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A Gluten-free Diet is Not Just Another Fad Diet!

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2012 issue of Journal of Gluten Sensitivity. 04/16/2014 - I am writing this because I just attended my first brown bag lunch session at Palomar Medical Center  (PMC) and was nearly black balled for my audacity to speak out against what the lecturing registered dietitian said when she made the statement “ a gluten-free diet (GFD) is a fad diet that will cause harm by depriving the body of needed vitamins and minerals” and that “no one should follow this diet unless they have been formally diagnosed with celiac disease”.  I want to demonstrate that a GFD is not harmful in any way and that it may be a superior diet for many people, even those who have not been “diagnosed” with celiac disease.

Photo: CC--Tony FischerI was attending the lecture because I have been dismayed by the nutritional information being sent to employees via e-mail at PMC. I am passionate about health and nutrition and thought that by attending I would be able to voice my opinions and create a dialog so everyone would become more knowledgeable about food and  possibly improve the quality and content of future information about nutrition.  What I got was not what I expected. My opinions were not wanted and I was immediately told that the 30 minute lecture did not allow time for my questions and objections. I have a Bachelor of Science in nursing and it was the first time in my life I have ever felt like the “teacher” was the only authority on the subject and there was no room for discussion.  Two women from the front of Grey Bill auditorium told me in no uncertain terms to shut up and that I would be dealt with later.     

The topic March 30, 2011 was on “Fad Diets” and though she did not discuss any fad diets in depth, the registered dietitian did, at the outset, make the statement as outlined above.  I immediately pointed out that there are many whole grain products someone on a GFD may consume which would provide nutrients similar to those found in wheat.  But the speaker insisted that people fallowing a GFD would likely not know about other grains and thus would be lacking B-complex vitamins and minerals such as zinc, iron and copper.

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A gluten-free diet in no way short changes you of these vital nutrients and it should not be assumed this hospital’s employees are too ignorant to be aware of the various gluten-free grains that are available. Certainly, inaccurate information should not be presented in  an arena where people are gathering to learn about their health and where that misinformation may be passed on to patients  and their families.  I have heard that registered dietitians and the food industry are a little too closely linked and now I  have now experienced it first hand.

The food industry has, for years, been altering the foods we eat to make them look or taste better. They have been changing textures and adding colors with their armory of food additives.  Now, however, there is mounting evidence that this manipulation of food and it’s over abundance in the standard American diet (commonly labeled SAD ) has taken its toll on our health.  Food industries are out to make a profit, but do we have to help them by misleading our employees about food?  Gluten is, after all, not only present in grain products where you would expect it, as the primary protein in wheat, but in nearly all processed foods contain gluten - otherwise known as vegetable protein, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, hydrolyzed plant protein, malt, malt flavorings and  vegetable gum (to name just a few of its many aliases).  Gluten is used in seasonings, condiments, processed meats, commercial soups, broths, ice cream  and nearly all packaged foods found at your typical super-market.  Thus, giving up gluten is giving up highly processed foods. In other words, a gluten-free diet is based primarily on whole foods.  Furthermore, gluten-free grains such as amaranth, quinoa and wild rice, among many others, are  far superior to wheat in their vitamin and mineral content. Hence my inability to sit quietly and listen to the misinformation that was being presented.

Finally, I tried to point out that getting a celiac diagnosis from a western trained  physician is not easy.  There are far too many ailments that, while caused by gluten intolerance , are diagnosed as a host of other illnesses.  So many conditions, in fact, that it would be impractical to list them all, but here are just a few: colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, diarrhea, flatulence, mouth ulcers, abdominal pain, anemia, ataxia, epilepsy, fatigue, depression, arthritis, autism, autoimmune disorders, ear infections, eczema, headaches, heartburn, irritability, neurological disorders, psychiatric disorders, hypoglycemia, diabetes, migraines, osteoporosis, sinus problems.... the list goes on and on. What doctor is going to order an intestinal biopsy when you are reporting symptoms of depression?

It usually takes between seven and ten years of suffering with a multitude of symptoms before a diagnosis of celiac disease is made and it is estimated that 1% of the population suffers from celiac disease but most remain undiagnosed. Therefore, it would be wise to remove gluten from your diet if you are experiencing unexplained symptoms and you wish to find a cure instead of simply covering up the symptoms with the various pharmaceuticals western trained physicians will prescribe for you.  Even if celiac disease is not the cause, you may benefit from the healthier lifestyle offered by a whole foods diet free of artificial food additives. welcomes your comments below (registration is NOT required).

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16 Responses:

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said this on
17 Apr 2014 8:40:06 PM PDT
I wish I would have read this years ago!

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said this on
21 Apr 2014 7:06:28 AM PDT
I agree with much of this article, however, I shop in the "natural foods" aisle at my store to purchase gluten-free products and there are a lot of "junk foods" and "processed foods", chips, cookies, ice creams, candy, etc. labeled gluten-free. I've had to remind myself that just because something is labeled "gluten-free" and is technically safe for me to consume, that does not automatically make it "healthy". Also, the rice and potato flours used in many gluten-free products are highly glycemic (shoot blood sugar high) and should be eaten in moderation and seek out other gluten-free grains/starches like quinoa and millet, etc. A person on a gluten-free diet (just like on a non-gluten-free diet) must make a concerted effort to eat a balanced diet that's based on whole foods... just because it's "gluten-free" does not ensure that on its own.

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said this on
21 Apr 2014 9:06:45 AM PDT
This is a good article for the most part. However, my son has been a cook in three different hospital kitchens, and most of the staff are clueless about gluten-free, and lactose-free diets. The hapless patients are highly likely to get fed foods that make them sick. People with severe food allergies don't fare any better. My son tried to tell the staff in one hospital, that scraping wheat based gravy off of a food does not make it gluten free. That didn't work. He did the best he could to serve safe foods to patients with restricted diets, when he was doing the cooking. I have celiac and severe food allergies, and would never eat hospital food again. I got sick from them in the past, and nothing seems to have changed for the better.

Lynn Holtmeyer
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said this on
21 Apr 2014 3:31:35 PM PDT
I have been gluten free since my diagnosis in 2009. I am an RN and feel the same as the nurse in this article. My health has improved dramatically. No more osteoporosis, elevated liver enzymes, and my thyroid has returned to normal function. I still have episodes of DH.
My blood work is the best it has been in 15 years. As a matter of fact my vitamin and mineral profiles are excellent now compared to pre-diagnosis of celiac. I had to be my own advocate and request testing after doing my own research.

KA MAaree
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said this on
21 Apr 2014 3:48:40 PM PDT
I almost got heart palpitations reading this. It is not a rare incidence and makes me so angry!

The ADA (or whatever they call themselves now) is part of big pharma and big agra (see where their funding dollars come from if you think I am being hyperbolic).

Fortunately this site are getting the word out that gluten sensitivity is a separate issue from celiac.

Too bad they have blinders on.

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said this on
21 Apr 2014 5:52:27 PM PDT
Amen! Excellent article!

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said this on
21 Apr 2014 6:45:32 PM PDT
Cindy, I'm thankful for brave knowledgable people like you speaking up.


said this on
21 Apr 2014 7:23:00 PM PDT
Me, too! I would have been able to diagnose this disease in myself instead of the doctors telling me that there was nothing wrong with me.

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said this on
21 Apr 2014 9:18:40 PM PDT
It is unfortunate that many Registered Dietitians are uninformed regarding gluten's many negative (and often hidden) dangers. They do a great disservice to the public they serve. Kudos to you for speaking up. It is also unfortunate that gluten-free diets have been labeled as fads and that the media has twisted the importance of going gluten-free. It makes it that much harder for those of us who must be gluten-free.

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said this on
22 Apr 2014 6:04:45 AM PDT
Thank you for this article. I am amazed by the response I frequently get when I mention my son and I are on a gluten free diet because we both have celiac disease. I am often made to feel embarrassed and have had people tell me that we are only doing it because it is the trendy diet of the moment. The public needs to be educated, and the health care industry should be leading the way. When I was diagnosed, my doctor told me to never eat gluten again. That was the extent of the teaching I received. No follow up, no further testing for nutritional deficiencies. My son is being followed by the children's hospital and they have a celiac clinic and have done a wonderful job with his care. Please continue to try to educate your peers. Thank you!

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said this on
22 Apr 2014 6:14:43 AM PDT
What an excellent article and so accurate! I lost my faith in registered dieticians when one repeatedly insisted to my celiac son that he had to consume dairy products even though we told her we thought they bothered him. Within ten minutes of Internet research, I learned that many celiacs (some say 30 to 40%) can't eat dairy either because their bodies perceive the protein casein in dairy as if it was gluten.

Patricia Tribastone
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said this on
22 Apr 2014 8:17:38 AM PDT
As a former dietitian we were taught that celiac disease was a rare condition. However I personally suffered for years with depression, migraine headaches, inflammation, and an overall feeling of ill health. It was not until my daughter was diagnosed with a gluten related disorder that I began to research this condition, and realized that was what was affecting my own health. Since adopting the gluten free diet I have recovered from the many ailments that were plaguing me, and now enjoy very good health. The gluten free diet is not a fad, and dietitian and general practitioners are doing a great disservice to their patients by not understanding the scope of this condition.

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said this on
22 Apr 2014 12:47:01 PM PDT
As a celiac and a patient, I feel the hospitals have left out of patient care nutrition. When I was in for surgery, the dietitian said they could not provide any GF or dairy free food for me to eat! I had to have my family bring in my meals. Years ago, when I worked at a hospital, the food was prepared fresh, not shipped in like it is now. This is not a fad! I almost died from eating gluten in the hospital! They couldn't figure it out until I asked if the bread they served me was GF! I got an oops, sorry. I told them it was not an oops, it was life and death!

C Nelson
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said this on
22 Apr 2014 2:22:56 PM PDT
I thank you for this article. And, yes, outraged! I'm so tired of people believing this is a fad, not for me! I'm not a celiac, but my sister was born with it. I, however, medically needed to be gluten free. I end up in the emergency room with severe cramping if I eat gluten these days. Tell that dietician I'll come to her hospital emergency room next time. Within hours I develop Irritable Bowel Symtom pain which lasts hours and is agony, AGONY, the entire time.
I became gluten free in 2010 after friends suggestion to research this because of my celiac sister. Financially I had to let go of the psychiatric meds I'd been taking for 12 years for panic/anxiety. I went off the medication easily with no panic/anxiety in the 4 years since; after a life time of that condition as well as IBS. I'm also finally 'regular' (eh hem) for the first time in my life, less irritable & moody, my emotions are not as intensely overwhelming and I've noticed an increased capacity to read and understand technical reports I'd shy away from most of my life. I'm outraged at the medical community, my life could have been so different; certainly better self esteem. I encourage you to speak up often and don't let ignorance get to you!

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said this on
23 Apr 2014 10:08:46 AM PDT
Thank you for speaking up, Cindy! It angers me that celiac has been turned into a fad-I've been this way for 10 years now. Plus, I became dairy and casein intolerant 7 years ago. Just a heads up when shopping...the grocery stores are busy capitalizing on the increase of "gluten-free" food purchases. Read the fine print!! Many of the store brands are produced on shared equipment and cannot be certified gluten-free. Ignorance runs high on cross-contamination issues as well.

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said this on
27 Apr 2014 5:33:43 PM PDT
Yes it is possible to get all the important nutrients on a gluten-free diet, too many people believe that all of those gluten free items in restaurants and in the grocery aisle are healthier than their gluten-containing counterparts. But most are made with white rice, potato starch or corn, which do not contain many essential nutrients. While a gluten-free diet is absolutely necessary for people with celiac disease and gluten-free intolerance, it is not necessarily healthier than a gluten-free diet for those who don't need it. It can be made to be just as healthy or even healthier with careful effort, but for most people who are adopting a gluten-free diet simply because they think it will be better for them, it is not.

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I believe the talk around this forum is that cheerios are not gluten free enough for people with celiac at this time. I don't know if anything has changed on that and when their lawyer calls me I'll quickly delete this. haha

Could be we generally say get off of dairy for a few months when going gluten free. The part of the intestines that produce the enzymes, and help break down dairy are associated with the tips of the villi, which are the most damaged if not gone in celiacs. THIS is why most of us end up with a lactose intolerance early on. And most can introduce it later after healing. As to her symptoms with it there was a bunch of research about dairy permeated the gut and causing neurological issues in a autism study I was looking at years ago. And there have been other studies about damaged intestines and how the hormones in milk can easier effect ones body. Personally I also have a huge grudge against dairy on a personal level as it is not natural to suck on a cows tits and drink the stuff, nor your dogs, nor a rabbits......I mean come on even Human Breast milk you would find odd to drink as an adult right? Back in the past dairy was a great way to get calories and fats when there was famine, etc around I mean it is meant to make a calf grow into a 500+lb cow. But on a genetic and hormonal level it is not really for human consumption and now days the whole corporate BS propaganda push and dairy farms shove that oh its healthy stuff down your throat. There are plenty of dairy free options for everything feel free to message me if you need help finding anything I have been dairy free for over a decade.

The full celiac panel checks TTG IGA and IGG, DGP IGA and IGG, IGA, EMA as Jmg stated above. Your test included TTG IGA and IGA. If your IGA was low, a low on TTG IGA would be inconclusive. But your IGA is fine. A high on any one test is a positive for celiac and should lead to an endoscopy for confirmation. So I'd get tested for TTG IGG, DGP IGA and IGG and EMA since there are symptoms. Warning I'm not a doc.

I did a gluten challenge for my endoscopy and requested a second blood test after my follow up with the consultant. I never did see those results but my GP said no celiac was indicated: Which left me gluten free for life, that wasn't an option after the challenge, but with a less satisfactory diagnosis, one by omission rather than the definitive 'you're celiac' one I was expecting. Yes! I have been 'properly' glutened on a couple of occasions but on several more I've detected a change or a reaction based on what could only have been trace amounts. NCGS is as yet poorly understood but patients tend to have more neuro symptoms than digestive. That's definitely been my experience, although it was only after going gluten free that I realised quite how many digestive symptoms I had just been living with as 'normal'. Close friends and family get the full explanation. 'I have an auto immune disease similar to 'coeliac etc.' If they stay awake long enough I'll tell them about the less than perfect testing process I went through or the Columbia Med research and the possibility of a blood test soon. They can see the difference between me on gluten and off it so they understand its not all in my head* If I'm ordering food in a restauarant or asking questions about food prep etc I will often just self declare as coeliac - people are aware of that and understand those requests are medical rather than fad diet based. I don't have any problem doing this, I'm not going to claim that and then cheat on dessert for instance and to be honest I expect once the research is complete the two conditions may wind up alongside others as different faces of the same coin. In the meantime I safeguard my health and avoid getting into a detailed conversation about genuine gluten sensitivity versus faux hipster posturing! *apart from the bits which are in my head

I originally had it on my face and scalp. (22 years ago) First biopsy with dermatologist came back as folliculitis. Then when I had a new outbreak on my upper back, she was able to remove a nice clean blister and we got the diagnosis of DH. She started me on Dapsone (100mg/day) and gluten free diet. Now I take 25-50 mg/day. My understanding at the time was that DH was the skin version of Celiac. Did a lot of research on my own. I met Dr. Peter Green at a Gluten free Vendors Fair and he said that a diagnosis of DH IS a diagnosis of Celiac, even if no other symptoms. So I stay gluten-free