Gluten free diets aren’t quite what most people think they are

Norelle R. Reilly recently published an article in the Journal of Pediatrics – The Gluten-Free Diet: Recognizing Fact, Fiction and Fad:

Gluten-free packaged foods frequently contain a greater density of fat and sugar than their gluten-containing counterparts. Increased fat and calorie intake have been identified in individuals after a GFD. Obesity, overweight, and new-onset insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome have been identified after initiation of a GFD. A GFD also may lead to deficiencies in B vitamins, folate, and iron, given a lack of nutrient fortification of many gluten-free products.

Uh-oh. Not good for those people who are gluten-free for non-celiac reasons.

There is emerging evidence that those consuming gluten-free products without sufficient diversity may be at greater risk of exposure to certain toxins than those on an unrestricted diet. Arsenic is frequently present in inorganic form in rice, a concern for those on a GFD given that rice is a common ingredient in gluten-free processed foods.

A constant worry for us, since much of our diet is rice-based. Maybe 80% or so.

There also are noteworthy non-nutritional implications of a GFD. Worldwide, those purchasing gluten-free products will encounter far greater food costs than gluten containing competitors. Social isolation and inconvenience have been reported by children with CD requiring a GFD, and some with CD report a deterioration in their quality of life while on a GFD, linked in many cases to the diet itself.

We are lucky to be able to afford the time and expense of making much of our food from scratch in order to keep it as safe as we can from allergens. But it’s another worry for us in the future as our son grows up.

Consumers don’t really know food issues.

McFadden and Lusk, in their recent paper in FASEB Journal, What consumers don’t know about genetically modified food and how that affects beliefs:

New data collected from a nationwide U.S. survey reveal low levels of knowledge and numerous misperceptions about GM food. Nearly equal numbers of consumers prefer mandatory labeling of foods containing DNA as do those preferring mandatory labeling of GM foods.

Perhaps the survey captured an inordinate number of Food Babe acolytes.

Added sugar labelling!

That exclamation point is not an accident. I’m looking forward to this. From the FDA:

Today, the FDA has finalized the new Nutrition Facts label on packaged foods with changes that will make it easier for consumers to make informed choices about what they’re eating.

Some groups aren’t too happy with the change:

The Sugar Association is disappointed by the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) ruling to require an “added sugars” declaration and daily reference value (DRV) on the Nutrition Facts Label (NFL). The extraordinary contradictions and irregularities, as well as the lack of scientific justification in this rulemaking process are unprecedented for the FDA.

But the FDA says:

And you can have confidence in the science on which it is based, including evidence used to support the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, nutrition intake recommendations from the Institute of Medicine, and nutrition intake information from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

Whose interpretation of science is correct? Well, the Sugar Association is likely a little biased.

The EWG’s dirty dozen

I’m not sure what to make of the dirty dozen list of fruits and vegetables tested to have the highest level of pesticides, as reported by the Environmental Working Group. Certainly there needs to be constant monitoring of the industry and the products to ensure their safety. But I’m a bit skeptical of their presentation.

From the EWG FAQ:

Shouldn’t I try to buy everything organic?

EWG recommends buying organic whenever possible. Not only is it smart to reduce your exposure to pesticides, but buying organic sends a message that you support environmentally-friendly farming practices that minimize soil erosion, safeguard workers and protect water quality and wildlife.

However, we know that organics are not accessible or affordable for everyone, so we created the EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce™ to help consumers make the healthiest choices given their circumstances.

EWG always recommends eating fruits and vegetables, even conventionally grown, over processed foods and other less healthy alternatives.

Don’t organic food producers use pesticides as well? Do they use less pesticides than conventional food producers?


Do we know enough about the effects of pesticide on people?

No. Americans are likely polluted with far more pesticides than current studies report. Agribusiness and pesticide companies are not required to determine whether their chemicals are present in people, not even for compounds that widely contaminate the food supply. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s national biomonitoring program has likely only scratched the surface in its efforts to determine the human body burden of pesticides.

“likely”. Yes, it’s worth being skeptical about the use of pesticides. But the EWG report does not give any information about the tested levels found in produce, nor how it compares to the limits for human consumption.

The US EPA provides some information on the human health risk assessment they perform on pesticides.


Fat vs sugar

Ian Leslie at the guardian – The sugar conspiracy:

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, in a 2008 analysis of all studies of the low-fat diet, found “no probable or convincing evidence” that a high level of dietary fat causes heart disease or cancer. Another landmark review, published in 2010, in the American Society for Nutrition, and authored by, among others, Ronald Krauss, a highly respected researcher and physician at the University of California, stated “there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of CHD or CVD [coronary heart disease and cardiovascular disease]”.

Many nutritionists refused to accept these conclusions. The journal that published Krauss’s review, wary of outrage among its readers, prefaced it with a rebuttal by a former right-hand man of Ancel Keys, which implied that since Krauss’s findings contradicted every national and international dietary recommendation, they must be flawed. The circular logic is symptomatic of a field with an unusually high propensity for ignoring evidence that does not fit its conventional wisdom.

More on GMO labeling

Marion Nestle for the Guardian – No amount of ‘free from’ labeling will make processed food good for you:

Let me add something about companies labeling their products GMO-free. In my view, the food biotechnology industry created this market – and greatly promoted the market for organics, which do not allow GMOs – by refusing to label which of its products contain GMOs and getting the FDA to go along with that decision. Whether or not GMOs are harmful, transparency in food marketing is hugely important to increasing segments of the public. People don’t trust the food industry to act in the public interest; transparency increases trust.

Healthy and overweight?

A doctor and a professor discuss – Are there health benefits to being overweight?

Carl J. Lavie:

The good news for those who may be struggling to lose weight and keep it off is this: As I explored in my book “The Obesity Paradox,” there can be surprising benefits to carrying around a few extra pounds. In fact, being out of physical shape and having low overall fitness is actually a far greater danger to health than fat, especially in people who are only slightly overweight.

Andrew Stokes:

Using information on weight history, it is possible to address this seemingly intractable source of bias. Weight history makes it possible to distinguish people who were slim throughout their lives from those who were formerly overweight or obese but lost weight.

In other words, Stokes is claiming that most studies include weight at the start of the study and throughout the study, but neglect the weight history of the person. The formerly overweight/obese who were ‘normal’ weight at the time of the study may have higher mortality due to issues related to the former excess weight, and therefore skew the results to look like overweight people have lower mortality (as a group). Interesting.

The study by Stokes and Preston goes into further depth on the weight history theory. The conclusions are stark (emphasis mine) :

Our results suggest the burden of overweight and obesity on mortality is likely substantially larger than commonly appreciated. If correct, this may have serious implications for the future of life expectancy in the United States. Although the prevalence of obesity may level off or even decline, the history of rapidly rising obesity in the last 3 decades cannot be readily erased (63). Successive birth cohorts embody heavier and heavier obesity histories, regardless of current levels. Those histories are likely to exert upward pressure on US mortality levels for many years to come.

Consumer Reports on GMO labeling

Consumer Reports on GMO labeling – What you need to know about GMO labeling:

“Safety is not the point. Almost all the labels required on food—such as ingredients and fat content—are informational. So is GMO labeling,” says Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives at Consumers Union. “The debate over GMO labeling is about consumers’ right to know what they are eating.”

In a recent nationally representative poll from Consumer Reports, 92 percent of people said they want GMO labeling. Halloran adds, “other polls have had similar findings. The food industry should stop fighting the public’s right to know in court and start listening to what their customers want.”

If it’s not about safety, then what’s the point? The “ingredients and fat content” are for people to make decisions about their health. With GMO labeling is health really the issue? Does the public really know what the issues are with GMOs or is it just fear of the unknown?

Why label GMOs?

Beth Skwarecki at Lifehacker – GMO Labels Won’t Make Your Food Safer:

Concerns like Hirshberg’s about pesticides demonstrate why GMO labeling is useless. It won’t even do what the people campaigning for labels want it to do. As we’ve mentioned before, the things people don’t like about GMOs are not GMO-specific problems. Here are some things labeling won’t help with:

  • It won’t help you avoid pesticides. Both the insecticidal Bt toxin and the herbicidal Roundup chemical, glyphosate, are used in both GMO and non-GMO crops.
  • It won’t eliminate superweeds, since this ecological problem is not GMO-specific either. (Non-GMO sunflower oil is another big creator of superweeds, by the way)
  • It won’t keep unpredictable mutations out of crops’ DNA, because mutation breeding introduces more DNA damage than any “GMO” technology, and nobody’s labeling that.
  • It won’t prevent allergies, or make allergies easier to track down. GMOs are already tested for similarities to common allergens before they can be approved. If you do have an allergic reaction to an unusual protein in a particular crop, a “partially produced with genetic engineering” label doesn’t do anything to help track down which ingredient is at fault.

Well researched.