It's easy to get answers about health and nutrition! Just send your question by email to [email protected] and Dr. Harlan will respond to selected questions of general interest. Answers will be posted in the Ask Dr. Gourmet newsletter (sign up now!) and archived in the Ask Dr. Gourmet section of the website.

Please note that the Ask Dr. Gourmet feature is restricted to questions regarding food and nutrition. Due to the many questions we receive, not all questions may be answered. For more specific questions about your individual health, please contact your doctor. About Timothy S. Harlan, MD, FACP, CCMS | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy


Ask Dr. Gourmet

Is wheat gluten truly bad for everyone or is this just another fad?

I am going crazy listening to all my friends (none of whom has celiac disease) about how we have to avoid gluten and how they will only eat "gluten-free" food. I bake all my own whole grain bread (I haven't bought bread in two years) and some of the recipes call for added wheat gluten or the bread won't rise at all. I am no more or less healthy/heavy/lethargic or anything else than any of them. I feel this is another case of going overboard as we Americans are wont to do instead of "everything in moderation."

Is this Gluten-Free just another "craze" and people are just jumping on the band wagon or is this really a serious problem and wheat gluten is sending us all to an early grave? Like with eggs, salt and meat? (thank goodness not chocolate and wine, anymore).

Dr. Gourmet Says...

field of wheat

This is a great question. A few years ago I might have said that people eating gluten free who were not diagnosed with Celiac disease had no reason to do so. Now I am not so sure.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition where the presence of wheat gluten triggers the body to attack the lining of the small intestine is if it were a foreign body. No one is really sure of the cause, but it can result in major health problems.

First and foremost is an inability to absorb essential nutrients, usually leading to weight loss, but it can also lead to iron deficiency anemia and other vitamin deficiencies. The symptoms of bloating, gas and diarrhea can be a major problem for some. There is an estimate that people diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome are up to four times as likely to have undiagnosed celiac disease: "Got IBS? You Might Have Celiac Disease."

The interesting thing is that we now have evidence that those who don't carry a diagnosis of celiac disease but believe they are sensitive to gluten may be on to something. This is a very well designed blinded study using muffins with surprising results: "'Non-Celiac Gluten Intolerance': Does it Exist?"

I find it fascinating to think that something else may be going on other than a full-on autoimmune response. There is clearly more here than we yet have a full understanding of.

So is there a reason for people to be eating gluten free if they are not diagnosed with celiac disease? For some the answer is yes. Is eating gluten free an especially healthier way to eat? Probably not. Studies of the diets of those diagnosed with celiac disease show that consuming a gluten-free diet tends to be a less healthy diet overall. Here's an example: "Are those on a Gluten-Free Diet Eating Healthy?"

If someone thinks that they feel better not consuming gluten, I am really OK with that. It is important for them to watch their calories and the amount of fiber they are getting as well as some macronutrients.

Thanks for writing,

Timothy S. Harlan, MD, FACP, CCMS
Dr. Gourmet