Celiac Awareness Month: Debunking the Gluten-Free Myths


It’s finally here! May is Celiac Awareness month.

Within the past couple of years, “gluten-free” has quickly become a buzzword in American culture. Whether you hear someone making light of the gluten-free lifestyle with jokes, or not understanding what gluten is and why people with celiac disease or gluten intolerance need to avoid it, everyone is talking about it.

In my opinion, the most important thing you and I can do is to help build more awareness about celiac disease and gluten intolerance issues by debunking the myths!

To help do my part and to kick-off Celiac Awareness month, here’s a list of 10 misconceptions about celiac disease and being gluten-free:

  1. If you have Celiac Disease then it means you’re allergic to gluten
    • From personal experience I get asked about this misconception very often. There are people who can be allergic specifically to wheat, but this is completely different from someone who has celiac disease. For us who have been diagnosed with celiac, we have an auto-immune disease. This means our bodies can’t process wheat, barley or rye. If any of these are digested even in small amounts, our body sees this as poison, can’t process it, and ends up attacking itself in response which causes damage to our small intestine.
  2. The only symptoms of Celiac Disease are stomach and diarrhea issues
    • Digestive problems can be a major part of a person’s symptoms, however it is not limited to this. Additional symptoms include: malnutrition, bone density loss, fatigue, joint pain, skin rashes, anxiety, irritability, headaches, vomiting and many more. For a full list of symptoms click here.
  3. You can self-diagnose yourself for Celiac Disease by eliminating gluten from your diet
    • I am very against this for a few reasons. First, truly having celiac disease and being gluten intolerant are two different issues which require different forms of treatment. By only doing the gluten elimination diet you won’t know what exactly you have. Second, celiac disease is genetic so there’s a good chance your children could end up having it as well. Finally, if you’re diagnosed with celiac disease, you are at greater risk for other health issues which your doctor will want to monitor over the years. Not knowing which of these two you have will only put your longterm health at risk.
  4. Cross-contamiation with products containing gluten isn’t an issue
    • If you have celiac disease, even trace amounts of gluten, over time, will make you ill. Of course, we can’t see these small amounts of gluten so it’s not always avoidable which is why it’s so important to minimize the risk of cross-contamination whenever you can.
  5. Gluten-free processed foods are healthier
    • Oh so false. Some gluten-free foods like cookies, breads, etc. can contain more sugar than their counterparts. Reading nutrition labels is very important.
  6. Living a gluten-free lifestyle means food won’t taste good
    • This is so far from the truth! There are many wonderful gluten-free products out there that taste amazing and are good for you (Mary’s Gone Crackers, Glutino, Udi’s, and many more!). In addition, there are so many great food bloggers out there with delicious recipes and tips.
  7. You can have a little bit of gluten and still be okay
    • If you have celiac disease you can’t have any gluten, not even a little. People diagnosed with gluten-intolerance have some flexibility in that they may be able to consume a small amount of gluten. However this varies from person to person with a gluten intolerance so it’s important to consult with your doctor before doing this.
  8. As long as food labels don’t say ‘Contains Gluten’ then it’s okay to eat
    • Say it with me, HIDDEN GLUTEN. Just because a label doesn’t call out that it contains gluten doesn’t mean it’s gluten-free. The best practice is to only eat foods that are labeled as gluten-free. Here’s a list of other words for gluten that if you see in the ingredients, don’t eat:
      • Modified Food-Startch – Tends to be used in salad dressings
      • Hot Dogs/Sausages – Contains wheat fillers
      • Malt Vinegar – (This one can sneak into some items e.g. some jarred pickles etc.)
      • Soy Sauce
      • Broths/stocks
      • Oats – Naturally they do not contain gluten but due to their nature there’s high risk of cross-contamination
      • Condiments – Many of these contain gluten as a thickener:
        • Ketchup
        • Mustard
        • Pasta Sauce
        • Tomato Paste
        • BBQ Sauce
        • Pre-Made Marinades
  9. Celiac Disease is a rare condition
    • It isn’t that celiac disease is less common (in fact, current research shows that celiac disease occurs in approximately 1 in 100 Americans); rather, for years US medical doctors had been taught that celiac disease was extremely rare. Therefore, they were not screening patients for the disease.
  10. You can grow out of Celiac Disease
    • As of today, celiac disease is something that’s with you for life. Which is why it’s so crucial to live a strict gluten-free lifestyle to combat the damage that’s already been done to your body. Longterm health risks of celiac disease if a gluten free lifestyle isn’t follow can include: Type I diabetes, multiple sclerosis (MS), dermatitis herpetiformis, anemia, osteoporosis, infertility and miscarriage, neurological conditions like epilepsy and migraines, short stature, and intestinal cancers.

 



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