I'm one of those lucky people whose digestive system hates them with the power of a thousand burning pizza ovens. I hate going out to restaurants because I have to wrestle aside my social anxiety long enough to ask the waiter to list every possible ingredient in the taco special, just so I don't accidentally throw up all over him later while he's bringing the check. The list of food types my body hates is too long and boring to list here, but I will mention that I do have gluten sensitivity, which you might recognize as this year's favorite punchline of comedians who are running out of material.
"GLUTEN! That sure is a thing that exists!"
For the most part, having a medically restricted diet is not all that bad. It's much better than having Fingers Falling Off Syndrome, or some sort of condition that makes all dogs hate you. But there's some things a lot of people don't get. For example ...
As soon as a person finds out that another person can't eat a certain food, one of their first questions is inevitably: "So what happens if you do eat it?" Because the subject usually comes up when everyone's ordering food, this question is often posed in restaurants, right around the time that everyone is digging into their fondue. And that's unfortunate, because the answer usually involves messy bodily fluids.
I think friends ask this naive question because not many people understand the difference between food intolerance and food allergy. Food intolerance means your body just can't digest a certain food, while an allergy means that your immune system decides to react against it. Food intolerance is like one of those parties where you enter the room and everyone just turns their back and ignores you. Food allergies are like those parties where you step in the door and the entire crowd rises up and throws you out and then beats you up on the pavement outside.
I didn't have a good weekend.
So if you eat a food you're allergic to, the result will probably look like other types of allergies: hives, itchiness, and bits of you starting to swell up. I discovered I had a shellfish allergy after I ate a bunch of shrimp and my throat started to close up and I thought I was going to die. But my body did seem to digest the shrimp just fine, so least I would have died with some amount of dignity.
Food intolerance, on the other hand, usually isn't medically threatening, but the reactions are mostly localized in the digestive system, which means they're likely to involve things like diarrhea, constipation, and a lot of other stuff no one really wants to talk about over dinner. And some food allergies can also involve gross stomach problems as well. So next time you're at a restaurant and someone mentions that they're lactose intolerant, don't ask what happens when they eat lactose or you'll never want to look at cheese again.
And it will put you right off dessert.
Then there's the fact that ...
Let's pretend that scientists recently did a study on pollen allergies. As part of this pretend study, they put a bunch of pollen under microscopes and discovered that it was covered with teensy little bugs. The pretend-scientists removed the tiny bugs, put the bug-free pollen in a room with allergy sufferers, and found that nobody reacted. How would you expect the media to report this? The headlines would probably say something like "Pollen Allergies Actually Caused by Tiny Bugs," or "Pollen Not to Blame for Hay Fever," or maybe "IMMIGRANTS BRING DEADLY POLLEN BUGS ACROSS THE U.S.-MEXICO BORDER." You wouldn't expect the media to declare that "pollen allergies" were completely fake all along.
Think about it. Has anyone ever actually seen a flower?
But that's exactly what happened when a study this year looked at people suffering from intestinal problems that they attributed to gluten intolerance. After a three-week dietary experiment, the scientists concluded that the poop-troubled subjects' problems couldn't be linked to whether the food they were eating had gluten in it. Instead, the scientists theorized that these people's intestinal distress was probably caused by fermentable short chain carbohydrates, also known as FODMAPs. FODMAPs are pesky little motherfuckers that are not absorbed easily by the small intestine and can cause particular trouble for people with problems like IBS and Crohn's disease. FODMAPs pop up in wheat, barley, and rye, and these also happen to be the three most popular gluten-containing grains in the Western diet.
In other words, people with IBS are probably going to feel better on a gluten-free diet; they're just wrong about why they feel better. They're mixing up the bad effects of one weird food part with the bad effects of a different type of food part that often occurs alongside it. Pretty simple. You'd think the news would report it like that, right?
Via Huffington Post
Via Real Clear Science
Why is the media so eager to push these headlines? Probably because a lot of people are really invested in mocking gluten-free diets and other food issues, and those people can be counted on to click on those headlines and share them with their friends because ... other people's choices in bread make them angry, I guess? I'm not talking about poking fun at people who jump on diet bandwagons without doing any research and for no discernible health reason. I did that myself, and I regret it now, because jokes like that just seem to encourage the other folks out there who think that "gluten-free" labels are part of a communist plot to destroy their freedom. And maybe they think that way because ...