Apr 19 2016

Michael Pollan Thinks That Gluten Might be a “Social Contagion”

Published by at 8:15 am under Diet,Gluten Free

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Is gluten really a social contagion? Photo credit: jasleen_kaur via VisualHunt / CC BY-SA

Michael Pollan, the well-known food journalist, author, and activist once surmised that the gluten-free craze might be a “social contagion” in a free-wheeling interview on HuffPost Live in 2014. You may know Pollan from his blockbuster book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma or his strong advocacy of the slow food movement. He has studied food and the American diet long and hard, and he isn’t exactly sold on the gluten-free trend.

In the interview with Josh Zepps, Pollan casts doubt on the value of a gluten-free diet, though he does make an exception for people with celiac disease. “There are people who feel better when they get off gluten,” he tells Zepps. “It may have to do with the fact that maybe they’re getting off carbs.”

Why is Pollan so suspicious of the gluten-free movement? “The number of people that are genuinely gluten-sensitive cannot be growing as fast as the market niche is growing,” he proclaims.

Instead of focusing on cutting gluten, Pollan advocates for a diet that avoids as many processed foods as possible. He points to the fact that many gluten-free eaters turn to highly processed gluten alternatives. “Some people get off gluten and then they get onto this highly processed gluten-free category,” he says in his interview. “Look at the ingredients in those gluten-free products. I mean, it’s a lot of xanthan gum and a lot of food additives that, I don’t know, I wouldn’t want to eat.”

Is Gluten Really a Social Contagion?

Pollan brings up some interesting points in his interview. Certainly the number of people who claim to be gluten sensitive has skyrocketed over the past few years, and food producers have rushed to keep up. In many ways, the social contagion accusation might be accurate. Hearing about a close friend who discovered she had a gluten sensitivity may make you begin to wonder if your own gastrointestinal symptoms are related to gluten. More awareness of a condition usually results in more diagnosis.

Could the same thing be happening with gluten sensitivity?

Pollan also makes another good point, which is that processed gluten-free food is not necessarily a healthy alternative to its gluten counterpart. Gluten-free cookies are still cookies, after all. Even on a gluten-free diet, you need to pay close attention to what’s in your food. If you want to eat healthy, the best way is to consume fruits, vegetables, and lean meats. Perhaps you might even want to try more fermented foods, which Pollan raves about in his interview! “I really fell in love with fermentation and working with these microbes, which are just so miraculous,” Pollan admits.

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