and I found something terribly offensive in this article which I will get to soon enough.
The four “myths” presented and being “debunked” were:
Sure, “gluten-free” does not equal “grain-free.” We Wheat Bellyers make this distinction continually. In fact, the term gluten-free is so limiting in trying to linguistically encompass the problems with wheat that we try to separate ourselves from it. Harriman reminds the reader that there are 10 grains found in the US food supply that are considered to be gluten-free. Well, most of us don’t eat those grains either, believing that while the gluten-containing grains are the “worst of the bad,” grains really aren’t fit for human consumption in the first place, gluten-containing or not.
While I would disagree with her, whether or not modern wheat is higher in gluten or not is almost irrelevant. Gluten is a general term for proteins found in wheat, barley, rye, and spelt. And it is the components of gluten, gliadin and glutenin, that have been altered over the years. So even if her statement were true, we are presented with the fallacy of division - that what is true for the whole must be true for the parts. And one must also consider qualitative versus quantitative characteristics of the components. After all, a boxer can land 10 punches in a round 1 and also in round 2, but that says nothing about how hard those punches were.
Regarding myth #3 the article falls short of really offering anything of note. I can certainly choose to undertake any diet I wish. In fact, I did this very thing in adopting a gluten-free diet and then some! I wasn’t arrested or fined – I wasn’t even admonished by anyone.
Myth #4 is where the article becomes offensive. Harriman, in a discussion about those with celiac disease, is quoted as saying about gluten-free dieters that, “the fad and fantasy side trivializes and endangers the medically necessary side.” Like Harriman, so many tend to frame this entire discussion as solely about celiac disease. Does someone who chooses to walk with a cane trivialize and endanger those who must use a wheelchair? Should I throw my non-prescription reading glasses away as I am trivializing the blind? My point is that the issues with wheat and other grains are 1) not only about celiac disease, and 2) not just about gluten.
The practice of medicine nowadays is a narrow path consisting of tests and clinical diagnosis, while largely ignoring the concerns or humanity of the patient. There aren’t specific biomarkers for all food intolerances and simple elimination is a fantastic way of determining if a food is not working for you. The revelations from eliminating a food can range from “no revelation at all” to quite astounding for many – such as a curious rash of 10-years simply vanishing, or acute, chronic pain or digestive issues quickkly disappearing. They can also be quite subtle – such as noticing an increase in energy level. But it doesn’t take doctor or a lab test to tell you how you feel. And doing what is right for you, whether it is using reading glasses or eliminating grains, has no bearing on anybody else. No one is trivialized, and it is offensive to suggest otherwise.