If gluten were a celebrity, it would probably be Kim Kardashian. We are obsessed with it. The media is obsessed with it. But if you ask yourself “why is this so popular right now?” and you will probably fall short of an answer. As someone with Celiac disease, I have a lot to say on the topic of gluten-free. Allow me to clear up a couple of my favorite misconceptions.
First let’s get a few things straight…
“Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder…where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine,” according to celiac.org. This prevents nutrient absorption and causes a variety of other symptoms. A gluten-free diet is used to treat Celiac disease.
A gluten-free diet is a diet free of gluten (obviously), which is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and other grains. (Wheat-free does NOT necessarily mean gluten-free.)
“Gluten-free,” however, is a term used to indicate that a product has “supposedly harmless” levels of gluten (aka, it’s not actually entirely free of gluten!) Recently, the FDA imposed new food labeling laws saying that items labeled “gluten-free” must contain less than 20 ppm (mg/kg) of gluten. This is great news for Celiacs because gluten-free now actually means what it says!
Side note: Don’t be a sucker for marketing! “Free” is not synonymous with “better for you.”
MISCONCEPTION #1 – My friend says she can’t eat gluten, but I think she’s making it up…
If your friend is on a gluten-free diet, try and respect that. (More cake for you!) Gluten intolerance is recognized as a medical condition. Those with gluten intolerance will will exhibit similar symptoms to individuals with Celiac disease, but will not test positive for it. That being said, when you cut gluten out of your diet, you end up cutting out a lot of other things as well. It is possible that your symptoms are caused by another food intolerance (certain sugars or added fibers). Hence why it is important to talk to your doctor before you entirely eliminate gluten from your diet.
Oh, and that bloating you’re experiencing after drinking a beer…it could just be because beer makes people bloated! (And not necessarily because of its gluten content)
MISCONCEPTION #2 – If I was on a gluten free diet I would be so skinny. But I just love pasta too much!
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had people say this to me. But there’s a lot wrong with this sentence. Yes, most processed foods are off limits for those who eat gluten-free. However, that does not mean a gluten-free diet necessarily equals “skinniness.” There are tons of gluten-free treats (crackers, cookies, pretzels, pasta, etc) available. Pretty much every food has a GF counterpart. AND these foods are typically higher in calories and less nutrient-dense because of the ingredients that need to be added to make up for lost flavor and texture.
MISCONCEPTION #3 – I’m sure it’s fine. Just pick out the croutons.
Cross-contamination is one of the biggest struggles for people with Celiac disease. (And often the least understood/most overlooked!) Even after kitchen items are washed, they can still be contaminated with residual gluten. This will make a Celiac sick (trust me, I know). At my house, I have separate pots, pans, cutting boards, etc to avoid this problem. When I go to other people’s houses, I either bring my own dish or choose not to eat. While simply picking out the croutons might work for someone with a gluten-intolerance, it will not work for a Celiac.