The Gluten Lie: And Other Myths About What We Eat – A Review

Alan Levinovitz is an assistant professor of Religious Studies at James Madison University, Virginia.

His book, The Gluten Lie: And Other Myths About What We Eat1, “takes on bestselling physicians and dietitians, exposing the myths behind how we come to believe which foods are good and which are bad—and pointing the way to a truly healthful life, free from the anxiety of what we eat.”

Whilst the book was fascinating in describing how easily it is for society to be deluded about food issues, the book adds several misconceptions of its own.


Gluten and wheat is a serious health problem for a small percentage of people, but for the rest (approximately 92% – 95%) avoiding wheat and gluten has detrimental consequences.

Levinovitz quotes Dr Peter Gibson of Monash University (Melbourne, Australia) who claims FODMAP items are a much greater problem.2

FODMAP is an acronym for Fermentable Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides And Polyols. FODMAP items includes foods such as onion, garlic, beans, bananas, artichoke, wheat, lactose (milk sugar), fruit sugar found in many fruit with high concentrations in apples, pears, pineapples, high-fructose corn syrup, honey and molasses as well as sugar alcohols (polyols) such as sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol and maltitol.

Items allowed on the FODMAP diet include potential problem foods such as hard cheeses (which apparently also includes brie and camembert), butter, meat, poultry, seafood, coconut milk and eggs. These foods have a detrimental impact on our intestinal microflora.

Beneficial foods such mushrooms, fruits, legumes (peas and beans) and cabbage family (broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower) are avoided on a FODMAP diet. A high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet is most beneficial to our intestinal microflora and the FODMAP diet, rather than solving our intestinal microflora issues, intensifies it.

What is the problem with wheat and gluten?
The nature of food allergies
Eggs and the benefits of choline


Levinovitz contends that that medical profession’s issues with fats and saturated fats fall into the same misguided category of undeservedly maligned foods. He quotes Aseem Malhotra as an authority. Malhotra is not a credible source of information.

I have written about Malhotra’s shortcomings at The Pioppi Diet.


It appears that Levinovitz assertion is that “everything in moderation” is one answer without offering any evidence why this is true and contends that “fake cheese is his one food taboo” – which is understandable.

Seven-day Adventists studies refute the notion that “everything in moderation” is an optimal strategy. A strong commitment to health has been a part of Adventist’s tradition since its founding in the 1840s.

Data from the AHS-2 study shows that Adventists smoke much less frequently than the general American population (males – 1.2%, females – 1.0%) and drink less alcohol (6.6% drink alcohol).

Diet is also significantly different from the general population with 4.2% being total vegetarian, 31.6% lacto-ovo-vegetarian, 11.4% include fish with their lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet, 6.1% semi-vegetarian (eat meat < than 1 time/week) and 46.8% non-vegetarian.

The AHS-1 study showed 30-year-old Adventist males lives 7.3 years longer than the average 30-year-old white Californian male and with females living 4.4 years longer than the average Californian white female. For vegetarians, it is 9.5 years longer for men and 6.1 years longer for women.

The comparison of the types of diet (in the AHS-2) showed a significant difference in both the body weight and the incidence of Type 2 Diabetes.3

Category%BMIType 2 diabetes
Odds ratio*
Vegan
No red meat, fish, poultry, dairy, eggs
4.223.60.51
Lacto-ovo vegetarians
Vegan with eggs and milk
31.625.70.54
Pesco-vegetarians
Vegan with fish, milk and eggs
11.426.30.70
Semi-vegetarians
Red meat, poultry less than once a week plus fish, milk, and eggs
6.127.30.76
Non-vegetarians
Red meat, poultry more than once a week plus fish, milk, and eggs
46.928.81

(*) After adjustment for age, sex, ethnicity, education, income, physical activity, television watching, sleep habits, alcohol use and BMI.

The differences in outcomes depending upon diet type are listed below. Lacto-ovo-vegetarian and vegan outcomes are compared with non-vegetarian outcomes.

EndpointLacto-ovo-vegetarianVegan
Diabetes
• Men1.351.97
• Women1.081.93
Hypertension
• Men1.572.23
• Women1.442.24
Rheumatoid arthritis
• Men1.141.50
• Women1.161.57
Rheumatism
• Men1.201.48
• Women1.281.61

Relative Risk or Odds Ratio of cardio-metabolic-related factors among vegan and lacto-ovo-vegetarian Adventists compared with non-vegetarians

As the diet becomes more vegetarian then the risk factors. Note that the comparisons are within the Adventist community, which is significantly healthier than the general U.S. population.

Eating meat less than one a week is less healthy than not eating meat at all.

Much publicity is given to the longevity of the people of Japan and Okinawa (an archipelago that stretches from southern Japan to Taiwan). However, the healthiest population on the planet are vegan Californian Seventh-day Adventists.4


The method of citing references is clumsy and does not easily allow for fact checking.

Footnotes

  1. Levinovitz, A. (2015) The Gluten Lie and other myths about what you eat. Nero.
  2. Gibson, P. R. & Shepherd, S. J. (2010) Evidence-based dietary management of functional gastrointestinal symptoms: The FODMAP approach. Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology. 25 (2), 252–258.
  3. Le, L. & Sabate, J. (2014) Beyond Meatless, the Health Effects of Vegan Diets: Findings from the Adventist Cohorts. Nutrients. 6 (6), 2131–2147.
  4. Fraser, G. E. & Shavlik, D. J. (2001) Ten Years of Life – Is It a Matter of Choice? Archives of Internal Medicine. 161 (13), 1645–1652.

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