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Gwyneth’s used it to shed pounds, Elisabeth Hasselbeck says it’s invigorating‚ even Oprah’s talked it up. And there’s science behind gluten-free living—though the regime leaves precious little regular food to eat. “Gluten-free” living was, for years, about as sexy as living with diabetes, a conversation-killer and a dinner-party bummer. That’s because gluten, a hard-to-digest protein, is present in just about every comfort food imaginable, from fried chicken and French toast to pizza, beer, and pasta Bolognese to soy sauce, salad dressing, and even lunch meat.
Despite all this, or perhaps because of it, a gluten-free diet has become synonymous with enlightened eating, an intellectual aesthetic with its own raft of studies and its own celebrity cachet. In fact, Hollywood is suddenly overrun with gluten allergies. Jenny McCarthy is convinced it contributed to her son’s autism. Gwyneth Paltrow blames it for her extra “holiday” pounds. The View’s Elisabeth Hasselbeck says it caused her years of chronic pain. And they all gush with near-religious fervor about their restful nights, their clear skin, their freedom from seasonal allergies, and the general joie de vivre their wheat-free regimens bring. “You’re not deprived,” Hasselbeck told Good Morning America last year. “You’re more energized. I honestly couldn’t live without this diet.”
Thanks to all the gluten buzz, L.A. celebrity nutritionist and gluten-free chef Christine Avanti and Erin McKenna, owner of the vegan BabyCakes bakeries in Los Angeles and New York, have seen their business spike. (Though, admittedly, vanity rather than good health seems to motivate their customers.) “People have come into my office,” says Avanti, who works with Hollywood agents, magazine editors, actors, and producers, “and they say, ‘I don’t even have [gluten intolerance], but I want to do a gluten-free diet because certain celebrities do it and it makes them really thin.'”
“Food allergies and food sensitivities are so prevalent today because most of us—even if you don’t take antibiotics—eat foods that are treated with insecticides, fertilizers, and nutrient-depleted soils,” says Junger, the photogenic author of the 2009 bestseller Clean: The Revolutionary Program to Restore the Body’s Natural Ability to Heal Itself. Consequently, he says, our intestines are not functioning properly, exposing our immune system to “varying degrees of undigested food... And gluten makes it the most pissed of all.”