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Essay

The gluten-free fad

By David Yenches

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About 10 years ago, when I was working and living in Tokyo, I was walking back to the office from a teishoku lunch in Tsukiji with two American translators I worked with. One was a Noh drama musical instrument specialist who was going to hold a workshop in Japan, and he told me that an American woman had emailed him about the availability of gluten-free food in Japan.

He thought she was crazy. I said, "Have you heard of soba? It's made from buckwheat." Buckwheat is gluten-free, like other pseudocereals such as quinoa and amaranth. Rice, soya, corn and potatoes also are gluten-free.

The translator wondered aloud whether there was a "fad component" to gluten-free diets. It's true that some people need to go gluten-free, because they suffer from celiac disease, or CD. For people with CD, eating the gluten found in grains like wheat damages the small intestine and can cause symptoms including diarrhea, constipation and irritable bowel syndrome. Over time, the disease can lead to serious health problems.

Only around 1 percent of people worldwide have the disease — but in the U.S., you'd think it was everywhere. Ads for gluten-free foods are all over the internet and TV. In 2011, the best-selling book Wheat Belly claimed that modern wheat was toxic and addictive. But the book is full of shaky science.

In 2012, pop singer Miley Cyrus tweeted: "Gluten is crapppp" and added that "everyone should try no gluten for a week! The change in your skin, physical and mental health is amazing!"

Give me a break, folks! Before wasting your time and money, why don't you go to a doctor to see if you really have CD?

My wife, a medical editor, is convinced that the gluten-free fad is rubbish, and I agree; a probiotic yogurt or yogurt drink is all we need to keep us regular.

The well-respected Mayo Clinic in Minnesota agrees. If you don't have CD, it says, "there's little evidence that a gluten-free diet offers any particular health benefits."

The gluten-free fad is just one thing that the two of us can't understand about living in the USA. Another is the endless TV commercials about pharmaceutical products on cable TV. Viewers, do you really need these products, and think of the expense! How about single-payer or universal health care like they have in Japan? Even with Obamacare — which President Trump and the Republicans in control of Congress want to repeal — the USA was still the only OECD country that didn't have national health care.

Maybe this summer when the water is warmer, we will swim across to Canada, where they have a national health care system … and fewer TV commercials for gluten-free products.

グルテンフリーブーム

アメリカでブームが続くグルテンフリーダイエット。健康効果の根拠は定かではないようだが、テレビにもインターネットにもグルテンフリー食品の広告があふれていて、筆者はうんざりしている。

The Japan Times ST: March 17, 2017

The Japan Times ST 読者アンケート

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