When people followed Dr. Arthur Agatston’s South Beach Diet, they lost weight just as he expected they would and his book became one of the biggest-selling weight loss manuals in history. But as his diet became wildly popular, something surprised him. Those following his eating plan found that their itchy rashes cleared up, and so did their joint pain and fatigue.
The first phase of the multi-phase diet was intended to be grain free to help stop blood-sugar swings, says Dr. Agatston, whose most recent book is The South Beach Diet: Gluten Solution. What he hadn’t intended was for it to be gluten free. But because dieters were eschewing grains, they were not eating gluten, a wheat protein, and that was making them feel better.
“I eventually realized it was the gluten-free part of the diet and became interested in the whole gluten issue and have been really amazed at what a big problem it is in this country,” he tells Newsmax Health.
Dr. Agatston eventually learned that gluten is not just a problem for the 3 million Americans who have celiac disease which makes them allergic to gluten, a naturally occurring protein in wheat, barley, oats and rye. He discovered that during the last couple of decades, gluten has become an additive in numerous food products, like soy sauce and tomato sauce, as well as in lipstick and toothpaste.
In addition to gluten’s use as an additive, the way baked foods are processed now — more use of quick-rise yeast as opposed to natural fermentation — is also resulting in greater exposure to it. What’s more, increased use and abuse of anti-inflammatories and antibiotics also are hurting consumers’ ability to digest gluten, he explains.
“Gluten has always been difficult to digest. We’re just getting a lot more of it today and when it is not digested completely it becomes toxic,” he says. “It plays havoc with our bodies.”
A blood test developed 10 years ago to detect celiac disease has shown it is more common than previously thought. The number of cases has risen fivefold in the last 50 years because of “gluten overload,” he says. Its symptoms — typically bloating, cramps, diarrhea and sometimes an itchy rash — also include headaches, joint pain and thyroid problems, he’s discovered.
“Really, you name it,” he says. “It affects the whole body. We didn’t know that until 10 years ago.”
Besides celiac disease, people can also have a gluten sensitivity — a different ability to digest gluten. The majority of Americans have some degree of this, he says, with symptoms ranging from feeling low on energy to extreme fatigue, aches and joint pain.
Everyone should find his or her own level of gluten tolerance and eat accordingly, he advises. But bear in mind that “gluten-free” labeling does not mean low fat.
“The assumption that just because something says gluten free it’s good for you or will help you lose weight is absolutely wrong. So you have to become an educated consumer” and read labels, he says.
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