Is "gluten-free" healthy? Who to ask?

I avoid celebrity news like the plague it is, but I found a couple of angles to discuss in this story about Miley Cyrus, which popped up on a Google Alert I have running for mentions of eating disorders.

The gist is that Cyrus has lost weight, forcing her Sunday to address rumors that she has an eating disorder. According to that impeccable source Us magazine, she tweeted,

"For everyone calling me anorexic, I have a gluten and lactose allergy," the 19-year-old actress tweeted. A gluten-free diet excludes foods containing gluten, a protein found in wheat. "It's not about weight -- it's about health. Gluten is crap anyway!"

Us says Cyrus also told one fan, "Everyone should try no gluten for a week! The change in your skin, physical and mental health is amazing. You won't go back!" This is, of course, quite similar to what I say about flour and refined sugar: Try abstaining before deciding if it's for you.

So Miley 'n' me have that going for us. But I'm reminded of a Daily Mail story from last year that used the coinage, "Lia-rexia." Just 'cause a Hollywoodian says their body results from healthy actions doesn't mean that it does. Could be, gluten-free is just strategy 4(b) from the publicists' playbook. Still, she claims she has allergies and unless there's doubt that she does, that's where the story should go.

But no: Us's url says that she's getting "slammed" for going on a gluten-free diet. To the extent that anyone's slamming anyone, the commenters are RDs, registered dietitians. Them again.

The first commenter is Rachel Begun, a registered dietitian and food industry consultant who "told Today's Health that only those who have been diagnosed with a gluten-related disorder should go on a gluten-free diet. In fact, Begun said 'People who go gluten-free may gain weight if they rely mostly on highly-processed gluten free foods, many of which tend to be higher in fat, calories, and sugar than their gluten-containing counterparts.'"

'Course, she's in no position to know if Cyrus has been so diagnosed. And, her comment about weight-gain can hardly be pertinent if the context is Cyrus's alleged weight loss. (Us's photo certainly shows a slender Cyrus, but who knows how much it's been touched up.)

Piling on is commenter no. 2: Karen Ansel, also a registered dietitian and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "There’s absolutely no evidence that a gluten-free diet promotes weight loss," Ansel explained needlessly, since Cyrus said that wasn't her goal. If you're an expert, how about telling us if there's any support for what Cyrus actually did say: Does the diet have the potential to improve skin, etc?

Yes, I do have an issue with the "academy," which gets about 10 percent of its funding from Big Food and therefore can't be trusted to comment on what constitutes healthy eating. Notice that Begun is also a food-industry consultant, which makes her doubly unlikely to be a valuable source on these matters — she and her organization feed at Big Food's teat.

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