‘South Beach Diet’ doc focuses on going ‘gluten-aware’

Dr. Arthur Agatston

By David Baugher, Special to the Jewish Light

Dr. Arthur Agatston has a potential answer for those looking for a diet that goes beyond simple weight loss.

Go without gluten.

“We find that a lot of people just feel better off gluten,” said Agatston. “For some, it is life transforming. Because there is no specific test for it, it is hard to give hard statistics but it is real. Anybody who has taken people off gluten and seen the results thinks it is real.”

The author of the popular book “The South Beach Diet” will be in town Sunday, Oct. 27 to talk about his views on America’s overall dietary picture. He is appearing as part of the Jewish Light’s Primetime Expo event at the Jewish Community Center. His visit is being sponsored by the Light and the St. Louis Jewish Book Festival.


Gluten, a common protein found in wheat, has long been of interest to individuals with celiac disease, a disorder that allows gluten to damage the lining of the small intestine. However, Agatston’s interest began when he noticed that many of the participants in his diet program began to feel better after the first stage, which involves giving up grains. Responses he noticed included improvements in illnesses like psoriasis and juvenile arthritis.

“While I was very happy to take credit for that because of the South Beach Diet, I had no idea what was going on,” he said. “I eventually realized it was the unintentional gluten-free aspect of the South Beach Diet that was responsible for a lot of the phenomenon that we were seeing.”

While celiac sufferers have a stronger reaction to gluten than others, Agatston believes negative effects from gluten may spread wider than previously believed with some degree of gluten sensitivity affecting large segments of the population.

He notes however that, unlike with celiac, there is no test for gluten sensitivity.

“The only way to do it is to take yourself off gluten for a period of time and add it back,” he said. “That’s what the South Beach Gluten Solution is. I feel that it’s the most under-diagnosed, under-recognized medical condition today.”

In fact, Agatston believes that many sufferers go undiagnosed for decades with a variety of symptoms including diarrhea, bloating, cramps, acid reflux and constipation. But he also feels that migraine headaches, fatigue and even lack of mental focus could be explained in some instances by too much gluten.

Agatston says that his findings have prompted a number of interesting questions. Chief among them is why such a common element in food is suddenly a problem.

“We’ve been eating wheat for 10,000 years. What happened today?” he asked. “Some people think we’re growing wheat differently which we are but it is not genet 

cally modified which is a big misconception. The DNA of wheat today is the same as the DNA in gluten before.”

But while gluten itself may not be different, the way we consume it is. Agatston said shorter fermentation times with baked goods have changed the way in which gluten is digested. Moreover, numerous products have additional gluten added since its viscous nature can act as an effective thickener.

Meanwhile, our digestive tracts may not be as capable of processing the protein as they once were.

“In the last 20 or 30 years, because of the abuse of antibiotics, we’ve killed a lot of our healthy bacteria and that’s been a major problem,” he said. “A lot of the diseases we see in kids from attention deficit problems to asthma to all kinds of stomach problems are, we think, due to the change and the inability to digest gluten.”

Combined with the overload of carbohydrates in today’s fast food meals, gluten could be a major problem in the American diet, Agatston believes.

“We really think most of the population should do the first stage of the South Beach Diet along with a couple of extra weeks of staying off gluten and being pretty strict about it and then see how much better they feel,” he said. “If they feel better, then they can add back whole grains and if they get bloating and feel horrible, less energy, headaches, loss of focus, then they will know they are gluten sensitive.”

Ironically, if Americans are being affected by gluten in a negative way, they’d likely be the last to realize it.

“People are just used to the way they feel,” he said. “They don’t think they have a problem but they go off gluten and have a lot more energy.”