Researchers debunk gluten-free, organic dieting fads

Organic apples on sale at a local Bashas’ may not be healthier than non-organic foods, according to an ASU-Stanford study. (Photo by Vince Dwyer)

There are no significant health benefits to eating gluten-free or organic diets, according to scientific analysis done by ASU and Stanford researchers.

ASU Healthy Lifestyles Research Center Director Glenn Gaesser published an article in August, concluding that the recent trend toward gluten-free dieting has no real benefits for health or weight loss.

“For the vast majority of Americans, there is literally no published scientific evidence that would suggest that gluten-free is a healthier alternative than what they are currently eating,” Gaesser said.

Research began after Gaesser became concerned about weight-loss promises made by celebrity endorsers of the gluten-free diet, he said.

“We’re spending $2.6 million a year for something that looks like it is a complete waste of time for the vast majority of people,” Gaesser said.

The gluten-free diet is an essential medical treatment for sufferers of Celiac disease, a genetically inherited autoimmune disorder that causes an inability to digest wheat proteins, Gaesser said.

According to a report by the National Institute of Health, about 1 percent of Americans suffer from Celiac disease.

Food Allergy Talk club at ASU Vice President William Langenbach is one of these people.

“Since I am completely reliant on gluten-free food, I like and encourage the new trend in gluten-free dieting,” Langenbach said.

The biomedical engineering freshman said he concedes that a gluten-free diet is not intrinsically healthier than other diets.

However, he said people on gluten-free diets tend to have healthier eating habits and have an overall healthier lifestyle.

“The behavioral change of cutting out fast and hyper-processed foods from one’s diet probably plays a bigger role in the supposed ‘weight loss’ of gluten-free dieting than does eating gluten-free bread,” Langenbach said.

The benefits of eating organic meats and produce has also been questioned after a study done by Stanford researchers concluded that health differences between organic and non-organic foods probably do not justify the extra cost.

Pete Goldman, policy officer of the Real Food Club at ASU, said the Stanford study has drawn much ire from organic food enthusiasts.

“This study has riled so many people up, but it really only included studies from large organic factory farms which still used (organic) pesticides and it failed to factor in smaller organic farms,” Goldman said.

The sustainability graduate student said many local farmers technically grow organic foods, but can’t afford to pay the fees they need to have certified organic farms.

The Stanford study, which appeared in the Annals of Internal Medicine in September, concluded that there are no pronounced differences in the nutrition value of organically and non-organically grown produce.

“People don’t necessarily buy organic because it is way more nutritious, they buy it because it has less pesticides and because it is better for the environment,” Goldman said.

 

Reach the reporter at npmendo@asu.edu