With food fads a part of every generation, it is important to be cautious of them. From kale to South American superfoods like açai, our generation seems to be obsessed with the newest health craze. And among the most common of these health crazes is the opposition to gluten.
Gluten is a mixture of two proteins that is most commonly found in wheat, rye, and barley, and is named for its glue-like texture and elasticity. Gluten sensitivity is diagnosed as Celiac disease, and is not an allergy, as it causes an auto-immune response in the small intestine. This disease is quite rare, and has been normalized into our culture for what seems like a while. Gluten sensitivity that is not diagnosed as Celiac disease but still results in a close-to gluten-free lifestyle, however, seems pretty new, and possibly came to prominence after the publication of the health book Wheat Belly. Doctors are still unsure of the reason for this sudden rise in gluten sensitivity; however, many speculate (as Wheat Belly does) that the genetic modification of wheat that began during the Green Revolution plays a part in the increase. Wheat with this modification, which aims to increase grain yield, amongst other things, now makes up 90% of the wheat that farmers grow. While this change might explain why some people are no longer able to healthily digest wheat, not everyone is in full agreement with the hypothesis. There are no more gluten proteins on the modified wheat than there were before, so one could argue that there should be no reason as to why gluten sensitivity has become more prevalent.
While there is much more to discuss on this topic, I am going to focus more on a practical avoidance of gluten and its potential ethical implications. I was diagnosed with a wheat allergy (not gluten sensitivity) almost a year ago, and have significantly decreased my gluten intake since my diagnosis. I have noticed that when I completely cut gluten out of my diet, I actually have energy after I eat (no more food comas), I no longer have migraines, and (yes I am going to say it) I poop more regularly and more smoothly, which is awesome.
While these improvements may all arguably be commonplace responses to one’s cutting food out of his or her diet to which he or she is allergic, I do see a lot of health benefits to avoiding gluten, as it cuts out a lot of unnecessary sugar and simple carbohydrates that Americans are taught to binge eat. We can get necessary carbohydrates by simply eating vegetables. Vegetables obviously don’t sell as well as microwaveable pizza rolls do, so facts like these get lost because it is more expensive to market vegetables and there is less pay-off for corporations who promote these sorts of campaigns. Simple carbohydrates, found in white bread, turn into sugar during digestion, which is one of the most regulated addictive substances in American society. It is much easier to make a profit by taking modified wheat from a farm that is packed with sugar, adding preservatives and processed cheese and meat to it, and marketing it at a cheap price and convenient cook time. (If you would like to know further how much control corporations have over the food that Americans eat, I urge you to watch the documentary Fed Up).
Because of this, I don’t have an ethical issue with the pursuit of gluten-free diets even if it is not of necessity, as long as it doesn’t involve taking the limited resources of those who have Celiac disease or serious gluten allergies. Because of the rise of gluten-free diets, I can walk into a grocery store and find granola bars, cookies, and even pizza that will not upset my stomach. I can eat a sandwich from a restaurant that is on gluten-free bread. This was not the case for those with Celiac disease even ten years ago. If we, as a community, support the omission of over-processed foods like wheat from our diets, then we are supporting an economy that yields healthier food that is aimed at nourishing our bodies.