Distorted Story on the Gluten-Free Diet on ABC’s Nightline Program

by Melissa Diane Smith

(Opinion) – On August 2, the same day the U.S. Food and Drug Administration reopened a public comment period on “gluten-free” labeling, ABC ran a segment on its Nightline program on the gluten-free diet. With the title “Gluten-Free Nation,” you would think the piece would cover the real reasons why the gluten-free diet has become such a phenomenon: that many people, not just those with celiac disease, are gluten intolerant and that removing gluten from their diet relieves symptoms and ailments far better than any type of medical treatment. That’s because many people’s conditions are, in fact, diet-induced from eating gluten that makes them sick.

Rather than a segment like that that would really help people, ABC painted a distorted picture of the gluten-free diet that likely only confused people. First, ABC chose to call the gluten-free diet “a hot celebrity diet trend” – a phrase that seemed to indicate the diet is momentarily fashionable and that there is little medical research behind the benefits of a gluten-free diet, both of which aren’t true.

The piece then showed Elisabeth Hasselback, co-host of The View, saying all you have to do is replace bread crumbs, cookies, bagels, pie crusts, and pasta with gluten-free versions of those foods – ill-conceived advice that causes people new types of health troubles. That’s the exact opposite of the going-against-the-grain-for-health message I have on this site and in my books, Going Against the Grain and Gluten Free Throughout the Year.

Next on the Nightline segment, Peter Green, M.D., of Columbia University Medical Center, said he wasn’t aware of any benefits for adopting a gluten-free diet for a person who doesn’t have celiac disease. Are you kidding me? Isn’t Dr. Green aware of all the research in recent years, much of which I have written about in my magazine articles and on this blog, about people (and animals) who have non-celiac gluten sensitivity and have their health dramatically improve by eliminating gluten from their diet? (See “Top Celiac Researcher Speaks Out About Gluten Sensitivity” for a quick summary and also “Like Humans, Rhesus Monkeys React to Gluten and Respond to a Gluten-Free Diet.”)

Perhaps the most misleading statement in the Nightline program was reporter Terry Moran saying that unless you have celiac disease, “it’s likely bad for you to cut out all gluten.” That statement is mostly false and only true when people eat a lot of nutrient-poor refined gluten-free junk food like the segment was showing. (But a fact that was left out of Nightline’s report is that eating nutrient-poor refined gluten-containing wheat flour can lead to nutrient deficiencies, too.) Reporters really need to do their homework and be more balanced! Saying a statement like “taking gluten out of your diet is bad for your health” creates unnecessary fear in people who have health problems that they think are diet-related (and most health problems are diet related).

As I have written several times on this site, if you don’t test positive for celiac disease, taking gluten out of your diet to see if your symptoms improve is currently the best test for gluten sensitivity. (See “Best Test for Gluten Sensitivity a GF Diet Trial, New Journal Article Says.”) The really harmful part of the Nightline report is that people who hear Terry Moran’s statement will likely be afraid to take gluten out of their diet and will end up staying sick.

Here are the facts: Humans evolved and thrived on a diet free of all grains. Even after the advent of agriculture, the majority of humans didn’t eat gluten grains. Was the human race sick, or did it die off? Of course not. As I explained in my Going Against the Grain book, gluten-free and grain-free humans were extremely healthy, far healthier than we are today.

If and when any news station runs a well-researched piece on the gluten-free diet, I’ll let you know. Until then, it’s best to avoid mainstream coverage of nutrition, which is biased against the amazing healing power of optimal nutrition and therefore unhelpful for your health.

Copyright © 2011 Melissa Diane Smith

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