Millions of people around the world have gone gluten-free in the last decade. A 2015 Gallup poll found that around one-fifth of Americans and many Europeans prefer gluten-free foods.
So it makes sense to ask the question: should we avoid gluten? Is it bad for our health? Should everyone go gluten-free, or just certain people?
Ordinarily, these questions would lend themselves to pretty straightforward scientific inquiry. Researchers would examine different populations, explore the biochemistry of gluten in the human body, and conduct randomized trials to see the results of different dietary patterns.
All this work is already out there — and we’ll talk about a lot of it in this article. But talking rationally about gluten has become difficult for a couple of reasons. First, there’s a lot of money in convincing as many people as possible not just to avoid gluten, but to purchase manufactured gluten-free analogues and substitutes. By 2020, the gluten-free foods market is projected to reach $7.59 billion in the United States alone.
Second, gluten has become a pawn in the culture war between vegans and meat lovers. Many in the Paleo and keto communities cite gluten concerns as evidence that plant-based diets are inferior to those containing large amounts of (gluten-free) animal products.
When financial interests and cultural forces intersect, the truth often suffers. The “You’re-either-with-me-or-against-me” attitude can undermine the good-faith pursuit of truth, and the millions of dollars at stake can fund pro-industry propaganda at the expense of facts.
What to Expect in This Article
In this article, we focus on the actual evidence. We explore what the science says about gluten, who can benefit from avoiding it, and whether it might actually be beneficial for some people.
And we want to remind you upfront that you know more about your body than anyone else does. More than the marketers trying to sell you their products. More than the scientists searching for trends in large populations. And more than your social media friends and acquaintances sharing the latest blog post on why you should never touch wheat. Or why your so-called gluten-intolerance is nothing but a placebo effect. So read on, and consider what we’re learning from scientific inquiries, along with your own experience of what your body is telling you.