By Jackson Buttery, Digital Content Coordinator at Beyond Celiac
Celiac Disease since 2002, Type 1 Diabetes since 2001
Yesterday, a study was published in the journal Gastroenterology entitled “Gluten Does Not Induce Gastrointestinal Symptoms in Healthy Volunteers.”
Already, the study has been picked up by multiple publications, including Medical Daily and The New York Post, who used the headline “New Science shows Gluten-Free Trend is Expensive BS.” The first line of the Post article reads as follows:
“Gluten-free is a load of crock.”
Yet these are instant reactions to a much more complicated issue in the history of celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity (“gluten sensitivity”) and celiac disease awareness.
When Beyond Celiac (then named the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness) was founded in 2003, buying gluten-free food was much more difficult. You were lucky if a local health food store carried anything gluten-free, and if not, you often had to order from far away, from companies in Canada, buying large quantities and storing it in your freezer. There was only a limited selection, and the taste and texture of most products were vastly different (many would say inferior) than the options we have today.
Regulations for gluten-free labeling also didn’t exist as they do now, so you couldn’t be sure exactly what was in the food, whether it was safe to eat, or how it had been tested, if at all. The science was limited, and bloggers, support groups, and large nonprofit organizations hadn’t established themselves as the resources they are now.
For as much as the “trend dieters” and celebrities and athletes have introduced the gluten-free diet to the possibility of mainstream ridicule, they’ve also helped introduce a stunning breadth of gluten-free options into grocery stores, convenience stores, gas stations, and nearly everywhere else. When those of us with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity go out to eat at restaurants and say we need gluten-free food, almost all servers know what we’re talking about, even if we happen to get an occasional eye-roll before qualifying that we have celiac disease, a serious, genetic autoimmune disease.
These “trend-dieters” helped give the gluten-free diet its ubiquity, with the good and bad that came with it. Was it a net positive impact on the lives of people with celiac disease? That’s hard to say just yet, but it feels like the popularity of the diet helped us achieve higher levels of awareness more quickly than we could have done on our own. There’s no reason to shame these people who helped bring awareness of the gluten-free diet and celiac disease to mainstream America.
For as many words as these articles focus on gluten-free trend dieters, the mentions of celiac disease and gluten sensitivity are rather limited. In the Medical Daily article, celiac disease is mentioned sparingly, with no mention of non-celiac gluten sensitivity. In the Post article, both are mentioned, but in a few short words, “both are uncommon.”
The Post article closes with a quote from a young man who went on the gluten-free diet to try to solve his GI issues. After realizing that his issues weren’t solved, he looked forward to going back on a gluten-containing diet because he “just missed eating delicious foods.”
For people with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity, the gluten-free diet is not a choice. We can’t control that gluten-free food is 139% more expensive than gluten-containing food. If we want to eat bread at all, we have to buy it. We’re not eating $100 of “gluten-free flourless cakes” per week. We’re simply trying to survive, and we have to keep doing that every single day.