The Problem with Fad Diets: The purpose of Gluten Free

First off: please NEVER EVER EVER EVER say you have an allergy when you do not! I mentioned this as a pet peeve in an earlier post but I cannot stress this enough. Taste is subjective and if you don’t like something just say so. Saying you have an allergy will mean extra preparation will go into making your meal which puts both you and the kitchen behind schedule. It also makes it more difficult for workers to recognise the severity of people who actually have allergies. Nowhere is this more apparent than with the recent ‘gluten-free’ fad.

Gluten free foods are primarily in place for people who have Coeliac Disease which is approcimately one in seventy Asutralians. “In people with coeliac disease (pronounced ‘seel-ee-ak’ and spelt celiac in some countries) the immune system reacts abnormally to gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and oats), causing small bowel damage. The tiny, finger-like projections which line the bowel (villi) become inflamed and flattened.”

Coeliacs who continue to ingest gluten will permenantly damage their bowel system and cause themselves sever discomfort through a number of unpleasant symptoms. Due to this people with any level of Coeliac disease must adhere to a strict gluten free diet to offset the symptoms. This is problematic for this disease in particular as a “gluten-free meal can be contaminated by just a few crumbs from gluten-containing food.” Note contaminated food is not always easily identifyble. Bread based products are always dangerous but sauces, some sweets and even lunch meats have the potential to contain gluten.

Meanwhile, the health benefits of gluten-free food for non-Coeliac’s are being picked apart and identified as a bit of a marketing fad. “The research says unless you are coeliac, there is no link between gut disorders and gluten,” and therefore no specific benefit to eating that way. But it does effect the smaller portion of the population with Coeliac Disease.

The most dangerous side product of this fad is the casual nature in which people treat the disease. Due to such a small number of the population actually having the disease companies are able to be less careful with their products. Servers and Wait staff are inclined to associate ‘gluten-free’ with the fad rather than the disease. I cannot tell you the number of times a customer has gotten annoyed at me for explaining the possibility of cross-contamination or mentioning that the sauce or another topping contains gluten. I have been asked to skip it, rudely cut off and asked to please stop saying the same thing every time because it doesn’t apply to them. More disturbingly than that I have had Coeliac customers inform me that no one has ever told them this before and they were unaware of the added risk in their meal.

In summary I have two things to ask of you when going gluten-free. If you are doing it out of preference not necessity politely say it at the beginning or put up with the verbal disclaimer each time because other people are doing it to protect their health. For those of you with Coeliac disease TELL YOUR WAITER! If they do not recognise what Coeliac is then explain it – insist on no cross-contamination. You are not being a diva you are protecting your health! Unfortunately until the brunt of this fad blows over you’re going to have some extra difficulties to contend with.

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TLC