If you don’t believe in the existence of the anti-science left, just walk into a Whole Foods store. At Whole Foods, you can buy products guaranteed to be free of: (1) one of the most important scientific advances in the 20th century (“GMO-free”); (2) a chemical resin that the Food and Drug Administration as well as every other regulatory agency that has weighed in on this subject has declared safe (“BPA-free”); and (3) a component of wheat that causes a disease that affects about 1 percent of the American population (“gluten-free”).
The gluten-free is probably the saddest fallacy—and the most destructive.
In 1947, Willem-Karel Dicke, a Dutch pediatrician, was studying a mysterious condition of children with symptoms that included diarrhea, anemia, poor appetite, abdominal pain, bloating, and growth failure. Dicke was certain that these children were eating something harmful. He just couldn’t figure out what it was. Then a tragic event gave him the clue that he needed.
At the end of World War II, Holland experienced its hongerwinter (“winter of starvation”); many foods, especially breads, became unavailable. While most people in Holland were starving, children with Dicke’s unusual disease—called celiac disease—thrived. In 1953, at a meeting of pediatricians in New York City, Dicke presented evidence that wheat products were causing an intense autoimmune reaction in the intestine of people with celiac disease, later tracing the problem to one specific nutrient: gluten, the component of bread that gives it an elastic quality.
As described in Alan Levinovitz’s The Gluten Lie: And Other Myths About What You Eat, it didn’t take long for health hucksters to weigh in, warning the public that gluten caused not only celiac disease, but a wide range of other diseases. …
… The most unfortunate outcome of the gluten-free revolution is that demonizing food can lead to food fetishes or food phobias causing bulimia and anorexia, which affect about 2 percent of the United States population. These disorders aren’t trivial. Anorexia and bulimia have a mortality rate of about 4 percent. In fact, more people die every year from eating disorders than from all food allergies combined.