Controversial Aspects of the Gluten-Free Diet Dating Back Decades

Controversial Aspects of the Gluten-Free Diet Dating Back Decades

In Honor of Celiac Disease Awareness Month, Gluten Free Watchdog is writing a series of articles (the goal is one per day during the month of May) related to the gluten-free diet–currently the ONLY treatment for celiac disease. 

Post (#7)…

The gluten-free diet, as we know it today is based in large part on the findings of Willem-Karel Dicke’s classic feeding trials. Dr. Dicke found that wheat flour, rye flour, and oats were problematic while wheat starch, corn flour, maize starch, rice flour, and peeled, boiled potatoes were not. Astute readers will view this list and wonder: Where is barley? Oats are harmful for all? Wheat starch in general is okay?

Over the coming days we will be discussing barley, oats, and wheat starch. Wheat starch and oats have been controversial since the days of Dicke. At one point, barley also was controversial and barley ingredients such malt, malt extract, and malt vinegar remain controversial. As a prelude to our discussion, it is important to keep in mind that up until now we have been discussing early dietary protocols for celiac disease. We know so much more today than we did during the first half of the 20th century.

For example, Dicke’s feeding trials determined whether or not a food was harmful based on fecal fat measurements in a limited number of children. The assumption was that problematic foods would cause a decrease in fat absorption and a consequent increase in fat excretion. Feeding trials are still used today for research on the gluten-free diet but determinations as to whether or not something is harmful to people with celiac disease are no longer based on fecal fat measurements (thank goodness). Instead, researchers rely on intestinal biopsies and blood tests to determine if the ingestion of a particular food results in changes to the intestinal villi and antibody levels.

Tomorrow we will jump into the fray beginning with wheat starch and ask the question, “Does wheat starch belong in a gluten-free diet?”

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