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Why Are So Many People Trying A Gluten-Free Diet? Should They?

Anna Armstrong

Food trends come and go: in the eighties, the enemy was fat; in the nineties, carbs; and now, it’s gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley that millions of Americans are giving up. An estimated one-third of adults are choosing to either cut back on gluten or eliminate it from their diets, saying that it eases digestive distress, boosts energy levels, and reduces inflammation.  The food industry has responded, filling grocery store shelves with gluten-free alternatives (which are often more expensive), and labeling products that never had gluten in the first place “gluten free.”  But now, some health experts are advising caution.  Except for people with celiac disease, gluten isn’t poison, and contains valuable proteins and vitamins - which gluten abstainers may be missing out on. 

  This program was originally broadcast on July 29, 2014.


  • Daniel A. Leffler– Director of Research at The Celiac Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. He is also the Director of Quality Assurance for the Division of Gastroenterology at BIDMC. He is also Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.  
  • Susan Schaefer– An adult and pediatric allergy and asthma specialist with Dartmouth-Hitchcock.
  • Kim Severson - reporter for The New York Times. She reports on national food news and trends. She is also on the team developing the paper's new app, NYTCooking.


  • Kim Severson's recent piece on gluten-free eating: "A decade ago, few people other than those with celiac disease, a digestive condition, knew much about the health implications of gluten. But today, if you aren’t gluten-free, you likely know someone who is or is trying to be. The style of eating has become a way of life for many and a national punch line for others."
  • The backlash against gluten-free dieters: "The gluten-free backlash reached an apex last month, when comedian Jimmy Kimmel remarked on his late-night show that in Los Angeles, gluten was “comparable to Satanism,” and sent a film crew to ask gluten-free dieters whether they actually knew what gluten was."
  • New research on the rise of gluten intolerance: "But the gastroenterologists around the world who've been trying understand the gluten puzzle say they're increasingly convinced of two key things: One is that the number of people who are truly non-celiac gluten sensitive is probably very small. Second, they say that the people who say they feel better on a gluten-free diet are more likely sensitive to a specific kind of carbohydrate in the wheat — not the gluten protein."

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