That is the question. Well, that’s the question if you have a choice in the matter.
After being diagnosed with celiac disease a couple of months ago, I don’t have that choice – unless I want to continue getting sick from eating foods containing gluten and damaging the villi in my small intestine that is.
So, I find it a bit ironic to see and hear about all these people who’ve bought into the gluten-free diet that is all the rage nowadays.
A recent New York Times “Well” blog post: “Gluten-Free, Whether You Need It or Not,” confirms the growing popularity of the gluten-free diet; even celebrities are taking to Twitter, urging fans to give up gluten.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye and, by extension, a wide variety of everyday foods. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease of the small intestine that causes the body to “overreact” to gluten.
“A gluten-free diet is the only treatment for celiac disease,” says Emily Rubin, RD, a clinical dietitian in the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at Jefferson University Hospitals. “The diet may also help if you have gluten sensitivity or irritable bowel syndrome – when you get gastrointestinal symptoms such as bloating, constipation or diarrhea from foods that contain gluten such as bread, pasta or cereal.”
For others, going gluten-free has become the latest fad diet, and as the Times blog post points out, it’s become a multi-billion dollar bonanza for the makers of gluten-free foods.
For someone like me, that means there are more and more gluten-free options that can now be found on grocery shelves everywhere.
But, in my opinion, it has also created problems.
It has the effect of diminishing the public perception of this disease. Celiac specialists have long struggled to raise awareness of the serious health consequences of consuming gluten for those of us who cannot tolerate it as a result of celiac disease, gluten sensitivity or similar conditions.
In addition, those who choose to go on a gluten-free diet don’t suffer when they slip up and eat something with gluten. This results in a further depreciation of the disease.
Unlike many people who are following the gluten-free diet craze, I can never cheat and eat anything containing even a tiny amount of gluten – 1/8 of a teaspoon is enough to make me seriously ill. If my salad is prepared on a cutting board that had croutons or bread on it, I will suffer real consequences.
Now when I’m feeling brave and attempt to eat out, I have to worry not only about the possibility of my dinner inadvertently being contaminated with gluten, I also have to explain to frenzied waiters that I’m not just trying to lose a little weight.
As Emily Rubin, my dietitian at Jefferson, notes “it is not necessary for the average person to follow a gluten-free diet for health or weight loss. In fact many gluten-free products are low in fiber and higher in fat and calories which is not always healthier.”
Many people who adopt a gluten-free diet actually gain weight due to the fat and sugar content of these foods. That was one of the first cautions Jefferson gastroenterologist David Kastenberg, MD, gave me when I was diagnosed with celiac disease.
For me, this “diet” is now the only treatment for years of severe stomach problems, headaches, fatigue, anemia and more. I am very grateful for this and do hope that the awareness of this serious condition continues to grow – just maybe not in quite this trendy of a way.