WHY is gluten considered so bad for you?

by 20 · November 18, 2013 at 05:40 PM

Okay, so I have a really big question about gluten that I can't seem to find an answer for. I'm not following the Paleo diet but I happened to stumble upon this site a few days ago and I've been refreshing the "questions" page every chance I get-- you guys discuss some very interesting things! So one thing I started hearing about lately is how bad gluten is, and I know some people can't have it, but other than that there's not much I know about it. I consume quite a bit of whole wheat bread (specifically pita, since I'm Arab and you can't eat a lot of Arabic foods without pita, especially hummus). I've become pretty anal about what I eat since I gained the freedom to buy what'd I like (something I didn't have at my parents house), and I'm really interested to learn about why gluten is bad for you. I looked up threads on this site, and I did some search on google, but the articles just talk about what gluten is in and of itself and how some people are sensitive to it.

I'd really love some educated answers about why it's bad, studies, links, books-- anything! Thanks so much :)

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22 Replies

1826 · May 25, 2013 at 05:23 PM

Read the book Wheat Belly by William Davis, M.D.

3157 · May 25, 2013 at 06:24 AM

This is a complex topic but to sum it up, there are two principal concerns with gluten (and grains and legumes in general):

  • They are highly glycemic carbohydrate foods that will easily spike your blood sugar and make a heavy insulin response. This works pretty bad from a weight management view point and it's something you would want to limit for optimal health. This could be limited with moderate amounts of it so it's not the biggest deal with grains but is something to consider. If you get too much (as in typical SAD diet) you start getting constant blood sugar spikes = fat storing ability = obesity = metabolic syndrome = most modern disease causes from today, depending on how bad you go into this destruction spiral you can get to CVD and diabetes as the worst issues.

  • The real deal: Gluten and in general some other particles present in grains (lectins) seem to hurt the gut lining very badly which will lead you to a leaky gut. Once you develop it you start not being able to digest food as well as before and if things get very bad you can start leaking some proteins to the body that could lead to an immune reaction which will cause nasty effects as food sensitivities and overall body inflammation. You can start experiencing stomach issues like gas, bloating, cramps, etc. This will depend a lot on how tolerant you are with it, how much of the amylase digesting enzyme you have, etc. that's why some people like celiacs cannot stand gluten but some other can to some extent, but it seems that in the end most of us would benefit from getting rid of it.

Medium avatar
10069 · May 25, 2013 at 02:13 PM

Gluten is considered bad in a Paleo sense because it comes from grain. Grain wasn't a dietary staple until about 30,000 years ago. If you accept this line of reasoning you avoid grain-containing foods.

In a more positivist sense, some foods are better for your health than others. If you slant your diet towards fresh vegetables, fruit and meats/seafood you displace the grain foods.

Edit 11/18/13: The opioid argument against gluten can be applied to animal proteins like albumin. You'll get a bigger rush from an egg than from a piece of toast. Here's a reference on opioid peptide sources:


982 · May 25, 2013 at 06:38 AM

Gluten is psychoactive like an opiate (think heroin.) So at the heart of it, you're taking something that's going to make you fatigued. The grains that contain gluten contain lectin. This fucks with your insulin / metabolism, so you're going to be unable to use your energy correctly.. making you weak / fatigued / tired. Then, there's phytates which fuck with your ability to use / absorb nutrients, so you're going to deteriorate. It's like fat-fatigue in food form.

Now, consider the food it's in and imagine eating that with every meal, every day and the meat you eat being fed that with every meal, every day. There are consequences (easy to google) that most of us here like to avoid / correct.

0 · November 16, 2013 at 05:24 AM

Personally, I am 100% gluten free 75% of the time. Most of my indiscretions are from eating out sushi/Chinese/Thai a couple of time a week and the occasional beer. But I did go hardcore paleo for 3 months (no gluten, no grains of any kind, no dairy, no soy, no fruit) and I never felt better but it's just too hard for me to maintain on a day to day basis. But I also agree with Robb Wolf's belief that you can't really obtain full benefits of paleo until you do a 30 day elimination diet.

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1032 · November 16, 2013 at 03:16 AM

@GrapestreetCrip88 Everyone's different. My thing with paleo (in whatever form you choose. There are so many options) is that you don't have to do the traditional to feel awesome. We do much more PHD and I think lots of people who do that who react poorly to traditional paleo would find it less shocking to the system. Anyway, when we need flour we have rice flour and tapioca. No issue there. :) And we have baked goods 1 or 2 times a month, and we don't feel deprived.

My other issue is that lots of people's bodies can handle it when they're younger and then they hit *insert middle age here* and then it all goes to sh*t. And wouldn't it make more sense to just prevent that? I'd rather not find out at 40 that I've been doing something abusive for so long.

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0 · November 16, 2013 at 02:26 AM

when i say cornflour I'm speaking of the generic brands like the mexican one I get, it has corn as the main ingredient but had a bunch of other stuff like white flour, cane sugar and otter grain and additives in.

Though you could just add bread with the meals I guess, or add plain flour as a thickener.

Medium avatar
0 · November 16, 2013 at 02:22 AM

Jeez, you guys got the short end of the stick with the genetics lottery. My father is the same and to a degree me too. I can eat a couple pizzas every night and feel good and not get too big even from sustained eating but my brothers on my mothers side can drink 10 beers a night, eat junk all day everyday with no exercise and still have these crazy yoked physiques.

Funnily engh when my father tried the pale diet he had to stop due to it giving him heartburn and digestion problems, thats why I don't like the dogma on any side, some people thrive without gluten some react to pale

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1032 · November 16, 2013 at 02:16 AM

@GrapestreetCrip88 Well, these are my married-in family I'm talking about. So, no genetic relation to them. Also, why corn? Corn's gluten free and corn gluten isn't the same as wheat gluten.

I have a wife who wasn't into eating anything and who suffers from bipolar. Dropping the gluten means less extreme swings and greater energy (and general feeling like crap was a big trigger for her anyway). She's reacted to unknown corn in the past... though of course, that's gluten-free. She reacts mentally to pretty much everything but white rice. Her food uptake has also dramatically increased, because she has more drive to cut and chew that she didn't have during her gluten days. We took gluten out first and she started feeling better immediately; less insomnia, less anxiety, more concentration. We didn't take out beans or dairy until later, and she's wary of me introducing fruits and veggies so that's been slow and thus there wasn't a big change in nutrition.

My father-in-law has had intermittent heart burn/cramping/diarrhea issues his entire life. It would put him in bed sometimes. At 62 he had pretty strong arthritis and his chronic depression was incredible. He didn't want anything to do with this diet. He fought, and gnawed, and complained, and demanded, but I make the food, so... there you go. The thing he got the first time he 'rebelled' and ate a couple of brownies from our favorite bakery was spend that night in the bathroom with horrible stomach pains among other things. But, he stopped doing that and I tells everyone at work about his gluten-free diet and how amazing he feels. In fact, I can't get him to be quiet, since, you know. I get it, lol.

I just know I'm gluten intolerant, I really just don't need to get into it. I have a classic case that's near celiac except that it doesn't quite put me in bed. Just the bathroom.

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0 · November 16, 2013 at 01:56 AM

@O Siodhachain

Yeah it sounds like you could have a gluten issue as well as those in your immediate family.

Have you considered the food addiction/emotional hazards when it comes to your loved ones and food?

My mother will eat healthily, all veg and seafood and fruit and feel great and then one night she will eat cake and feel terrible, however I think this is a lethargy deal, where she has emotional ties to food and once she gives in and eats crap she goes into a junk food coma and feels crappy.

However she did the same thing in the past when she was far less emotionally tied to food and did not get those same after affects because she simply didn't worry and starve her self of junk in the past, so when she ate it she didn't feel like she had failed and become depressed. Again obviously we have different perspectives on things and you are in a better position to judge than me as I am not there and thus can't give any helpful diagnosis other than speculation.

I would just say the mind is a powerful thing and food is something extremely powerful when it comes to how our body feels. Cycles of addiction can lead to very real physical symptoms that could correlate with those of gluten sensitivity. A simple test to see if gluten is the culprit is to add in corn flour to a stew or a curry and see if they have any adverse reaction. If not then it is most likely eating shitty food that is making them feel shitty or a mental reaction to the depression and trauma of mental addiction. If they feel fine ingesting the unknown corn flour then you can easily rule out Gluten and thus expand your culinary adventures to involve yummy baked goods.

Best of luck.

Medium avatar
1032 · November 15, 2013 at 10:45 PM

@GrapestreetCrip88 Well, thank you for saying I seem like a nice person. I seriously appreciate that kind of thing in internet disagreements.

I'm not wasting the money on an official diagnosis, but I have three people in my family who can eat healthy all week, have a single piece of cake, and have brain fog, lethargy, trouble sleeping, and random pain for no other discernible reason. Maybe we're all gluten sensitive. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity does exist.

What you and I do agree on, however, is that gluten free is a fad right now and certain companies are trying to make money off of it. And people are falling for it like sillies. It won't help people who need an actual diet overhaul. And I completely believe that lots of people are not gluten sensitive... I also believe tons more are than current health experts say. I just come across too many miserable people in life who complain about things my family complains about and could help themselves by turning it around.

But whatever, we disagree and that's fine. YMMV. As long as no one thinks I'm wasting my money like a wealthy no-brainer, I'm good. No one gets my money except local farmers and walmart anyway.

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0 · November 15, 2013 at 10:32 PM

@O Siodhachain

There is absolutely no evidence that shows gluten is bad for you unless you have celiac disease. Most people who go pale think it is because they cut out gluten or dairy or some other thing. But its just because you are being conscious of taking in good, healthy food. Not because gluten is hurting you.

You seem like a nice person and I hope the best for you and your family, but this whole i ate good food and felt better so gluten is bad is just nonsense. I have eaten pale for months and then introduced grains but kept all the pale foods and felt great but removed limitations/cut cost

0 · November 15, 2013 at 09:20 PM

I, too, am not paleo, but find the topics on this site marvelous. I happily ate gluten until stomach issues arose at age 47 (two years ago). One theory is that if you live in the US bread products are make with a hybrid wheat that is far higher in gluten than 40 or 50 years ago. Also, bread is now designed to be made ridiculously fast--a true sourdough is tough to come by. Another idea is that once hybrids are created who knows what happens to the molecular structure (ever look into type A1 vs A2 cows. . . ). Finally, with the low fat craze, many have been eating carbs without fats--that's bound to wreak havoc.

With all that said, in my personal experience once the digestion is messed up it's far from easy to get it working again. Be aware of where the flour is coming from, consider how much you consume, and are you eating fat with it. My hope is your gut doesn't rebel like mine did. We're all different. Still one day I dream of being able to bake homemade bread again and then slab on a thick layer of butter and enjoy without major bloating.

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1032 · November 15, 2013 at 09:06 PM

@GrapestreetCrip88 The point isn't, 'is this better than most people in the world?' Your comment says, 'some people have too much money and therefore can waste it on hype.

We live paycheck to paycheck and could easily eat SAD again to get a little more cash loosened up so we can do things like save money and go out or drive somewhere, or something. But, we eat Paleo and gluten-free instead. Why? Because we no longer spend money on painkillers for my chronic headaches, my father-in-law's arthritic hips and back. No more money spent on my wife's allergy pills. We don't live life constantly feeling like shit anymore.

MY point, is how many other people feel this way and think its normal? We all did. .We learned its not. I wish I could share that with everyone, and 'gluten free' is the first step for many people trying to feel better.

0 · November 15, 2013 at 07:05 PM

It's inflammatory. inflammation causes heart attacks and strokes. eat less inflammatory foods and more anti inflammatory like fish oil

2318 · November 15, 2013 at 06:12 PM

You might want to listen to/read the transcript of this interview of Dr. Alesso Fasano by Chris Kresser to get a better understanding of the main problem with gliadin, the problematic protein fragment in gluten: the body treats it as a toxin, opening the tight junctions of the small intestines to inject water to flush the gliadin out. But the opening is two-way: all sorts of stuff that's never supposed to leave the small intestines before it's broken down by enzymes. That causes havoc at remote sites in the body.

0 · November 15, 2013 at 04:10 PM

gluten is fine for most people. especially if the bread is sourdough. don't believe the fear-mongering lunatics

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0 · November 15, 2013 at 12:18 AM

thats wealthy, for most people in the world, that is hella well off. Also, millionaire and wealthy enough to worry about non-existent problems are two different things.

Unless you are gluten intolerant, gluten is not bad. All the broscience and kelly starett marketing in the world won't make bullshit fact.

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0 · November 14, 2013 at 07:29 PM

because some people have too much money and develop hypochondria.

273 · November 14, 2013 at 07:28 PM

Basically it is tied to a large number of chronic medical conditions due to a number of factors. It disrupts intestinal integrity (irritates the gut leading to leaky gut and increased systemic inflammation), It is a high glycemic index food, it can disrupt the absorption of nutrients into our bodies from other foods, and it not nutrient dense.

Basically, it is overall an inflammatory food, and there is no real reason to eat it since it is very nutrient poor. We can get calories and nutrients fro other foods that are safeer to consume.


0 · November 14, 2013 at 02:48 PM

Leaky gut. Acne for sensitive people. Inflammation. Immune system compromise to name a few common things.

8 · September 06, 2013 at 02:40 AM

What a load of shite!! Metabolic disorder is a modern man disease only really seen in the last 50 years if that. People have been consuming grains like barley and wheat for thousands of years maybe tens of thousands of years. It is true that when grains are highly processed into stuff like Uncle Bens Converted rice and white flour that they rank high on the glycemic index, but whole grains like barley, whole wheat, bulgar, cracked wheat, spelt, etc are not only not that high on the index but full of nutrition and fiber. Another thing that is forgotten in this equation is the fiber. Fiber will slow the digestion and absorption of carbohydrates further reducing the asorption rates. THis is not always accounted for in the index. If you have celiac disease or a known sensitivity to gluten then by all means avoid it. For everyone else avoid highly processed versions of these grains and you can be healthy and happy. Leaky guts? Give me a break. What kind of scientific evidence supports that wild fantasy.

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