(Post Updated 1-23-2013)
After receiving feedback on this post I would like to clarify this article is talking about people who eat gluten free because it’s a trendy diet, not because they have a gluten sensitivity or undiagnosed celiac. I tried to use the word “trend” and “fad diet” often to convey that. I have made a few updates in the post for clarification.
We have spent time looking at the benefits of the gluten free food trend– and there are many benefits, including greater awareness and more food products available to us. But there are some downsides….most importantly in my mind– that people may not or forgo getting tested for celiac disease before going on the diet.
With the trend of the gluten-free lifestyle becoming a 6 billion dollar industry, naturally many people in the general public might want to know what all the talk is about. Well, they certainly are not alone.
A study conducted by the Mayo Clinic and published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology in summer of 2012 reports roughly 1.8 million people have celiac disease (and 1.4 million don’t know it). But the research added this additional fact — 1.6 million Americans are eating gluten free without ever getting a celiac diagnosis.
What does this mean?
I think it is saying the gluten-free fad diet is fueling much of that 1.6 million number. I think those folks may not be thinking about celiac disease when they go gluten free but rather, they are thinking about making a healthy lifestyle change or losing weight (fyi, gluten free diet is not the most reliable weight loss tool). I caution folks that discounting celiac disease before going on the diet because it is trendy could lead to bigger problems.
If you are eating gluten-free as a trendy/fad diet and unknowingly HAVE celiac disease (remember 1.4 million Americans don’t know they have it), but you forego being tested for celiac disease, there could definitely be some complications:
- Celiac is an autoimmune disorder. If gluten-free fad dieters don’t realize they have celiac and then subsequently not follow the diet to a “T” (no cross contamination) they could be putting themselves at risk for future health problems– other autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis, or ailments like stomach cancer, osteoporosis, depression, infertility and more! You don’t want to mess with this.
- Gluten-free fad dieters could unknowingly spread misinformation about gluten-free diets. Restaurant employees, co-workers, friends and family watch people on special diets. They may think you are knowledgeable about gluten free, but your actions may be showing otherwise. Example: ordering a gluten free meal at a restaurant and then nibbling from the gluteny bread basket– people who follow strict gluten-free diets can’t do that.
- Finally, for folks well on their way with a gluten free diet who may want to get tested for celiac disease later, listen to the wise words of Brianne Roycraft who has celiac disease, is a dietitian and runs her business, Personalized Nutrition, LLC, “If anyone suspects they genuinely have a reaction to gluten they need to be tested for celiac disease prior to going gluten-free. Otherwise the results will be skewed.” In other words, patients need to be eating gluten in order to get an accurate blood screening for celiac disease.
There are many reasons why people go gluten free: celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, gluten intolerance, and for some it may help with symptoms of other health problems. Readers have shared with me that sometimes people can’t afford to get tested for celiac because of insurance or other reasons– and they still go strictly gluten free and become healthy again. All of these reasons are valid and important to note.
I am not saying people shouldn’t go gluten free if they want to. That is a personal decision. If you are going on the diet because it is one of the biggest trend diets out there, please get educated about the lifestyle and what it entails. But, if possible, I do believe people should get tested before going gluten free, whether you think you have symptoms or not because celiac disease really isn’t anything to play around with as it can lead to so many other health problems.