© New York Times Post
Attack of the killer bread loaves! More New Yorkers than ever are running scared from wheat - but are their fears founded?

It's a Saturday afternoon at Tu-Lu's Gluten Free Bakery in the East Village, and a steady stream of customers is flowing through the small pink-and-white shop. Most are fashionably dressed women in their 20s and 30s who pause to admire a vast array of baked goods - from pumpkin cupcakes made with a blend of rice, tapioca and potato flour to loaves of wheat-free, whole-grain sunflower bread.

"I was one of [its] first customers," says Brystal Rosensweig, 21, a student who started visiting the shop when it opened in 2010 and has been gluten-free for 3 1/2 years.

"So I [went gluten-free] before it was popular!" she adds with a laugh.

Gluten-free diets are certainly on the rise - and as a result, the gluten-free market has exploded. Research firm Packaged Facts estimated the gluten-free packaged food industry market at $2.6 billion in 2010.

The Benefits and Myths of Going Gluten Free

In NYC, there are now gluten-free grocery stores (G-Free NYC), gluten-free beer (offered by Heartland Brewery) and lots of "g-free" menu options. The 2012 Zagat NYC Restaurant Guide, released today, even features a gluten-free category for the first time ever, listing eateries such as Upper East Side Italian spot Lumi and wheat-free West Village restaurant Risotteria.

For the roughly 1 percent of the population that suffers from celiac disease - an autoimmune disorder triggered by gluten, the protein found in wheat, barley and rye grains, as well as many processed foods -- the surge in gluten-free options is a blessing. If you have a wheat allergy, you also avoid gluten.

But an increasing number of New Yorkers who don't have a medical excuse to ditch gluten are also declaring it public enemy No. 1. These days, you can't throw a bread roll without hitting someone who has cut gluten out of their diet for health or diet reasons. "It's a major issue," says Zagat Survey co-chair Nina Zagat, who introduced the gluten-free category in her guidebook because of consumer demand and a recent burst in online commentary. "I've heard anecdotally that some people are eating gluten-free because they think it may be healthier in general."

Risotteria has been baking gluten-free offerings for 11 out of its 12 years -- but only recently has seen a surge in demand. "It was celiac people coming in [at first]. It was definitely a medical issue at the beginning," says owner and chef Joseph Pace.

"Now I think it's more of a style issue," he laughs.

"But I think it's better for you, and I think people are catching on to that. I feel better - I don't eat much bread at all."

Celebrities who have helped popularize the gluten-free lifestyle include health-conscious "New Girl" star Zooey Deschanel, Gwyneth Paltrow (who went gluten-free to shed holiday pounds) and Wimbledon tennis champ Novak Djokovic, who went on a gluten-free diet this year and got three Grand Slam wins. Chelsea Clinton even served a gluten-free cake at her wedding last year.

"I was constantly tired, and my doctor said I should try gluten-free," explains Rosensweig, who hasn't been tested for celiac disease or a wheat allergy. "It's made me feel all-around healthier. I think that most people are sensitive to it and just don't realize it."

But is wheat - which humans have been eating for millennia - actually unhealthy? A decade ago, hardly anybody even knew what gluten was.

"There's a health halo going on around gluten-free right now, which means that people hear 'gluten-free' and automatically assume it's healthy," says Karen Ansel, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. "Word of mouth and nutrition misinformation have made this into a huge trend.

"There's no health benefit in cutting out gluten unless you've been diagnosed with celiac or an allergy," continues Ansel. "It's actually very difficult to get all of the nutrients you need with a strict gluten-free diet."

Comment: That's a straight up lie. Gluten is autoimmunogenic, and while people have been eating it for thousands of years, we didn't evolve to digest it. We're animal eaters due to our environment of evolutionary adaptation, and wheat-eating only came along with agriculture, approximately 10k years ago.

She points out that wheat flour is usually enriched with vitamins, but g-free alternatives, such as rice flour, are not. Other risks of following the diet include a lack of fiber and, in the case of prepared gluten-free food, too much fat and cholesterol.

If you're free and clear, "go ahead and eat all the gluten you want," Ansel says. "It's not going to hurt you."

"Wheat was domesticated 10,000 years ago," adds Dr. Peter HR Green, director of the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University. "By far the bulk of people don't have any deleterious effects."

Comment: Some people can eat wheat without a problem, or at least without one that they're associating with wheat. Mood disorders, skin problems, and a whole host of other random metabolic problems are associated with wheat intolerance, and beyond that - the article doesn't even mention it's correlation with obesity, belly-fat, heart disease, epilepsy and childhood behavioral problems - these are all associations made in legitimate scientific research.

And the g-free craze may even hurt true celiac sufferers.

"If food providers or servers think it's a trendy thing, the upside is increased availability [of gluten-free food] -- the downside is reducing the significance of having celiac disease," says Green.

Some people in the New York food community believe the g-free craze is a collective panic attack over nothing. Former executive banquet chef Damian Cardone of now-shuttered Tavern on the Green ignited a scandal last year, when he lashed out against gluten-free diners on Facebook, where he copped to serving self-proclaimed "gluten-free" customers plain old pasta. The allergy was all in their "disturbed little heads," he ranted. "Flour and bread have been a staple of life for thousands, THOUSANDS of years."

And yet, hundreds of New Yorkers are prepared to ignore history, claiming gluten leads to all manner of ailments, including headaches, muscle pain, skin problems, mood disturbances and general sluggishness.

Another Tu-Lu customer, Erica Benjamin, 37, has a "self-diagnosed" wheat sensitivity. "It's by choice, not by a doctor," she says of her diet, which she's followed for nine years.

In her wheat-eating days, "I never really felt well; I would get migraines. I did a lot of reading and research, and when I cut flour out of my diet, I felt a hundred times better."

Some proponents of the diet claim that everyone can benefit from going gluten-free. Diagnosed with celiac disease two years ago, actress Jennifer Esposito is launching a Web site next week called Jennifer's Way to educate people about a "gluten-free lifestyle for all."

"My goal in life now is to really make people aware that gluten is really not good for anybody -- it really is an enormous problem," Esposito recently told the food blog Grub Street. But according to the Celiac Disease Center's Green, "There's no evidence for that at all."

"The bottom line is if you think you have celiac, a wheat allergy or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, you should see a doctor," adds Ansel. "There's definitely a place for a gluten-free diet, just not for everyone."

And while the article makes the point that people have been eating wheat for 'thousands of years' it does nothing to mention the genetic alteration of wheat - which likely makes it more immunogenic - and has only occured in the last two decades or so.

Comment: It shouldn't be surprising that the Post is putting out the pro-gluten propaganda. Considering the new release of Dr. Davis book Wheat Belly. In an Interview with 'Wheat Belly' Author Dr. William Davis he clearly states WHY this sort of propaganda is being spread:
Dr. Davis: The response has been incredible. Within the first 9 days after its release, Wheat Belly made The New York times bestseller list.

But even more important to me, every day I am hearing about the difference this message is making in people's lives: rapid weight loss where little or none was experienced before; relief from chronic pain; plummeting blood sugars, etc. What has been especially gratifying is that, thanks to the instant feedback of social media, I am hearing about these stories just days into readers' experiences. Even in my office practice, I'd generally wait several months to get feedback on patients' wheat-free results. Now I'm hearing about it literally within days. The outpouring of positive feedback has been absolutely wonderful and has further reinforced my conviction that this is one of the largest health issues of our time.

Fat Head: Have you heard from any of the so-called experts who insist that whole grains are part of a healthy diet? I take it you're not popular with that crowd right about now.

Dr. Davis: Nutrition is an important topic. But it is also a surprisingly emotional topic. Dietitians and nutrition "experts" have been so deeply indoctrinated into the "whole grains are good" argument that their knee-jerk reaction is anger, that this is some passing silly fad for rapid weight loss. Anyone who has read the book realizes that is precisely what Wheat Belly is not. It exposes all the things you haven't been told about this genetically altered grain, engineered to increase yield but also increase appetite.

Wheat trade groups, such as the Grain Foods Foundation, have issued press releases declaring their intention to launch a publicity campaign to discredit me and the message I bring with Wheat Belly. In response, I published an Open Letter to the Grain Foods Foundation that I also sent to various media, inviting them to join me in a public debate, TV cameras and all; they've not yet taken me up on my invitation - and I suspect they never will. With what I've uncovered, I doubt they want to allow a public airing of all these arguments.