Gluten-free diet proving to be more than just a fad in the Maritimes

To eat wheat or not?

It’s a question being asked more frequently among health-conscious people in the Maritimes.

Although it’s primarily people with Celiac disease who have no choice but to eat gluten-free diets, more people without the condition are starting to do the same.

Becky MacCallum, who manages Sequoia Natural & Organic, a natural product store in Moncton, says the number of customers looking for gluten-free options is growing every day.

“It may seem like a bit of a fad, but it is true that these allergies are causing issues in the body,” she said.

Symptoms such as headaches, sleeplessness, joint swelling and digestive problems are all outlined in the popular book Wheat Belly, by William Davis.

Peter Ford, a homeopathic specialist in Moncton, says the book has definitely sparked a gluten-free craze, but he believes the anti-wheat diet is not a fad at all.

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“As a practitioner, I take probably 20 to 25 people off wheat a week,” he said.

Ford says many people simply can’t digest the gluten protein found in modern-day wheat.

“There has been this hybridization of the plant that has taken place since 1972, and it has changed the molecular structure of the plant,” he said. “So it is not wheat we knew growing up.”

Moncton resident Corey Boudreau decided to go wheat-free almost a year ago.

“I had acid reflux,” he said. “It was pretty bad. I had to sleep sitting up for about two years.”

Since cutting out wheat, he says his symptoms have improved and he rarely takes antacid medication —  plus, he’s lost 20 pounds.

But according to a doctor of food science at the University of Moncton, there is no conclusive scientific evidence that shows a wheat free diet has any health benefits for the average person who hasn’t been diagnosed with Celiac or gluten sensitivity.

Dr. Carole Tranchant says cutting out wheat can actually be unhealthy because the compound carbohydrates and prebiotics found in wheat can aid digestion.

She says more research is needed into the health benefits of a wheat-free diet, and that moderation and eating a well-balanced diet — one that includes wheat and various other grains — lends to proper nutrition.

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MacCallum says although increasing numbers of people are going gluten-free, sometimes they aren’t adhering to the definition of the term.

She says in order to truly be gluten-free, people also have to cut out meat protein. As examples, she says people should only be eating beef or chicken that’s been grass-fed, and only using shampoos, creams and toothpastes that don’t contain wheat fillers.

Boudreau hasn’t taken it that far with his new lifestyle, but says he still believes he’s doing the right thing.

“It has direct effects for me, so it’s not necessarily a fad,” he said.

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