Earlier this month I had the pleasure of speaking with Shelley Case, RD, a dietitian from Canada who is an expert in Celiac disease and Gluten-free eating. I became interested in this subject due to the popularity of Elizabeth Hasselbeck’s book, The G-Free Diet: A Gluten-Free Survival Guide, and the way it had taken over the public by storm. In the hospital where I work, I noticed an increasing amount of people interested in Gluten-free options, and not because they had Celiac disease or a wheat intolerance.
I began to wonder why so many people were opting out of eating Gluten. I came to the conclusion that many people equated Elizabeth Hasselbeck’s physique with her Gluten-free diet. What people need to realize is that she suffers from a specific disease in which she cannot digest Gluten. The Gluten-free diet is not recommended for individuals that do not have Celiac disease or a similar intolerance to Gluten. Gluten-free eating can lead to nutritional deficencies, weight gain, more expensive groceries, and disordered eating habits.
Celiac disease is a serious disease that has many different consequences and varied symptoms that are hard to diagnose and treat. The majority of individuals have iron-deficiency anemia (approximately 66%), which is a non-GI symptom for a GI-specific disease. Sufferers of Celiac disease face certain issues that disappear once Gluten is removed from the diet. However, without the removal of Gluten, Celiac disease can cause many problems. Gluten is seen by the body as a foreign substance that the body attacks via antibodies. Celiac disease is an auto-immune disease and the antibodies attack the body, specifically the villi on the surface of the small intestine. This leads to problems with nutrient absorption and can also lead to intestinal lymphoma.
There is also non-Celiac Gluten intolerance and wheat intolerance – two disorders that are not Celiac disease and do not have the same long-term consequences. Individuals may feel better once they removed Gluten or wheat products from their diet. However, anyone who believes they may have Celiac disease should speak with their doctor about being tested for this disease before starting a Gluten-free diet. This is because once the Gluten is removed from the diet, the body stops making antibodies. The antibodies are used to determine through a blood test or gastric biopsy whether the individual has Celiac disease.
The bottom line is that Celiac disease is a major disorder that specifically responds to the Gluten-free diet. Those without this disease should not attempt to eat a Gluten-free diet, no matter which celebrities are endorsing it. It is also wise to do more research into a diet book and understand its message before diving headfirst into its recommendations; Hasselbeck’s book is for fellow sufferers of Celiac disease – not for every woman in America who wants to look like her.