Want to get conversation flowing at the dinner table? Bring up the topic of gluten. Some table guests will insist going gluten-free has transformed their lives. Others will firmly state the diet is just a fad, like cabbage soup.
They’ll both be right.
There are very justifiable reasons to adopt a gluten-free diet: Celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that makes some people intolerant of gluten and affects about 1 percent of the population, can be an immensely painful illnesses. Celiac can also lead to a host of other health problems, according to the Celiac Disease Foundation, including diabetes, anemia, infertility and miscarriage, migraines, intestinal cancers, and neurological conditions like epilepsy. Another condition, non-celiac gluten sensitivity can also cause painful and disruptive symptoms.
But for the rest of us, forgoing gluten arguably won’t do much. Food expert and author Michael Pollan, whose support for plant-based eating has become embedded into the healthy living culture, recently explored the topic on his Netflix series “Cooked.”
“Gluten is bad for some people, but I think a much smaller number than we think,” he said. “There are people that have a genuine gluten intolerance, and then I think [there are] a lot of people who think they do.”
Pollan goes on to say that some people would do well to experiment with fermentation. More specifically, he thinks fermented sourdough is a smart alternative for a healthy gut. Fermented foods in general have been found to be beneficial for gut health, but sourdough bread has a more specific benefit, according to Pollan.
“[The] tradition of fermenting flour with sourdough breaks down the peptides in gluten that give people trouble,” he said.“Anecdotally, I’ve heard from lots of people that when they eat properly fermented bread, they can tolerate it.”
There is some emerging research to support Pollan’s perspective: A 2008 study fed subjects with gluten intolerances either sourdough or regular bread. Similarly, a very small 2012 study fed sourdough to participants with celiac, finding few to no physical side effects.
That said, celiac patients shouldn’t change their diets without consulting with their doctors. And more research must be conducted to confirm the link.If nothing else, Pollan’s suspicions are helping to empower us to become more educated about what goes inside our bodies.
Interested to learn more about sourdough? Here’s how you can learn to make your own.