So, last week the Ladue News staff was sitting around the conference room for a typical weekly meeting—you know, sipping Champagne and waiting for the mini-quiche to come out of the oven—when someone offered up a story idea: Why don’t we do a diet-and-nutrition series and extol the virtues of different diets? We could have doctors give their opinions. We could even have staffers try them out. Someone could do Weight Watchers, someone could do low-carb, Debbie could go gluten-free…

I set down my soy-protein smoothie—and by soy-protein smoothie, I mean tall mochachino with whip—and protested. My list of grievances was seemingly endless: Diets are too much work...I can’t feed my family, then make an entire separate meal for myself...My diet is fine, I just need to exercise more.

But more than any of those, more than any other dietary or disciplinary excuse, there was something else. In fact, it may be the reason most of us don’t stick to the diet or don’t even try it in the first place: What the heck is gluten? Furthermore, I may not know what it is, but I’m pretty sure I like it. It sounds gooey and fattening. It could be the stuff that makes syrup sticky or what thickens Béarnaise. Either way, I had a feeling I was going to miss it. So I did a little research. Turns out there is a lot of misinformation out there. For example: Gluten was not a 15th-century Ottoman emperor who invented soft pretzels. Gluten is not an illegal pass in quidditch. And gluten is not the rumored celebrity couple nickname for Gladys Knight and Vladimir Putin.

Gluten is a protein found in wheat rye and barley. It gives bread its chewiness, but other than that, it has no color, flavor, fat or calories. So why cut it out? That is more difficult to answer. Just less than 1 percent of the population has a condition known as celiac disease, a symptom of which is a gluten intolerance. Researchers now are also studying what is being called a gluten sensitivity. Some doctors estimate that as much as 10 percent of the population, while testing negative for celiac disease are, nonetheless, adversely affected by gluten. Sufferers may feel bloated, fatigued, lethargic… wait, are we sure that’s gluten? As far as the rest of us go, there seems to be only one reason to eliminate gluten from your diet. It’s trendy.

Other than the placebo effect, cutting out gluten won’t clear up your skin or help you sleep, or ease stiff joints or suppress seasonal allergies. And other than the corollary benefit of eliminating bread and other grain-based items from your diet, it won’t assist in weight loss. So if you’re considering eliminating gluten from your diet you may want to do a little research—it may not be the magic bullet for which you were hoping. A physician friend of mine once told me that the only way to lose weight is to consume fewer calories than you burn. I don’t know, though, that seems silly.

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