More celebrities than ever are on a gluten-free diet. Photo: Fake Hollywood sign - CC-Marcus_Vegas
Celiac.com 10/29/2010 - From Elisabeth Hasselbeck's popular book, The G-Free Diet, to Chelsea Clinton's gluten-free wedding cake to Gwyneth Paltrow's website praises, the focus these days seems to be on gluten, or, rather, on going gluten-free.

Gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley, is fast becoming like high-fructose corn syrup, or rBGH, products whose name gets mentioned only to tell people it's not an ingredient in what they are about to eat or drink.

More and more, people mention gluten to say that they do not eat it, and to talk about the lengths they go to exclude it from their diet. Even the new Old Spice guy avoids the ubiquitous protein to help stay buff, he told Jay Leno on a recent television appearance.

In some ways, going gluten-free is the latest twist on the low-carb diet fad of the late nineties. In some cases, the gluten-free diet, which is a must for people with celiac disease or gluten-intolerance, is just the latest diet to be chatted up on daytime talk shows, promoted by beautiful celebrities, and tried by multitudes.

For the benefit of people with celiac disease and gluten-intolerance, the number of gluten-free products on grocery shelves has exploded over the last five years. Once scarce or nonexistent, products like gluten-free pasta, pizza, cookies, crackers, cereal and, yes, even beer have opened up a whole new range of dietary possibilities for celiacs and non-celiacs alike.

Still, some are concerned that many who do not need, and will not benefit from a gluten-free diet may be setting themselves up for just the latest dietary failure.

As with regular people, so with celebrities. For people with celiac disease and gluten-intolerance, a gluten-free diet and a gluten-free life are both necessary and beneficial, helping these people to stabilize their immune systems and to avoid associated disorders.

So, while celebrities with celiac disease or gluten-intolerance require and benefit from a gluten-free diet, everyone else does not require it, and will gain questionable benefits from adopting the diet. The gluten-free diet is not a way for people without celiac disease and gluten-intolerance to automatically lose weight. That's in part because many gluten-free products are no healthier than their gluten-free counterparts. A cheese-doodle is pretty much a cheese-doodle, whether it contains wheat or not.

For people without celiac disease or gluten-sensitivity, eating wholesome breads or pastas that contain gluten is not only delicious, but part of a healthy, balanced diet. So, after the summer buzz dies down, those folks might want to go back to their gluten.

Not only is gluten an essential protein that gives traditional breads and pastas their flexible, chewy structure, it often is used to thicken processed foods like ketchup and ice cream.

People who suspect that they have celiac disease or gluten intolerance should get tested, and consult a qualified medical professional. People seeking to model themselves after celebrities should look to do so in more productive ways than adopting a gluten-free diet without needing to do so. There's just no good evidence to support the idea that eating gluten-free will help people to safely lose weight.

As always, Celiac.com welcomes your comments (see below).