Controversy: Gluten

I know, I know. I’ve said many times that I’m not black and white about many things when it comes to food and nutrition, but that gluten is one where I am. And I am. Really.

But in a recent interview that airs next week, Lisa and I got taken to task by Dr. John Douillard about gluten. (He is the author of Eat Wheat, after all.)

[Update: To hear the recording of our interview, go to Dr. Douillard’s Podcast Library and see Episode #50: Food-Based Solutions for Your Thyroid.]

I love Dr. Douillard. He’s one of the experts I’ve followed the longest—many years. Lisa and I were a little starstruck when we found out he wanted to interview us. (It didn’t help that he’s one of the handsomest devils I’ve ever seen.)

I don’t want anyone who listens to our conversation with Dr. Douillard to think, “What the heck—are they backpedaling on gluten?”

No, we’re not. Allow me to explain. 

In The Essential Thyroid Cookbook, I state:

“I tell my clients that I don’t like a lot of black and white when it comes to food and nutrition. Sure, I want to tell all of my clients, ‘Do this, don’t do that,’ but it’s rarely that straightforward.

“I don’t take a hard line with many things, but [gluten] is one where I do. Moderation is not the key here because taking in even the smallest amount of gluten can fire up your thyroid antibodies.”

I stand by what I wrote. 

However, and as I explain in our conversation with Dr. Douillard (after he challenged us with, um, passion), if someone with Hashimoto’s does not have Celiac disease (many with Hashi’s do), then 100 percent abstinence from gluten may not be warranted forever.

Additionally, and as I state in our interview, being gluten-free initially—as someone is working to modulate their immune system and reduce thyroid antibodies—is warranted. Dr. Douillard agrees. 

In the last year or so (and in some cases, long after the manuscript for our cookbook was written), I’ve heard a few others in the functional medicine community state that once someone with Hashi’s has walked through immune modulation, including healing their digestive system and getting their antibodies decreased/managed, there isn’t any good science telling us that being 100 percent gluten-free forever is necessary for everyone. 

Listen, I’m not saying go eat gluten! 

But you’ll hear how fervent Dr. Douillard is about how gluten isn’t the problem—our inability to digest it is. And that when it comes to the “molecular mimicry” theory, the theory that purports that gluten shares a similar molecular structure to thyroid tissue and ups the ante on thyroid antibodies, he said, “I’d like to see those molecules side by side.”

I live by the mantra, “When in doubt, leave it out.” 

Many of my clients have said, “It ain’t worth it. Being gluten-free isn’t that difficult and I don’t want to take any chances.” 

And I do believe that the precautionary principle is the best approach here. 

Again, I’m not saying go eat gluten! 

And I’m not trying to confuse anyone. 

In fact, and as I’ve stated many times, just including grains and legumes in our cookbook was a big risk for Lisa and me based on what we’ve been beaten over the head with for the last few years—that these foods are baaaad

I wrote the chapter “Why This Isn’t Another Paleo or AIP Cookbook” and its two subchapters “In Defense of Legumes” and “In Defense of Grains” (where we quote several experts, including, you guessed it, Dr. Douillard), with trembling hands, thinking, “I could get laughed out of my circle of colleagues.” (You can read all three of these chapters for free in our sample cookbook, downloadable here. Scroll down just a bit.)

That didn’t happen—not even close. We’ve been congratulated for sticking our necks out and our supporters all agree that moderate amounts of these foods are fine.

But I can guarantee you that had we not made the recipes in our cookbook gluten-free, with all due respect, Dr. Douillard, we would have most certainly gotten laughed out of our circle of colleagues—and done many with Hashimoto’s a huge disservice.


WOW -- I've not heard this before. So helpful to have this distinction made. And I hear you: you're not telling us to go eat gluten!

Interesting read and so nice to learn about someone who supports gluten. I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism in college, over 20 years ago. Overall, I have felt good.  However, my medication dose increased after having kids in my early 30’s and then again last year at age 42. I tried eating gluten free for 6 months but didn’t feel any different, if anything I felt worse because I was more obsessed with what I could or couldn’t eat. I already eat a very healthful diet. If I knew I could definitely lower my medication dose and reduce the risk of long-term side effects from hypothyroidism through diet it would be worth it to follow a more regimented diet. It will be interesting to see more research on this area as it becomes available.

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