Gluten-Free Diet on the Today Show

by Melissa Diane Smith

(Opinion) You know the gluten-free diet is gradually going mainstream when it’s covered on the Today Show on NBC. That’s exactly what happened on Wednesday, August 11th, when the gluten-free diet was featured on an “Eat Smart Today” segment of the show. (View most of the video of that segment here.)

The great news is the story explained that the gluten-free diet is the fastest-growing food trend and is gaining in popularity for both weight loss and health benefits. The segment began by pointing out that Chelsea Clinton had a gluten-free, flour-free wedding cake made for her wedding reception, and it said that a growing number of celebrities such as Anne Hathway, Gweneth Paltrow, Rachel Weisz, and Mary Louise Parker are going or have gone gluten free. Many celebrities eat this way because they find they lose or maintain their weight on a gluten-free diet.

A doctor from UCLA rightly pointed out that if you start eliminating refined gluten-containing carbs (in other words, refined wheat products), you will naturally lose weight. This is something I have written about in virtually all of my books, but the key to making it work is to replace refined carbs with vegetables, not with refined gluten-free carbs – something many people who go gluten free miss.

Unfortunately in the segment, Dr. Roshimi Raj perpetuated outdated information when she said that people who have celiac disease and eat gluten free actually gain weight rather than lose weight. This is true for people who are diagnosed with celiac disease and are underweight. But a much higher percentage of people who are diagnosed with celiac disease are normal weight or overweight and they lose weight when they do the gluten-free diet the right way. (See this related story.)

I thought host Meredith Viera did a good job when she interviewed Dr. Raj. She spoke up for the many people who experience better health by going gluten free. She said, “I cut out gluten and I have to say I felt a lot better when I did it.” Dr. Raj answered by saying that some people have gluten sensitivity but not celiac disease (which I was delighted to hear) but she outlined only digestive symptoms as possible signs of gluten sensitivity (which I wasn’t happy to hear because gluten sensitivity can cause symptoms that aren’t digestive as well).

Although there was some misinformation in the piece, all in all the story was a step in the right direction because it mostly certainly raised public consciousness about the gluten-free diet. Hopefully, it will prompt more and more people to get educated about the health problems associated with gluten sensitivity (and other troubles with grains as well so they can change their diet to experience improved health).

Unfortunately, every time there’s a step toward educating people about the real health problems associated with grains in our society, there always is a backlash or naysayers who counter the information and try to keep people eating grain products. Dr. Raj did that when she said avoiding processed grain-based foods that are fortified might contribute to nutritional deficiencies (a completely untrue statement: whole foods, of course, are way more nutritious than fortified processed foods). Dr. Raj did it again when she said she thinks the gluten-free diet will be a fad that goes away. Later that day on a blog related to the Today Show, blogger Stephanie Becker posted the story “Gluten-free? Not me!,” in essence trying to scare people away from gluten-free foods because they don’t taste exactly like that processed, nutrient-poor sweets she is used to. A few weeks later, I caught a few minutes of a question-and-answer segment on the Today Show about digestive ailments with Dr. Nancy Snyderman. She addressed the gluten-free diet in a rather unflattering way, saying that celiac disease is the “disease du jour” (disease of the day) these days – a comment that I thought was completely irresponsible.

If you are just exploring gluten-free eating for weight-loss or health benefits, or have been eating this way for a while, don’t let these types of comments distract you. All they show is the grassroots gluten-free movement has gone so big, it’s hitting the mainstream and there are forces that want to hold it back. There will always be some who try to scare people into staying in line and eating lots of grains and staying sick or fat. But the general trend is that more and more people are becoming informed, learning through experience and communicating with others, waking up to the unadvertised problems with grains, and changing their diet (regardless of what their doctors or media outlets are saying) to take their health back. That’s called going against the grain for health and, as people get more and more fed up with the health care they’re getting, it’s a movement that’s going to continue.

Copyright © 2010 Melissa Diane Smith

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