Article Response #4: Controversial gluten

Article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jj-virgin/gluten_b_1834836.html

Author: JJ Virgin

Title: 7 Ways Eating Gluten Makes You Fat, Sick and Tired

 

The introduction of this article contains (subtly) the sort of fact controversy that so often (and frankly, easily) happens in today’s informational paradigm. The article’s author, JJ Virgin, provides a link to an article written by Dr. Glenn Gaesser that goes on to explain how gluten is presumably good for people. Although the latter article is no longer accessible, it supposedly briefs readers through several health benefits of gluten such as those to the heart, gut, and immune system. JJ Virgin continues her article by expressing her disagreement with Dr. Gaesser, and goes on to explain the various ways your life will improve if you remove gluten from your life. More specifically: how avoiding gluten will make us thinner, healthier, and more energetic.

What I saw in between the lines of the article was a dilemma of contradicting facts which all appear to be equally supported. JJ Virgin did not include any direct claims that say that gluten is good for you, but many authors write about that topic, including Dr.Gaesser, whom she provided a link to. It may thus be a little strange for me to talk about the authenticity of the information in JJ Virgin’s article when none of her statements contradict each other; but I think that every good reader should not naively gobble up every “fact” they come across. It’s important (especially with the internet!) to apply critical thinking and logic to analyze if the information you’re reading makes sense, and if it’s an absolute truth. In this case, you can’t be sure. Who to believe, then? This sort of dilemma happens very often nowadays because things people say are often: a) not backed up by enough supportive evidence (or none at all), b) not verified, c) myths with false evidence, or d) what people want to believe, so it’s accepted as truth with no second thought. Dr. Gaesser and JJ Virgin cannot both be correct; If Dr. Gaesser is correct in his statement that gluten is healthy for us, then it would be incorrect for JJ Virgin to argue that we should remove it from out diets. Perhaps there is a middle ground on which they are both right. Gluten may have benefits for some body types, or if eaten in moderation. On the other hand, in excessive amounts or for some people, it may become detrimental to our health, figure, and energy.

About the claim of weight gain due to eating gluten, I agree with how JJ Virgin states that calories-in, calories-out is what really matters. Whether junk food is gluten-free or not, excessive amounts will still make you gain weight. Further into the article, the author backtracks and states that eating gluten also stalls weight loss by exacerbating cravings, inhibiting nutrient absorption, and worsening thyroid gland performance (which regulates the metabolism). These were rather interesting pieces of information, and they reminded me of the sort of claims that are made in the book “Flip the Switch, Lose the Weight”. I am referring to claims of the likes that just doing some movement every half hour will keep your metabolism running fast (even if the movements are very easy, such as walking around the room a few times). Such claims are nice to believe, which is primarily what makes them come off as truthful, because people feel more comfortable believing the information then going through the tedious process of verifying the facts and finding out they are wrong. However, the question of whether or not they are correct still remains open. Similar pleasing-to-the-thought ideas (“just don’t eat ____ and you’ll lose weight!”) appear rather most ridiculous when analyzed with any degree of logic. For example, there’s the claim that certain foods (including many fruits and most vegetables) make you burn more calories than they give you. If that would really be true, then if you ate a ton of those foods, you would become increasingly more skinny and emancipated until you’d supposedly die of malnutrition (while you’re stuffing your face with food). Now, I know apples and carrots are healthy, but they are not a magic weight loss pill. It just does not make sense for nature to give us food that does exactly the opposite of its intended purpose. Yet, there was a whole book based on this claim (“Foods That Cause You To Lose Weight: The Negative Calorie Effect”, written by Neal Barnard) and it was backed up by “facts” as well.

It is apparent, then, that misunderstandings do happen rather easily in the modern information era. I am not saying that I equate JJ Virgin’s words to ludicrous statements that should only be regarded skeptically; perhaps she is completely right. But, we don’t know if she is. A trick that helps to discern authentic statements is looking for possible false claims and telling them apart from real evidence. JJ Virgin seems to provide substantial evidence in her article advocating the removal of gluten, including explanations of some functions of the digestive system, but we know that even studies and researches can be faulty. There have been many cases of this already, and certainly many more to come; there are dozens of published studies whose thesis is the complete opposite of an opposing study.

Therefore, as I am no health or nutrition science expert, I feel I have to remain skeptical about the content of this article, and I think that any information given to people should be viewed in a similar manner instead of being naively accepted as gospel truth. However, I think that JJ Virgin’s words may be interesting and helpful to read. If nothing else, then it at least provides a thought-provoking perspective on a fairly easy (since almost everything out there has a gluten-free counterpart) way to diet .

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