The other day, The New Yorker published a very long and thoughtful investigation into our national obsession with gluten, the seemingly evil grain protein found in wholesome and delicious foods like pizza and chicken tenders. Their conclusion? It’s not gluten, and it’s never been gluten. Gluten isn’t making you fat. Gluten isn’t making you sick (unless you actually have celiac disease (you don’t)). Gluten didn’t fuck your prom date behind your back.
Still, that won’t stop morons from claiming that gluten is killing us. So, since printing out that article isn’t really feasible (I mean who even has printers at home anymore right?), not to mention the fact that saying “Ugh, go read a New Yorker article” is about the douchiest way to correct someone, here are some common gluten-free talking points and how to shoot them the fuck down.
“Humans weren’t meant to eat grains!”
Dumb. So dumb. First of all, humans are omnivores – meaning we can eat just about anything, including each other. This argument comes from the paleo diet crowd, who tend to be close bedfellows with GF-nuts, anti-vaccers, and CrossFitters. They claim to be authorities on what humans ate in prehistoric times, despite almost none of them being trained as nutritional anthropologists. Yes, perhaps the earliest humans ate berries and dead animals because they were too dumb to produce anything more complicated, but we’ve had this little thing called “agriculture” for tens of thousands of years, and we haven’t gone extinct yet. Speaking of which…
“But human growth slowed because of agriculture and all that gluten!”
This is reasonable, if you’re the kind of person who liked to eat paste as a kid (and also the kind of kid whose parent bought them paste instead of the infinitely superior Elmer’s squeeze bottles). Yes, human skeletons dated to after the advent of agriculture tend to be smaller than their hunter-gatherer counterparts. Gee, seems kind of suspicious that the only people able to survive (and therefore breed) back then were the ones strong and athletic enough to LITERALLY KILL THEIR FOOD WITH THEIR BARE HANDS, doesn’t it? Agriculture also allowed the population to explode and civilization to flourish. That meant that things like intelligence and resources took precedence over size and strength for mating purposes, and there just weren’t enough towering Adonis-types to impregnate all the chicks. People were bound to get smaller. Oh, by the way – humans are the tallest on average we’ve EVER been, thanks to agriculture and gluten. Actually, screw agriculture – I’m crediting gluten. Gluten is literally the only reason you’re alive right now.
“But wheat has more gluten in it now!”
No. The New Yorker article found this to not be the case, at all. Sorry, you’d have to print that part out and show it to them, I guess. This doesn’t even make sense, if you think about it. There are lots of ways to genetically modify food, but there’s no tangible benefit to engineering wheat DNA to produce more gluten.
“Even if the wheat’s the same, we’re eating more of it!”
Who is, and in what context? If you go back 700 years, people were eating a LOT more grains. Hell, they were practically eating nothing but grains. Meat would have been prohibitively expensive for all but the wealthiest people. fruits and vegetables, sure, you had whatever was around, but anyone who’s bought produce from Trader Joe’s knows that shit goes bad within, like, 15 minutes of getting it home. Wheat flour and other grain products are cheap, easy to make and have a long shelf life. If anything, we’re eating fewer grains now than we ever have in the past.
“But I feel better since I’ve stopped eating gluten!”
I’m sure you do, you fad-dieting weenie. Odds are, when you gave up gluten, it was less about the protein itself and more about the foodstuffs that contain it. That means you gave up beer, late-night pizza, submarine sandwiches the size of a child, practically anything breaded and fried, etc. Chances are you also went on a health kick and started eating boring food like kale and boiled chicken. In other words, you stopped eating shit and started eating wholesome, real foods, which is the only reasonable thing anyone can say about the way people “ought” to eat. Saying that the removal of gluten from your diet is the reason you feel better is like saying that cutting out syringes is the reason you’re no longer addicted to heroin.
“But celiac disease diagnoses are on the rise!”
They sure are. You know what else is on the rise, and has been for some time now? Modern fucking medicine. 20 years ago, scientists wondered why celiac disease was so uncommon in the U.S. versus Europe. Turns out, it wasn’t – it was just severely underdiagnosed. Today it’s estimated that 0.71% of the U.S. population has the disease, which is actually a good thing – that translates to about 2.2 million people who are, y’know, getting the medical attention they need.
“Ok well I know I don’t have celiac disease, but I do have a gluten sensitivity!”
No, you don’t. Who told you that? Was it a gastroenterologist? Because if not, it’s likely that you’ve been receiving nutritional and medical advice from someone not qualified to give it, like a chiropractor, your pastor, a psychologist or your mom. Your mom doesn’t know shit. There is just no evidence that non-celiac gluten sensitivity exists, despite many attempts to identify it.
I think that covers it, though I’m sure there will be no shortage of idiots in the comments to tell me otherwise. Why, if it’s so absurd, are we so obsessed with gluten? It’s not making us fat – lack of exercise and eating way too much shitty food accounts for that – and it’s not making any but a tiny handful of us sick, so why all the fuss? Like any other fad diet, it boils down to human nature and human stupidity: It is our prerogative to stuff our faces with the most calorie-dense things we can find, because our bodies are too dumb to realize that the “lean times” will never come. Just as with the “low-fat” craze in the 80s and 90s, we convince ourselves that something is “bad” because it’s a lot easier than having the willpower to say no to that 4th doughnut.
Eat foods that contain gluten – just in moderation, as a reasonable person would with all foods. The only reason to contribute to the mind-bogglingly huge gluten free food market is, I dunno, I guess if your dad’s an executive at a GF food manufacturer. Just kidding – you have no idea who your dad is.