Fans of pro cycling will know that today is Stage Four of the Giro d'Italia, Italy's version of the Tour de France. Yesterday, VeloNews, a magazine about competitive cycling, published an interesting article about rider Christian Vande Velde. The guy is a heavyweight in the world of pro cycling...he placed fifth overall at last year's Tour de France, to name just one of his many accomplishments. (He was also wearing the pink jersey in this year's Giro, indicating he was the lead rider, until a crash yesterday caused him to pull out of the race with two broken ribs and a back injury.)
The VeloNews article, to my astonishment, was about gluten and Vande Velde's diet. In short, VdV had largely abandoned traditional bread and pasta in favor of gluten-free alternatives. (To be clear, his adjusted diet would be more accurately described as a low-gluten diet than a no-gluten diet.) His rationale was that gluten in the diet is related to inflammation in the body. Inflammation, in turn, affects performance...stamina, peak power, recovery time, etc. In VdV's eyes, a gluten-free diet equates with an anti-inflammatory diet.
This link between gluten and inflammation caused me to raise an eyebrow. My good friend, Jess, has been on a gluten-free diet for the same reason as she has battled a long recovery from hip surgery. The VeloNews article was the second time I'd seen gluten linked to inflammation. It's an interesting way to view the gluten-free diet, since the vast majority of the time we come at it from a much different perspective...Celiac Disease, gluten intolerance...where it's all about autoimmune disorders or gastrointestinal trouble or digestion and nutrition. When we start talking about inflammation, on the other hand, it provides a whole other point of entry to the gluten-free diet for people (especially athletes) who might otherwise not consider it.
The only part of the article that rubbed me the wrong way was VdV's concluding quote: "You know, I might look back in 10 years and say ‘I can’t believe that I believed in that fad’, but right now I think it is the right track for me to be on.”
I've said it before, and I'll say it again - the gluten-free diet is not a fad. Sure, VdV was thinking about it in terms of inflammation and its link to performance in pro cycling. And perhaps from that perspective the gluten-free or low-gluten diet has gained popularity (and may lose popularity in the future...time will tell). But for the rest of us, we're gluten-free for a much different reason. One that's with us for the long haul.