One third of Americans are obese, and another third are overweight. “That is two thirds of Americans heavier than they should be,” he said.
“If your goal is to lose weight and you decide that gluten is the heart of all evil, then you give up everything that has gluten in it, you’re going to lose weight because think about what that means,” he said. “You’re giving up pizza, you’re giving up all cakes, and you’re giving up everything that is sweet almost. You’re pretty much giving up all the lousy junk food you shouldn’t be eating anyway, right?”
“So who knows what the real effect is that prompts you to lose weight. Is it really giving up the wheat or giving up everything that comes with wheat — the sugar and everything else?”
A large study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2009 collected data from biopsies taken between 1969 and 2008 in Sweden. The study found that people with celiac disease — diagnosed, inflamed or latent — or gluten sensitivity, had a higher risk of death primarily due to cancer and heart disease.
Three million Americans currently live with celiac disease, and the number continues to grow as more people become gluten-aware. It wasn’t until 2003 that the first screening blood test was used to look at celiac disease. And two years ago, the first celiac centers were created. Nearly 50 percent of Americans suffer from some degree of gluten sensitivity.
“We call it gluten awareness because you don’t have to be the same degree of gluten-free as those with celiac disease and there is a spectrum of sensitivity as there is in lactose intolerance,” Agatston said. “People with lactose problems, some can have a little milk in their coffee and have no problems, but if they have an ice cream sundae at night, they’re in trouble.”
There are three main ways gluten can impair health: inflammation, diminished nutrient absorption and an autoimmune response. Agatston refers to this as the “Gluten Trifecta.”
People suffering from gluten intolerance or gluten sensitivity may experience muscle pain, bloating, stomach pain, brain fog, headaches, congestion and abdominal pain. Because these symptoms can indicate other illnesses, many people suffer from gluten sensitivity without knowing it.
Bread is not fermented how it used to be, which helped predigest gluten. Antibiotics have also destroyed good bacteria that helped digest gluten, and anti-inflammatories, which have become increasingly popular, can create holes in the small intestine. All of this can predispose individuals to gluten sensitivity.
“It’s this perfect storm when people feel congested and achy and lousy, they take more anti-inflammatories and pain relievers and they get put on these antibiotics for congestion when it is really gluten sensitivity,” Agatston said. “It is a vicious cycle and they actually get worse because they are taking medications that make it worse instead of better.”
Agatston said he hopes The South Beach Diet Gluten Solution will educate physicians because he says many are “generally clueless” and ignorant when it comes to gluten.
Gluten-free products are generally more expensive than regular food products. But recipes for people with gluten sensitivity are affordable and there are a range of foods individuals can purchase.
For people who don’t know if they are gluten sensitive, Agatston recommends eating a bowl of pasta. “If you’re gluten sensitive, you will get bloated and feel sick pretty quickly.”
“There are so many people suffering with a condition that can be reversed quite simply,” he said. “Through medical meetings alone, it would take many many more years to do it. You have to go to the public with a popular book.”