Thursday, April 23, 2015

A case for sugar, gluten, soy, and dairy

Last year The New Yorker reported that about a third of Americans are eliminating gluten from their diets. Do a quick google search and you can find numerous blogs and op-ed articles documenting the author's departure from sugar. Soy? Oh heavens no - it cases cancer. Want a nice, cool glass of milk with your breakfast? It's chuck full of growth hormones and gives you acne.

Working in a restaurant, I am just waiting for the day when a customer hands me a hard listing out the laundry list of of his food intolerances; "Hello, my name is _____ and I am: dairy-free, nut-free, egg-free, shellfish-free, gluten-free, soy-free, corn-free, and vegan." Excuse my bluntness, but can I interest you in a delicious glass of clear, refreshing water?
Yes, it's true - there are people who have medical conditions that warrants the elimination of certain foods, but they only account for a tiny percentage of the population. About 1% of the population suffers from Celiac's disease; less than 0.001% of the population suffers from hereditary fructose (type of sugar) intolerances; about 0.4% of children suffer from soy allergies and most are resolved by age 10; only 0.5-1% of adults suffer from true dairy allergies.

It's no secret that some of the most avoided food groups have been mainstays of the human diet for thousands of years while our digestive systems have not evolved much (if any) in the past 50 years, our supposed food-intolerances have and neither has our food.

Dr. Joseph A. Murray, a professor at the Mayo Clinic release a statement saying "The wheat grain is not a lot different than it was fifty years ago...chemically, the contents just have not changed much. And there is something more important to note. Wheat consumption is going down, not up. I don’t think this is a problem that can be linked to the genetics of wheat."

Frankly, I believe that gluten/dairy/soy/sugar sensitivities are the lovechild of 1) misinformed pseudoscience and 2) temporary secondary food sensitivities due a history of restriction which will resolve with continuous refeeding.

I strongly believe that most food sensitivities in today's culture are perpetuated by charlatans to hoards of misinformed and over-diagnosed followers who mistakenly associate normal patterns of bloating, water retention, weight gain, or physiological and psychological unwellness caused by broader lifestyle factors like stress or lack of sleep to a specific food scapegoat. That massive sentence is to say correlation does not imply causation (one of the basics of Statistics 101).
The mind is an extremely powerful tool and the belief that you are ridding your body is harms like sugar and soy can actually make you feel healthier, lighter, more mental clarity, and even some physical improvements; it's the placebo effect!

Unless you have a doctor-diagnosed food allergy, there is absolutely no sound reason to avoid sugar/gluten/soy/dairy. Yes, you may lose some weight initially from going _____-free but that's only natural when you start restricting calories, but it comes at a cost. Not only are companies making huge margins by marketing to your health-perceptions, your food restrictions interferes with your social life, and puts you at risk for a slippery slope down towards orthorexic or anorexic behaviors.

Conclusion: there is nothing wrong with a piece of bread topped with a slather of butter and strawberry preserves.