There was absolutely no science that supported that these diets worked, and no one I know was successful treating their autistic child with a gluten free diet, but everyone knew someone who knew someone who it worked for.
It seemed to me to be a load of bullsh*t, but when you have a child like mine, you're open to trying just about anything, so long as it wasn't dangerous. So we tried gluten-free for Tay... with no result, except that she was pretty miserable about not eating her favorite foods. And we all happily went back to eating pizza.
I'm absolutely skeptical of "fad diets", and I still believe that gluten free diets are a fad for many people. There is still very little good scientific research on gluten outside of celiac disease (which some of my relatives have been diagnosed with). But I have enough concern about the long history of hybridization of wheat to wonder how nutritious it is anymore. So it's not so much the gluten as the wheat for me.
My first wheat free experience was pretty much accidental. I'd decided simply to not buy bread, pasta, or most cereals because of my weight issues and hypoglycemia, and decided not to eat any more once what we had in the house was gone. What we had at that point was rice. I noticed if I was careful, I could eat small quantities of rice and not upset my blood sugar too much, and that it didn't give me the tired, bloated and uncomfortable feeling that wheat products did.
I have a friend who is horrifically gluten intolerant (yes, doctor diagnosed) so I had some awareness that the change in my diet was the reduction or elimination of gluten. I wasn't buying gluten free products at that point, I was just cutting out bread, pasta, rice, and other grains. I was also cutting out fruit because of the high amounts of sugar.
And I started feeling better.
At that point it occurred to me that there were two ways to go gluten free: One was to eliminate entirely those items in our diets that have gluten. The other is to substitute another grain for wheat in those products.
It didn't take me too long to figure out that buying substitute items was too darn expensive to do unless I got them on a great sale or with a really good coupon. I also found that a lot of the rice products, when eaten too freely, triggered reactive hypoglycemic bouts. So unless they're less expensive and have lower carbs, I generally don't invest in gluten free products.
Technically I'm not "gluten free"... I like to call it "gluten light". Unlike my friend who gets violently ill if gluten is in the spray oil at the restaurant when they cook her meal, or like my cousin who also suffers from celiac, I am not going to get immediately ill from small amounts of wheat. However, over a period of a day or two I do feel cramped and lethargic with a lot of wheat exposure.
So what's the science behind this all? I haven't the foggiest. It seems to me that we might be learning more about wheat and gluten and non-celiac related intolerance as a result of recent studies as, blogged about on the New York Times website.
On the other hand, the part of me that believes you have to produce good, scientific evidence before making a judgement still sees the Gluten Free movement as primarily a fad, and I find myself a little skeptical of people who are "gluten free" and still reserving judgement on my own experience until I can find sufficient scientific support for what I've been experiencing. Until I read the actual studies and am assured that they've been well documented, well interpreted and peer reviewed, I'm unconvinced.
And if I had a third hand, I'd have to say regardless of what evidence does or doesn't exist, it certainly seems to be working for Cay and I.
Now there are some warnings: I'm not going to gobble down tons of carbs because they happen to be gluten free. Gluten free cake is still cake, with all the calories (if not more) than the cake made with wheat. I've also discovered that I have to be very careful with the rice products I eat. I like rice, but I don't like to have reactive hypoglycemic episodes. I know people who are gluten free with weight issues because they figured that gluten free is somehow "diet" or "low calorie".
There are products I do still eat because of the benefits. I still use protein bars (although lower carb and lower calorie snack bars now) to help keep my blood sugar up. And yesterday I had some soup with barley (although I'm not terribly thrilled with how how I felt afterwards, I can't 100% attribute it to gluten). But unlike people who follow the food pyramid and have all those grains and starches all day long, I often have zero carbs at breakfast, and increase my carb intake over the day while still eschewing bread, pretzels, pasta, tortilla chips and other grains entirely. Oh, I am guilty of eating corn (not a vegetable, for those who weren't sure... it's technically a grain) but very seldom. Corn contains a different plant protein than barley, wheat and rye.
Considering that we already have autoimmune issues here (Hashimoto's, lupus, rheumatoid, allergies) it doesn't hurt to err on the side of caution where it comes to eating... especially when gluten is known to relate to autoimmune issues in others (celiac and non-celiac gluten sensitivity). I'm not advocating a gluten free or gluten life diet for everyone. I'm just saying that it seems to be helping with our health issues.