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"Detoxing" Is Make Believe Says Expert

May 06, 2015 4 min read

In a new book, The Gluten Lie: And Other Myths About What You Eat,professor of religion (yes, religion!), Alan Levinovitz wants to set you straight about your diet. He takes on the taboos around gluten, sugar, fat and salt. He claims that science does not offer proof of any salvation for avoiding these foods. Elle Magazine sat down with Levinovitz to get the low down on his claims. On gluten, he said:
The first, most important, thing to point out is that sensitivity to gluten is very real. People with celiac disease cannot eat any gluten, and there is also evidence suggesting that some people without celiac—including those who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome and other digestive issues—may benefit from a gluten-free or low-carbohydrate diet. Unfortunately, when a food causes problems for a small portion of the population, it's easy to believe that it's bad for everyone. In the 1990s there was a surge of parents treating their autistic children with gluten-free diets and reporting incredible results. But despite repeated experiments, science has failed to show the benefits of gluten-free for autism, no matter what celebrities like Jenny McCarthy might insist. Some successes were likely real, but due to parents treating undiagnosed celiac or gluten sensitivity that had been confused with autism... Gluten emerged as the perfect villain. Soon books were coming out, by doctors who weren't experts in nutrition, claiming gluten caused every disease imaginable, from Alzheimer's to cancer to ADHD... they promised miracles from going gluten free: easy weight loss, the ability to cure yourself of anything and avoid chronic illness.
Although I enjoy a good dig at Jenny McCarthy, I can't help but notice that calling out doctors who aren't expert in nutrition for writing about gluten seems a little strange from a religion professor who has written a book that includes information on nutrition. Just sayin' On why we shouldn't abstain from gluten, sugar, fat or salt (unless we have a medical condition):
All experts agree that self-diagnosing is very dangerous. If you try an elimination diet by yourself, you may end up treating the symptoms of another potentially serious condition and never find out about it. You may also end up believing you are sensitive to something when you aren't. The human mind is very powerful, as everyone knows from the placebo effect. A dietary change can produce a placebo effect. And the placebo effect also has an opposite, the nocebo effect, where you experience symptoms just because you think something is harmful. These effects are well recognized by scientists, and they make it very difficult to test the physiological effects of a diet without being under highly controlled conditions. It's also crucial to remember that eating—and living!—shouldn't just be about physical health. As a nation, we've turned the dinner table into a pharmacy and life into a fitness routine. Food is a composite of nutrients; walks are exercise. To me that's really sad. For many of us, aside from those with health conditions, neurotically pursuing perfect health destroys relationships: with food, with family and friends, with culture, and with yourself. Ironically, that can end up affecting your physical health. Specialists warn that for people who are prone to eating disorders, elimination diets can trigger binge eating or anorexia.
I would argue that based on obesity rates, the dinner table is far from a 'pharmacy' and life is far from a 'fitness' routine but moving right along... Detoxing, yea or nae:
On this one I'd like to quote the SciBabe, a hilarious science blogger who recently took down the Food Babe: "You're constantly 'detoxing' just by living," she says. "Your kidneys and liver take care of cleaning out unnecessary things in the body fairly efficiently on their own. Proof? The toilet paper industry." Of course it's a little more complicated than that. Factory workers can get heavy metal poisoning, for example, and they really do need medical attention to have those poisons removed from their body. But drinking $11 bottles of fresh-pressed juice isn't going to remove anything, except for money from your bank account.  
Ok. So, yes, our bodies participate in detox processes all the time. Anyone else think this guy is missing the point? Are the foods we choose to eliminate somehow linked to our culture?:
I see a crisis of authenticity. We're all so afraid of being "fake." And so you hear people talk about eating "real" food, as if by magic you can become more real by eating real food. There's also the easy stigmatization of obese people, whose "sin" is visible—and often associated with class. Websites like People of Walmart show there's a market for hate: "Oh, look at those sad, fat, poor people, tricked into eating the Standard American Diet. I'm not like them! I eat real food." Maybe you're not like them, but your attitude is way more unhealthy than being overweight.
This is an interesting point, that's for sure. How should we be eating?:
Instead of "You are what you eat," I like to say, "You are how you eat." For me, the most enjoyable way to eat is slowly, savoring your food, ideally food that has been prepared with care. Here's the key: Set aside time for eating—don't eat during time you've set aside for something else. Learn to appreciate food from diverse culinary traditions, and make them the right way, without skimping on butter, or salt, or sugar, if that's what the recipes call for. I've found that this approach allows me to eat healthfully and in moderation—without invoking any weird rules, fad diets, or mythical thinking.
Okay, so that last point isn't so bad. I've included only snippets of the interview so if you'd like to read the whole thing, and how following elimination diets makes us guilty of magical thinking, mosey on over here. While I agree that none of us should be doing too many drastic dietary eliminations without consulting a medical professional, I certainly question the validity of his other statements. What do you think? Is this guy full of horse manure or is he on to something?

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