Wednesday, September 22, 2010
The Gluten Hoax
For some reason we love to find scapegoats for our problems. Instead of admitting that we need to re-focus on total image we prefer to allow obtuse minutia to sidetrack us. Perhaps it’s because we feel better if something we don’t understand is causing our health problems instead of the obvious, like we’re eating bad and not exercising. Whatever the reason, society is always on the lookout for the next thing to blame, bringing me to our latest victim: gluten.
Gluten is basically protein found in grains like wheat, rye, barley. Two decades ago it was championed as a superfood and was the mainstay on the menus of most organic hippie restaurants. Now it’s a vilified to the point where consumers look for “no gluten” labels like they’re the key to eternal happiness. Given the latest research shows between .5 and 1% of wheat eating populations suffer from gluten sensitivity one wouldn’t think the market would be so invigorated. But it all comes down to one thing:
We (both marketers and consumers) are always looking for the latest buzz word to make/spend money on and gluten, and by extension all grains, is the latest craze. .5 to 1% just ain’t big enough to capture shareholder imaginations. In America, it’s go big or go home, and thus the spin games begin. This is nothing new. For those of your paying attention we’ve had the same love/hate relationships with many foods over the years. From macro nutrient groups like proteins, fats, and carbs, to more obscure items like coconut, margarine, grapefruit, Space Food sticks, and blue-green algae; we are schizophrenic consumers. Each has spent its time in the limelight as well as in super market purgatory. Study after study (not to mention the success of Beachbody) shows that living a natural balanced lifestyle, where you eat a lot of natural food and get some exercise every day, will keep the human body healthy and running smoothly. Yet we’re always on the lookout for that ever-elusive “a-ha” moment where all our ails are cured by changing one simple (“extremely simple” – marketing dept ED) thing in our behavior.
“You mean cortisol is not causing my belly fat!” exclaimed someone in one of my recent chats. “But I was told that by my doctor and have been spending $70 a month on supplements to fix it,” which of course are not working because you regulate cortisol by—there I go again—eating well and exercising. Money is going to continue to drive us to do silly things and, unless you’re part of the .5-1% who suffer from Celiac Disease, eliminating gluten from your diet is not going to help you unless your entire diet improves along with it.
My anecdotal case for the day revolves around professional cyclist Christian Vande Velde, who went gluten free. After finishing 4th in the Tour de France Vande Velde became his team’s leader for the next season. Now privy to more means, he hired a chef so he and some teammates could go gluten free. When asked if it was helping he stated “I think so. I feel like I’m breathing better.” Yet his stats never backed this up. He fell to 8th in the Tour and never produced the same numbers on the bike that he did while he was eating heaps of gluten (cyclists traditionally live on pasta). Of course there are other reasons that can explain his drop in performance but there is no evidence that gluten free helped him either. In fact, given the chef was his wife you might even chalk up his positive comment to family civility. What is clear is that at the top end of human performance—the place we generally rate how food affects the body—eliminating gluten from one’s diet who is not gluten sensitive presents little, if any, benefit. This means that 99+% of you can now relax and enjoy your pasta, bread, and/or beer and keep scanning Yahoo Health to see what you should cut out of your diet next.
pic: title could mean IS for dummies for some of us.