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Greenberg: Science May Not Support Boulder Brands' Gluten Claims

By: Herb Greenberg | 06/12/14 - 02:09 PM EDT

Stocks in this article: BDBD

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- I totally missed this story when it first came out in May, but it's just as relevant today -- even more so with the surge in shares of Boulder Brands (BDBD), a gluten-free play: The doctor behind the gluten-free craze says he was wrong.

Dr. Peter Gibson's reversal has been widely reported in a variety of publications, including Real Clear Science, the New Yorker and even on Good Morning America.

But you wouldn't know it by the stock-goosing comments of Boulder Brands' CEO Stephen Hughes, at a William Blair conference earlier this week. Boulder, which is red-flagged on Reality Check, owns a number of leading gluten-free brands, including Udi's and Glutino.

In his presentation, speaking of gluten, he said:

So the reality is, this is one of those ingredients that we screwed around with. We hybridized wheat to make it more glutinous, so you could make bread faster, cheaper, better. Gluten is glue in Latin, and what we created was something that did make better bread, did make cheaper bread, but it's very hard to digest and it creates a lot of unintended consequences. We have 1.8 million friends of Udi's that we communicate with on a weekly basis, that are very engaged, and it's amazing their stories, it's well beyond celiac. I mean people, whether it's a rash -- a child has a rash or they have some stomach issues, they really feel. And again, some of this is very real, some of this could be perceived, but they really believe eliminating gluten from their diet or limiting gluten from their diet is a very big positive.

Even scientists, however, are inconclusive on the "glutinous" issue. In a recent study, Donald Kasarda of the USDA said, "I have not found clear evidence of an increase in the gluten content of wheat in the United States during the 20th century, and if there has indeed been an increase in celiac disease during the latter half of the century, wheat breeding for higher gluten content does not seem to be the basis."

Reality: In the end, the reason more people are likely diagnosed with celiac is because it wasn't until fairly recently that celiac was even taken seriously. (I know; I have a 29-year old daughter who suffered with serious stomach issues since she was an infant, but wasn't officially diagnosed with serious celiac disease until several years ago. And we had her seen by some of the best docs between here and there.)

Docs will tell you it's now discovered increasingly during upper-GI scopes for other issues.

What is likely to happen, if I'm right, is that gluten-free will fade as a sustainable diet for most people who have cited it as the reason for a rash disappearing -- or their stomachs feeling better. There simply is no scientific evidence. As is the case with any diet, removing gluten means usually removing processed and junk food (though, it has been argued, gluten-free breads and other baked goods often have higher calories, worse ingredients.)

Just as Boulder Brands is riding the wave up, with Hughes boasting "we may be the largest [gluten-free manufacturer] in the world," it will ride it down.

P.S.: As I've previously reported, I have the celiac gene, but not the disease.

I once thought I was gluten-intolerant, and went the gluten-free route. But all of my "symptoms" didn't truly disappear until I stopped eating an apple a day. And now I eat gluten. Go figure.

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-- Written by Herb Greenberg in San Diego

Herb Greenberg, editor of Herb Greenberg's Reality Check, is a contributor to CNBC. He does not own shares, short or trade shares in an individual corporate security. He can be reached at herbonthestreet@thestreet.com.

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