It’s the last thing you want to hear as a Coeliac: that a gluten-free diet is bad for you.
But that’s exactly what The Telegraph reported last month.
They claimed the diet:
lacked vitamins; increased obesity; was high in sugar; increased the risk of diabetes; caused malnutrition; and generally stated it was unhealthy. For any Coeliac who wants to raise their blood pressure, click here to read the full article.
Although they admitted those with coeliac disease had to follow a gluten-free diet, it was portrayed as the lesser of two evils – i.e. better a gluten-free diet than the problems that come with being Coeliac and eating gluten.
Do you ever wonder when Coeliacs will be given a break? At no point did The Telegraph indicate a naturally gluten-free diet could be nutritious, beneficial and a great way to stay in shape.
Admittedly, assuming a gluten-free diet is beneficial is ignorant. After all, you could eat chips, chocolate and kormas all the time. It wouldn’t make the doctor happy. So The Telegraph is right to debate the issue.
I’m not one to suggest anyone should cut out a food group without good reason. But let’s look at FACTS rather than opinions.
Firstly, gluten isn’t a poison to those without a medical condition (such as coeliac disease). But it’s also not an antidote. Eating gluten doesn’t make people survive – it’s not necessary to eat it to be healthy.
Secondly, gluten-free food isn’t laden with sugar and fat. It’s the packaged gluten-free substitutes that are often to blame. Buy a gluten-free biscuit or loaf of bread and you’ll probably find it contains more calories. But foods that are naturally gluten-free don’t automatically come with a health warning. Think of fruit, vegetables, brown rice, oily fish, yogurt, potatoes and quinoa. Hardly time for a coronary.
So what’s the answer? Let’s start by giving a balanced portrayal of gluten-free diets in the media. Headlines like the ones recently given in The Telegraph and The Daily Mail just increase ignorance.
Instead, let’s be realistic about our health.
It’s processed, high fat and high sugar diets that are the culprit. Gluten shouldn’t be given a massive thumbs-up (or down).
So bearing this in mind, when The Telegraph warns of the dangers of self-diagnosis, arguably this is as important as not self-diagnosing any medical condition.
Or is it? It’s only food, not medication. Not only that, but it’s not as though Coeliacs are given enlightening advice on how to alter their diet. I certainly wasn’t given healthy, gluten-free post-diagnosis guidance by my appointed dietician (sadly, a complete waste of time, and other Coeliacs I’ve met haven’t reported better experiences).
So we’ve come full circle: the gluten-free diet gets a bad rap because of lack of guidance and education, not because it’s unhealthy for us.
But the debate doesn’t end there. The Telegraph goes on to point out a gluten-free diet has “financial [and] social… consequences”.
Tell us something we don’t know! Who here likes spending three quid on a loaf of bread or being the awkward guest in a restaurant because of their ‘funny diet’?
I’m willing to bet that those who try a gluten-free diet for health and not medical need probably give up after a few months because of the hit on their wallet and social life. And does that really have an impact on long-term health?
But for Coeliacs, going gluten-free is not a choice – it’s mandatory.
So let’s have some sympathy and camaraderie for those who have to have a gluten-free diet. And for those who choose to go gluten-free, I say thank you. It creates a bigger market for products I can eat. Positivity about gluten (or lack thereof) is the way forward.
What do you think of the way gluten-free diets are portrayed in the media? Share your thoughts below!