A few weeks ago I saw a patient for whom I suggested a gluten free diet for weight loss and health promotion in general.  She had a negative reaction immediately. 

She said, “I’ve already done that. Last year I went out and bought gluten free muffins, pancakes, bread, pasta, and cookies and this did nothing for my health”.  Well, I said, I couldn’t agree more that this would do nothing to promote your health! I mentioned that the suggestion to go on a gluten free diet, in my mind, did not mean to go out and buy a lot of gluten free junk food.  She then said, Oh, you mean just don’t eat it?”  Yes, that’s the idea.

What I should have said to make things clearer, would have been to go on a grain and processed food free diet. Along with eliminating gluten, this would eliminate processed sugars, vegetable oils, and artificial sweeteners, and other ingredients that sap your health.

According to Dr. David Perlmutter, board certified neurologist from Naples, Florida, and best selling author of Grain Brain, neurodegenrative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, as well as Multiple Sclerosis and others, are promoted by inflammation in the central nervous system.  This causes oxidative stress, loss of mitochondrial energy production and eventually brain cell death.   The Mitochondria (energy powerhouses within all cells) determine whether a cell lives or dies. 

               But where is the inflammation coming from?  Inflammation is promoted by diet. 

Specifically, these four dietary factors promote inflammation:

               Diet high in Carbohydrates – Grains – Sugars                                                                High blood sugar even in the absence of diabetes is associated with                                   neurodegenerative disease and brain atrophy.

                                        NEJM 369:6 August 8, 2013
                                        Neurology 64: 1704-11 May 24, 2005

            Low fat diet – Low in omega 3, coconut and olive oils and other good fats

            Gluten sensitivity – and eating gluten

            High vegetable oil – canola, corn, cottonseed, peanut, safflower, soybean,

  These dietary factors lead to high blood sugar, oxidative stress and tissue damage.  This is the diet that is leading to: chronic headaches, insomnia, anxiety, depression, epilepsy, movement disorders, schizophrenia, ADHD cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease, according to Dr. Perlmutter.


 That brings me to the article in the Business section of the New York Times 2/18/14 indicating that the food industry is betting big on gluten free products. This means lots of the gluten free versions of processed, high grain, high sugar foods, such as muffins, pancakes, bread, pasta, and cookies will be made more available to us.   Granted, there are people who have true Celiac disease and would be at serious risk by eating even a bit of gluten in a food.  But most of us who would be buying these products are just trying to do the best for ourselves by getting healthy.  

Are these foods really healthy?  Processed gluten free foods contain all the characteristics listed above of unhealthy foods, except for the gluten.  They are high in grains, refined sugars, vegetable oils and most are proud of being “low fat”.  I’ve even seen “low cholesterol” muffins being touted as more healthy than the regular kind!  What is a cholesterol free muffin?  It is one that has no animal products in it, as cholesterol is only in animal fats.  This means that instead of using butter, which would be more expensive and better for you, they are using processed vegetable oils such as soy oil and the other unhealthy oils mentioned above. 

Over the past 20 years, the food industry has promoted all sorts of “free” foods such as fat free, sugar free, caffeine free, cholesterol free, to name a few.  Gluten free is the latest way to sell junk food and tout it as a healthier version of the original unhealthy variety. 

         Buyer beware. As my patient said, “Just don’t eat it”.