where do you go for health information?

by Stacy

Scrolling through Twitter this morning, I saw a few people link to a clip from ABC’s Nightline which talks about the new trend of going gluten-free.

I couldn’t embed the video (warning: turn down your speakers, the ads are SO LOUD). If you don’t want to click-through or watch it at all, here is the basic structure of the segment:

  • Hollywood’s hot new diet trend is being gluten-free!
  • Elizabeth Hasselback (who has celiac disease) mugs for the camera with the gluten-free freezer case at Whole Foods and cheerfully lists off starchy foods she loves
  • Cut to Dr. Peter Green, a leading researcher on celiac disease, who says that he doesn’t know of any health benefit for non-celiac patients to go gluten-free
  • Reporter notes that there is no guarantee of weight loss on a gluten-free diet, a diet which could actually be BAD for people
  • Reporter visits babycakes, a cake shop in NYC specializing in baked goods free of gluten, eggs, dairy, soy, refined sugar, and preservatives
  • Reporter wraps up segment by ordering cupcakes

I watched the video and became increasingly incensed. What does this news segment teach us? That gluten-free diets are a weight-loss fad (for many people this is simply not true), that Elizabeth Hasselback’s dietary advice is unsound (shocker), that the major food group of a gluten-free diet is cake (uh..).

An actual quotation from the piece is, “There is no scientific evidence to support all the claims in Hollywood about gluten-free living.” (emphasis mine)


However, I also take issue with the information from the doctor. He states that for the average non-celiac person, a gluten-free diet is “not entirely healthy,” and “often lacks fiber.” He goes on to say that “manufacturers of wheat flour fortify flour with vitamins and minerals.”

How about eating foods that don’t need to be fortified?
Let me suggest a dish that is gluten-free, but full of fiber, vitamins, and minerals.



After all that, my major irritation is not that the segment itself, but the fact that a major news show with almost 4 million viewers can spread such misleading information to people who trust them as an information source.

I’m pretty sure that for the average non-celiac person, their diet already lacks fiber. The amount of fiber in a slice of white bread? One gram. The amount of fiber in a small apple which is the same amount of calories as the aforementioned bread slice? Four grams. And gluten-free. I’m pretty sure that if your only source of vitamins and minerals is flour, you have more serious issues. Just like a vegetarian diet (potato chips and soda are meatless!) means removing meat, not eating more veggies, merely removing gluten from the diet does not add healthy food either.

For many people eliminating gluten requires eliminating many refined flour products. Removing foods that are more likely to be processed is just a convenient by-product of the gluten-free diet which can have added health benefits. If cutting out gluten helps you cut out added sugars, trans fats, and excess snack food, how is that bad for you?

This post isn’t about being gluten-free, however. It’s about thinking critically about your sources of nutritional information. The media is full of headlines touting the latest diet fad or health breakthrough, but they favor sensationalism over useful information.

And that can actually be bad for you.

Here are some sources I follow for food and health news:

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