Q: I have been on a gluten-free diet for fibromyalgia for a year now and I am feeling better.
I feed the whole family — my husband and two children, 5 and 7 — the same diet because it is too complicated to cook different meals for everyone.
Is this OK? I assume it is healthier for everyone to eat gluten free food, even if they do not have an existing health problem.
A: Many food companies and grocery stores have jumped on the gluten free bandwagon because they can charge more for the products. Whole sections of stores are now often devoted to gluten free food. It is also fashionable to try to eat “healthy” food, which may not actually be healthier for all individuals.
The only medical conditions that actually require a gluten free diet are wheat allergies, celiac disease and the associated skin disease, dermatitis herpetiformis. There is also a rare nerve disease called gluten sensitive idiopathic neuropathy. However, the vast majority of gluten free food is bought by people who do not have any of these illnesses.
In a recent article in the Journal of Pediatrics called The Gluten-Free Diet: Recognizing Fact, Fiction, and Fad, author Dr. Norelle R. Reilly said there is more risk than benefit to a gluten-free diet for people — especially children — who haven’t been diagnosed with celiac disease or a wheat allergy.
Reilly, a specialist in pediatric gastroenterology in New York, wrote: “Parents should be counselled as to the possible financial, social and nutritional consequences of unnecessary implementation of a gluten-free diet.”
Gluten-free products typically lack the fortification with iron and B vitamins that are added to traditional wheat-based products.
As well, gluten-free baked goods tend to be made with more fat, oil and sugar to make them palatable and prevent dough from crumbling. Gluten is what gives bread and cakes their sponginess and elasticity.
In addition, a large part of gluten-free cooking involves rice and rice flour. Rice contains higher levels of mercury and arsenic than wheat because it naturally extracts these heavy metals from the soil in which it grows.
Fibromyalgia affects up to four percent of the population, and there is still no known cause or recognized treatment. I suggest you check with your doctor regarding the diet, and even if you continue with it yourself, please feed the rest of your family a normal diet, even if it involves extra work.