This week, singer Miley Cyrus became the latest celebrity to endorse a gluten-free diet, telling fans and critics she didn’t have a weight disorder, but a food allergy (or two).
“For everyone calling me anorexic I have a gluten and lactose allergy. It's not about weight it's about health. Gluten is crapppp anyway!” she tweeted Sunday.
Later that day she added, “everyone should try no gluten for a week! The change in your skin, phyisical and mental health is amazing! U won't go back!”
Cyrus, who has recently been photographed taking a lot of pilates classes and looking fit, may indeed be thriving on the challenging gluten-free diet, a tough regimen that cuts out wheat and some other grains.
But her recommendation that “everyone should try” it isn’t on target, experts say.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and other grains. Gluten-free diets have soared in popularity in recent years. Market research firm Packaged Facts projected in 2011 that sales of gluten-free foods and beverages in the U.S. would exceed $5 billion by 2015.
But the diet is only strongly recommended for people who are diagnosed with celiac disease, a condition whose sufferers have an immune response to gluten in the small intestine. Celiac disease can cause pain, diarrhea and other digestive symptoms, Over time, potentially, it can result in permanent intestinal damage and malnutrition.
For people with the celiac disease, cutting gluten out of the diet is crucial. From the National Institute’s of Health’s PubMed website:
“Celiac disease cannot be cured. However, your symptoms will go away and the villi in the lining of the intestines will heal if you follow a lifelong gluten-free diet. Do not eat foods, beverages, and medications that contain wheat, barley, rye, and possibly oats.
You must read food and medication labels carefully to look for hidden sources of these grains and ingredients related to them. Because wheat and barley grains are common in the American diet, sticking with this diet is challenging. With education and planning, you will heal.”
For most other people, gluten-free diets, which can be high in fat and low on fiber, may be more of a fad.
There are people without celiac disease who are sensitive to gluten, wrote Los Angeles Times reporter Jeannine Stein in February (see link at left). But there are also many who aren’t gluten-intolerant but assume that they are because they find that eating fewer wheat products makes them feel better, Stein wrote.
“Opting for a gluten-free diet isn't necessarily any healthier than a diet with gluten, and products are sometimes costly. If gluten intolerance is not truly an issue, there may be no advantages to cutting out wheat and other foods, because some substitute grains contain little fiber,” she reported.
Your best bet? If you’re experiencing celiac disease symptoms, get evaluated for the condition. If you don’t have the illness, adhere to the standard advice: Stick to a sensible and healthful diet, and exercise.
For more information on celiac disease, check out this article from the Mayo Clinic and this web page from the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse.