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Harley Pasternak: Is It Good to Go Gluten Free?

05/28/2014 at 02:00 PM ET

Gluten Free Diet Jeffrey Coolidge/Getty

Harley Pasternak is a celebrity trainer and nutrition expert who has worked with stars from Halle Berry and Lady Gaga to Robert Pattinson and Robert Downey Jr. He’s also a New York Times best-selling author, with titles including The Body Reset Diet and The 5-Factor Diet. Tweet him @harleypasternak.

“Gluten free” has been all the rage over the past couple of years (just ask Jimmy Kimmel). Why? Because through limited initial research and anecdotal evidence, gluten sensitivity — defined as a gastrointestinal reaction to ingesting gluten (a protein found in grains like wheat, barley and rye) in people without Celiac disease — was found to be potentially responsible for a collection of notoriously vague symptoms ranging from fatigue and “foggy mind” to diarrhea, depression and joint pain.

Well, I occasionally get a foggy mind, and I definitely have trouble getting out of bed in the morning, so maybe that’s my problem! I’ll go gluten-free and lift the fog of discomfort from my life! Right? Well, many Americans seem to think so, because last year, NPD Group (a market research firm) conducted a nationwide poll and found that a whopping 30 percent of U.S. adults were trying to cut down or avoid gluten in their diets.

Here’s the problem, though: gluten sensitivity (in non-Celiacs) may not even exist.

One of the major proponents of the gluten free movement was Dr. Peter Gibson, an Australian gastroenterologist who published a study in 2011 that has been cited and re-cited by gluten free advocates. The study suggested there is strong evidence that gluten may be a problem for individuals without Celiac disease. The scientists that conducted the study, however, couldn’t find what it was about gluten that was causing the symptoms subjects reported.

Like any good scientist, Dr. Gibson knew that his hypothesis needed to be tested again and again before it could be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, so he conducted a larger study next, and recently published his results.

Subjects who were self-diagnosed with gluten sensitivity were given three stages of meals: no gluten, low gluten and high gluten. Researchers found that the subjects reported worsening of their symptoms with all of the diets, including the gluten-free diets. Whether or not these symptoms were a result of nutritional or psychological cues, it was clear that the gluten in the meals did not trigger a response. Dr. Gibson writes, “In contrast to our first study … we could find absolutely no specific response to gluten.”

Just like Gibson’s 2011 study shouldn’t be enough to determine if there is, in fact, such a thing as gluten insensitivity, this recent study shouldn’t be the only evidence that there is not, either. But before we throw money after potentially unnecessary gluten-free alternatives, let’s let the scientific community investigate further!

Have you gone gluten free? Do you think it has affected your health? 

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Showing 34 comments

Anonymous on

i went gluten free, using gluten free products and got reaction even worst then from gluten containing products and tested negative for celiac . i think the reaction is to artificial additives, and preservatives

Olga on

i react the same to gluten free manufactured product and to gluten containing products with bloat and GI discomfort

carabu on

I went gluten free because my son is allergic to wheat and the more research I did, the more I wanted to see if that was the “culprit” in my poor health. I have never felt better. My joint pain was crippling and it’s gone. My brain fog is gone, my stomach issues are almost nonexistent now. I lost a ton of weight without even trying and my inflammatory issues that plagued me for years finally calmed down, including eye issues and gum issues.

Everyone’s body is different and what works for one person might not work for another but you can’t discount all the people who feel tremendously better going off gluten just because eliminating it doesn’t help absolutely everyone who attempts to go gluten free. By the way, you have to eliminate gluten from your diet 100% without a trace. And, now if I do get accidentally exposed to it, my reactions are off the charts compared to when I was eating it all the time. I think this is because once you clear your system of it, when you get exposed to even trace amounts, you really feel its negative effects tenfold. Your tolerance for it is completely gone.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Brooke on

I have celiac disease. I don’t have a choice in not eating gluten. It has been 5 years.

I would cut my mother’s hand off for a piece of bread, still.

ruth ann on

I went on a self imposed gluten free diet by eliminating all grain carbs. So I guess you can call this a reduced carb diet. But the results were a lower a1-c by 10 points and not as much discomfort in my knees. I didn’t have body aches as much. My carb intake was thru vegetable and fruits. I would call this a hybrid carb/gluten diet. But I got to say it is hard to maintain.

Anonymous on

I appreciate this piece as I’ve been asking myself if the gluten free train is worth getting on or not. I do not have Celiac Disease (sorry about the bread Brooke!), and must admit that I don’t notice any difference the few days that I’ve maintained a gluten free diet. Now I eat what I want and if it’s gluten free that’s fine, but I don’t chase gluten free products specifically.

Jorge Roberts on

First of all Dr. Gibson the guy who did the study that the media says proved Gluten Intolerance is false IS A COMPLETE LIE. As a matter of fact Dr. Gibson did the study to prove Gluten Intolerance was false Last Year May 2013 this year Dr. Gibson did a study and found out Gluten Free leads to less depression for people with Non Celiac Gluten Sensitivity or Gluten Intolerance Google Search this title **Randomised clinical trial: gluten may cause depression in subjects with non-coeliac gluten sensitivity – an exploratory clinical study.** or copy and paste this link: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=gibson+gluten+depression

Tempe on

The picture shows foods containing gluten and it appears that you have to give these items up. Not true…because I had gut pain for years, was told I had IBS…nothing stopped the bloating, cramping and well..gross stuff. I eat a whole grain diet, pasta, beans, bread, cookies…just gluten free. I feel great and it’s not in my head. And for the study that showed that people had worsening symptoms with three meals with various amounts of gluten…it’s not in your head…each day you add gluten whether it’s a little or a lot…it builds up until you’re in pain and so bloated your ribs hurt. It’s not a catchy new thing …it’s about living the best life.

Kelly on

As a parent of a teen with Celiac disease, I am happy to see more of an emphasis on GF products, whether it’s for legitimate reasons or not. I think if it makes you feel better going gluten free, go for it. Even if it’s psychosomatic, who can argue against someone feeling better for whatever reason?

Lizzy on

I think it should be noted that Australian researchers at Monash University have developed an evidence-based diet for the treatment of IBS: the low-FODMAP diet. They found that certain carbs, like fructans, fructose, galactans, polyols, etc. ferment too rapidly in the gut, providing ‘fast food’ for the bad bacteria and causing bloating and other unpleasant GI symptoms. Interestingly enough, those with FODMAP sensitivity usually have to eliminate wheat, because it contains an excess of fructans. So the diet’s adherents eat certain types of GF bread, pasta, etc.– not because they are intolerant to gluten (which is a protein), but because they are intolerant to the fructans (a carb). The diet boasts about a 75% success rate, and is now endorsed by the American College of Gastroenterology. I myself have followed it for close to a year, with great success.
As this diet gradually becomes more mainsteam, the gluten-free industry will probably have to adapt more, to meet the needs of FODMAP-intolerant individuals. After all, 20% of Americans suffer from IBS, and 75% of those respond to this diet, which means those who would benefit from low-FODMAP are probably a significantly greater percentage of the population than the true celiacs.

Jorge Roberts on

Alright first off Dr. Gibson study to prove Gluten Intolerance is false CONTAINS MUCH BIAS did this study last year in May of 2013 and this study to prove Gluten Intolerance is FALSE was funded by George Weston Foods. http://www.gastrojournal.org/article/S0016-5085%2813%2900702-6/abstract (SCROLL ALL THE WAY DOWN TO THE BOTTOM OF THIS WEBPAGE LINK WHEN YOU CLICK INTO THE LINK AND AT THE BOTTOM IT SAYS FUNDING AND YOU WILL SEE GEORGE WESTON FOODS. George Weston Foods is a BREAD (GLUTEN) MANUFACTURING COMPANY http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Weston_Foods That is the 1st bias
The 2nd bias is Dr. Gibson says that many improved on a diet known as the low FODMAP diet CLICK HERE> http://www.realclearscience.com/blog/2014/05/gluten_sensitivity_may_not_exist.html and that Sugars NOT GLUTEN was the problem. Another Lie, first off this Low FODMAP diet that Dr. Gibson speaks of that had better affects of the people with the false Non Celiac Gluten Sensitivity is his creation. FODMAP Diet is the creation of Dr. Peter Gibson and his assistant Susan Shepherd. Of course Dr. Gibson is going to say the FODMAP Diet is a better Diet. The FODMAP DIet is Dr. Peter Gibson’s own creation. This is not an independent study that proved FODMAP Diets are the real reason for Gluten Sensitivity. It is Dr. Gibson himself the creator of the FODMAP Diet that is saying his diet did better for the people with FALSE Non Celiac Gluten Sensitivity. 2nd BIAS. 3rd BIAS this was only a 2 week study with a very low percentage of people involved in this study ONLY 37 Participants. It takes people with Celiac Disease 7 month to 7 years before they will heal on a Gluten Free Diet. Gluten Intolerance CANNOT be considered false on only a 2 weeks study. ANOTHER BIAS. 4t Dr Gibson is coming out with a book on Father’s day in June called “THE LOW FODMAP DIET.” Isn’t it funny the Main Stream Media released this study now in May of 2014 when the Study was done in May of 2013 and was published in August of 2013 http://www.gastro.org/journals-publications/gastroenterology/gastro-podcast/gastroenterology-podcast-august-2013 There is even an interview with Dr. Gibson on the matter of his studies that proved Gluten Intolerance is false. Now why would the media wait until 2014 to report a study that was done and published in 2013. Could it be the Dr. Gibson’s assistant is coming out with a book on Fathers day Called “THE LOW FODMAP DIET” http://www.aikenstandard.com/article/20140526/AIK0403/140529535/is-irritable-bowel-syndrome-related-to-diet I do not understand why a study in 2013 that says Gluten Intolerance is false COMES OUT IN 2014 and makes all the main stream media now. Actually I do have the answer and it proves this study by Dr. Gibson saying Gluten Intolerance is False CLICK HERE > http://www.iflmadscientist.com/2014/05/18/non-celiac-gluten-sensitivity-and-bad-studies-promoted-by-ifls/
This study by Dr. Gibson to say Gluten Intolerance is all in your mind was funded in May of 2013 by a Gluten bread producing company named George Weston Foods, Dr. Gibson’s study days FODMAPS work but it could appear bias because the low FODMAP diet is the diet Dr. Peter Gibson created, A cookbook for the FODMAP diet coming out in June YET the study was published last year and comes out just in time for Dr. Gibson and his assistant Susan Shepherd coming out with a cookbook for the FODMAP Diet, sounds strange to me as to why the media would release a study now about Gluten Intolerance being false and the study saying FODMAP Diet is the solution and the media picks up on Dr. Gibson’s study a YEAR after it comes out and now we hear Dr. Gibson has a cook book for his own diet. Sounds BIAS and fishy to me. Well, today Dr. Gibson revealed that he never said GLUTEN INTOLERANCE WAS FALSE. http://www.iflmadscientist.com/2014/05/18/non-celiac-gluten-sensitivity-and-bad-studies-promoted-by-ifls/

THANK YOU

Jennifer McGee on

Yes, I went gluten-free two years ago due to troubling digestive problems. Though gluten-free lifestyle has not been the answer to all my problems, I no longer get severe stomach aches and my abdomen is no longer bloated all the time. I do believe there are some benefits to a gluten-free lifestyle.

Anon on

I have celiac and it is not easy. It’s not cool seeing people say “I’m going GF for two weeks to lose weight” Imagine how I feel after that two weeks is over and you get a sandwich. Why chose this lifestyle….

KLin on

I had to go gf, but my dad was showing signs of dementia and went gluten-free and has shown improvement. From what I’ve heard and seen, it seems like gluten really attacks auto-immune issues so the diet seems to help those people a lot.

DW on

The most common culprit is not gluten, but phytic acid. It binds the naturally occurring digestive enzyme amalase and all our nutrients to itself and flushes them out of our bodies. Our body will then leach them out of our tissues, muscles, and bones in order to digest our food. This also leads to a whole host of chronic health problems.
To combat this, I use organic whole wheat flour (GMO wheat is much more irritating to our gut), and soak the dough overnight with everything in a glass bowl except my leavening. The cultured milk I use pre-digests the phytic acid before I even back the bread. No more bloating, blood sugar spikes, and feeling sluggish after eating!

Andi on

I have Celiac and my doctors at the Columbia University Celiac Center in NY will tell you “..the gluten free diet is not a healthy diet…” That is taken directly from their literature, which I have in front of me. The diet is brutal. Brutal. Make NO mistake. I do not understand why anyone would subject themselves to it without a medically proven need. To be GF is to be 100% GF. Otherwise you are not GF. Why would you get braces if you didn’t have crooked teeth? So: why eat GF if you don’t have Celiac or a known gluten intolerance/sensitivity. Wanna lose 5 pounds? Jump on a treadmill. The diet is horrible. By the way, Brooke, I totally get it. I don’t have a choice either.

cm2315 on

One gluten free crowd that is forgotten are those who are allergic or have an intolerance to wheat. The only way to eat any bread or pasta is to eat gluten free. My allergy was diagnosed by an allergist and my symptoms include asthma attacks, sinus infections and general crappy feelings.

Jennifer Murphy, DC, DICCP on

Although going gluten-free may not be for everyone, I experienced a remission of migraine headaches. Losing weight is a side effect for most if they cut out gluten because they eliminate junk foods associated with gluten, but many very brilliant neurologist have scientific evidence that proves GMO grains are causing neurological issues associated with gluten. Associating gluten only with celiac disease just proves the author has not research his article well. Read scientific articles, not pop culture articles and you will see gluten intolerance is based on science.

maryhelenc on

I have a friend with Celiac and like Brooke, would cut off her hand for a slice of bread. She hates the GF diet because she thinks it’s awful and unbalanced and hard to maintain. Like, the tiniest amount of gluten and she’s sick for DAYS. I personally maintain a healthy diet, but I refuse to follow a fad diet or something that is not medically necessary for me. I’d rather focus on eating the right foods, following the Canadian food guide and proper exercise.

Jenb64 on

I feel bad for folks that have Celiac and have to eat such a restrictive diet. I would be a raging b*!(h if I could never have a wonderful warm piece of homemade bread again! I think before jumping on the GF bandwagon, people should check if they have a wheat allergy or even a build up of yeast in their gut. Both can cause similar symptoms to gluten intolerance/allergies.

Mary on

Mr. Pasternak, I would suggest you have your staff spend some time delving deeper into the research. There is a plethora of research that has been done and continue to be done that demonstrates the link between the ingestion of grains and processed food on metabolic disorders and auto-immune disease. Grains are toxic to the digestive system and interfere with the body’s absorption of nutrients. The evidence is in fact fairly overwhelming. I hope your lack of in-depth research on this topic isn’t because you’ve been bought off by the multi-billion dollar grain industry.

Annoyed on

As someone who’s been officially diagnosed with celiac disease it completely annoys me when people talk about going gluten free. This is not ever something that I would chose.

disneymommy75 on

I went G free because I was nursing my son and he had sensitivity to everything. Cutting out the gluten made me feel re energized. I felt 10 years younger, I was not bloated, I was 100% regular in the bathroom, and I was just overall feeling great. Three years later and I still feel terrific. The weight shed naturally with a bunch of water (Pre pregnancy weight as well because I was 40 lbs overweight before I got pregnant). The moment I eata full gluten product I am in the bathroom. TMI, I know…but it is true.

Lindsay on

The point of going gluten free is not to eat exactly the same diet with the gluten free alternatives but eat naturally occurring gluten free items that will fill you up and offer great nutritional value. As a chef I know that items that are made gluten free but to taste the same as ones with gluten are more difficult to make and usually require sugar and fattier grains to mask the fact that they are gluten free. Obviously eating a lot more sugar and fattier grains instead of whole grain is not going to be great for maintaining your figure.

But that’s just my own tirade unrelated to anything in this article since none of those facts were mentioned. The fact is that advising people to go with or against a gluten free diet because of, and this is the ridiculous part of this article, ONE STUDY is at the very least ill informed.

So you go ahead and do you Harley Pasternak but to quote only one study and not even give enough detail to make your research seem really informed is just as bad as the people that you describe as so wrong to go gluten free with only a self diagnosed sensitivity. As a chef and a scientist and just a human being who is trying to live a healthy life I am offended by this ill informed article.

Lea on

It’s interesting to read folks’ response to the various studies. Most studies have a bias but offer information for “consideration”. I think we have to use a little common sense and do a bit of research of our own and stop giving away our power. For two years I told my doctor I didn’t feel well and he did nothing, because he could find on immediate, nameable cause. A series of events (and personal research) led me to a gluten free diet. It was like flipping a switch–I got well. Gluten causes inflammation in the body and the autoimmune response that someone else has already mentioned. The problem I found with “gluten-free” is that many of the snack products contain lots of sugar. Sugar also causes inflammation in the body. But as previously stated, everyone’s body is different. If gluten free doesn’t work for you–eat gluten. I don’t understand the presumption that we all need to do the same thing?!*? Listen to your body and take personal responsibility for your health and well being. And the suggested that someone ate one gf meal and nothing happened–healing is a process that takes time.

anonymous on

I have a problem with many of tgese responses! I am questionable Celiac. Those of you with Celiac think no one else should be GF unless diagnosed. Have you gorgotten that the average diagnosis takes 10 years? I had a positive blood test-how often do you hear a false positive? Umm, never! But, my md that did scope was very dismissive of Celiac before he did the biopsies. Of course he told me it was negative. After being on the diet, I feel 95% better. I also have two children whose stomach aches are completely gonefrom going GF. Someone said its GMO’S. We are a gmo household too. Trust me, I see the dangers in that as well. No one wilk convince me that there isn’t a sensitivity ussue here. Thanks to all the genetically altering of our grains. We can thank our wonderful government fow allowing Dow & Monsanto to do these horrific things to our foods!

Mel on

I think that we are all different and have to listen to our bodies better. I know 3 people that have been on the gluten free diet and all 3 had worse symptoms. I think for 2, it is because the underlying problem was never found. Plus, their substitutes where unhealthy. When I went gluten free, I ended up with the worst acid reflux of my life. Turns out I have an issue with a lot of the alternative flours—especially rice flour. I had already cleared up my acid reflux and had been off of medication for 1 year before going gluten free. After going gluten free, I was sent back 10 years. Since then, I focused more on listening to my body and am still eating gluten in limited quantities–I have never been a big bread or pasta eater. I focus on anti-inflammatory foods and adding more into my diet. For the past 2 years I have been off of both my acid reflux meds and allergy meds. For the past 2 years I have made it through high allergy seasons without a pill. What I am doing works for me. We really need to learn how to listen to our bodies–I mean really listen–to find our balanced diet. We also need to remember that correlation is not necessarily causation.

Kellan Partridge on

This article really isn’t saying much that is useful. Though it does insinuate that gluten intolerance is pretty much made up and only exists in people’s heads. That is not a nice thing to read for someone like me who has had gluten intolerance my whole life. It started when I was very young with both my throat and inside my ears being very itchy. As I got older my list of symptoms grew to include extreme fatigue to the point of simply having to sleep (this happened almost every day after breakfast and lunch during my high school years; the teachers were not very happy with me), extremely painful bloating in my stomach, and extremely foggy brain, so much so that I couldn’t think clearly and would forget words as they were coming out of my mouth.

Fast forward many years later and I went on a diet which didn’t have much wheat or other gluten-containing ingredients in it. As I began re-introducing my favorite gluten-laden foods I saw those old symptoms reappear to an extreme degree. It was a huge epiphany for me to have finally found the reason behind those symptoms after almost 30 years of suffering. For me it was a no-brainer to go gluten-free.

Occasionally I would “indulge” in something with gluten but would then invariably regret it as the adverse reactions would knock me off my feet. I have been GF for two years now and can’t imagine going back to feeling how I did before. And with so many more GF foods becoming available it’s getting more enjoyable to be GF. For example, I used to LOVE Snyder’s honey mustard & onion pretzel pieces and was quite sad that I couldn’t have them after going GF. Well, Snyder’s has just started producing GF pretzels and in my favorite flavor so no more feeling deprived for me!

Julia on

I use to get sick after every single meal. Ever since going gluten free I have never felt sick after eating. I also has psoriasis and now it is completely gone. All because I stopped eating gluten. It has been years now and if I ever take a bite of something with gluten I am sick to my stomach!! It may not be the case for everyone, but I know for a fact I am intolerant to gluten.

Heather Germaine on

Read WHEAT BELLY and GRAIN BRAIN.

I’m really surprised only one source was listed.

Anonymous on

I think that at big concern in the USA is that if a product is labeled Gluten Free, it doesn’t necessarily mean it is actually Gluten Free. There are only certain guidelines that a company has to meet in order to label their items as Gluten Free. It is the other forms of gluten, other than wheat, that people need to take a look at as well.
I was diagnosed with Celiac disease 9 years ago, and I sure know what it is like to eat a “real” piece of bread. It is so hard to eat according to a Gluten Free diet. I suffer from depression, and a few other mental health issues, and eating Gluten Free has definitely not helped me. However, eating a regular diet to find out if it would be any worse is not worth it.
In people who do eat a true Gluten Free diet, if you get tested for Celiac Disease, it would come up as negative. Eating Gluten Free helps the necessary vili in your digestive system to grow normally. If you have Celiac Disease, and you are eating a regular diet, your vili will be flat, causing your gastrointestinal problems. So… if you are on a true Gluten Free diet, and you get tested for Celiac Disease, you will not get a correct diagnosis. Please consult your doctor about eating Gluten Free. There are so many other problems that can come to light because you may not be getting all the correct nutrients.
Be safe, and do your research, and be healthy. Don’t do it as a “fad” diet. Trust me… It’s not worth it!!!

sharon on

I was diagnosed celiac 4 years ago. The first 6 months was really hard. But now I can walk into my local supermarket and find gf bread & other items. We also have a gf bakery in town too. But mostly I just try and stick with meats, veggies & fruits.
Sure gf items are way pricier that regular stuff, but its worth not having stomach aches every week. And I went from being underweight, to a regular normal weight now. It does bug me when I hear waiters complain about people asking for gf items. Hey, I need my meal to be gf, it’s not just a fad to me.

Reese on

Most gf foods are gmo free and preservative free. It’s not the gluten that’s hurting us, it’s the GMOs that are creating super gluten. This super gluten is creating issues and making it difficult for people eat gluten products. I can eat gluten in Italy but not in the USA. Makes sense to me!

Anonymous on

I went gluten free 5 years ago and it has made a tremendous impact on my health. My digestive problems have imporved as well as frequent sinus infections….I am a little put off by this post. I agree that “gluten free foods” are not goo….they have extra sugar and preservatives. However, eating a naturally gluten free diet can make an impact on your health. Has Harley ever done studies on this diet? This post along with the one on yoga has made me question a lot of his advice….

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