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Gluten-free myths debunked

I'm a market researcher and brand marketer by trade. Quit it all to focus on everything gluten-free. I'm now the founder of Celiac & the Beast, author of Celiac and the Beast, the book (released October 2013) , and working full-...

Celiac disease, an autoimmune condition triggered by wheat, rye, and barley, is a serious disease requiring a strict, lifetime gluten-free diet. Our only treatment is following the diet — or gluten-free lifestyle — forever, as there is currently no cure.

Gluten-free myths debunked

The truth about celiac disease

However, sometimes it feels like I’m more of a unicorn than a person with this disease, as there are so many myths surrounding my diet that it’s often hard for me to keep the information —or misinformation — straight. Don’t believe everything that you read about the gluten-free diet or celiac disease. I’m here to set the record straight and dispel some myths about people who are gluten-free!

1. Being gluten-free is a pretentious hobby for the rich

Kelly MacLean recently wrote a hilarious post on the Huffington Post and said that she wasn’t “rich enough to have dietary restrictions.” Although we all wish it were true, it’s not. Celiac disease does not pick and choose, especially among socioeconomic classes. Although gluten-free food was found to be 162 percent more expensive than its gluten-filled counterparts, we didn’t get to choose to pay extra to have this disease. And yes, we do shop at Whole Foods because it has an amazing selection of gluten-free foods that are not available elsewhere! You can eat gluten-free on the cheap, however; it’s just a matter of buying on sale, stocking up and sticking to naturally gluten-free foods like meats, veggies and fruits!

2. People who eat gluten-free are drama queens

Those with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity (a sensitivity to wheat, rye and barley, with results that can be just as dramatic as celiac) medically need to eat a gluten-free diet. When we claim that we will get sick from eating just a crumb of gluten, it’s because that fact has been scientifically proven. So when we're at lunch with you and we dive into our long-winded speech about how careful the kitchen has to be to keep our food separate from gluten, we’re doing that for a reason. When we turn down your “gluten-free” treats that you cooked in a contaminated kitchen, please don’t get offended. We just are trying our hardest to stay safe in a gluten-filled world. I only wish we were just seeking attention.

3. "A little bit won't hurt you"

Note: The Food and Drug Administration gluten-free guidelines highlights can be found here.

We constantly hear “Oh, a little won’t hurt you” when offered gluten-containing food at events, out to dinner, etc. But the truth is that a little bit can hurt us. Gluten-free food is currently defined by the FDA as food that contains less than 20 ppm (parts per million) of gluten. Imagine a slice of bread being magnified down to the smallest part possible. Out of 1 million insanely small pieces, only 19 of those can be made up of gluten for it to be safe to eat. The amount of gluten that can fit under your pinky nail can cause mucosal damage in our digestive tract! That small amount of gluten is serious business for someone with celiac.

4. Gluten-free is a trend or just a fad diet

I think the biggest issue I face today is people who think “gluten free” is a trend. People assume it’s like the Atkins, Paleolithic and South Beach diets (all of which have had their place in the timeline of fads). These tend to stick around for only a few seasons before the trend disappears. You might ask, why you didn’t hear about gluten-free food until the last few years. But it’s been around since celiac was discovered. It used to be that if you didn’t have to be gluten-free, you wouldn’t have to know about it. The past few years have seen an extraordinary amount of coverage in the media, from Wheat Belly to celebrities like Miley Cyrus touting the diet as a way to stay in shape or why their butt looks like you could bounce a quarter off of it. But this diet is a medical necessity for some of us, so when a new trend comes sweeping in, we can suffer. Restaurant kitchens start getting lax with their food handling because they think that their customers are only eating gluten-free as a trend, or they just put a label on their menu for marketing purposes. While the gluten-free trend gives us more options, it can also potentially hurt us, as standards become sloppy.

5. Gluten-free is an effective weight loss technique

I promise you that if you adopt a gluten-free diet you will not automatically look like Gwyneth Paltrow. Gluten-free food tends to be more calorically dense than its gluten-full counterpart. If you did a direct substitute gluten-full to gluten-free (pasta for pasta, bread for bread, doughnut to doughnut), you’d be increasing your calorie intake and spending a lot more money. People who claim to go gluten-free for weight loss tend to do a lower-grain or no-grain diet like the Paleolithic diet. This decreases their carbohydrate intake, along with things like salt, sugar and fat that might be in a doughnut. You don’t have to take gluten out of your diet to lose weight.

6. "I would die if I couldn't eat wheat"

I hear this a lot when I tell people about my current diet. Well, you won’t. When I was 16, I thought I would die if I didn’t have the newest Abercrombie shirt. But I didn’t. If you test positive for celiac disease, I promise that you will actually not die if you stop eating gluten. In fact, you have an increased chance of doing something stupid, like getting lymphoma if you don’t stop eating gluten. So don’t tell me that you’d die if you had to be me. It’s not very nice.

More on gluten-free diets and celiac disease

How to convert a recipe to gluten-free
When gluten is hazardous to your health
Gluten intolerance versus celiac disease, and the trend of eating less wheat

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