Things haven't been great in the land of gluten-free lately. Firstly, coeliacs got denied the prescriptions they clearly deserved (and I argued their case in this article) and then the media seemed obsessed with exposing the sham of all things gluten free; including gluten intolerance. Everywhere we turn, someone is pissed off at us gluten intolerant folks. The media; who believe we're all going around imagining our intolerances. Coeliacs; who quite rightly are getting fed up of being asked: 'Oh right, are you really allergic though or just a little bit intolerant?' and our friends who, even though we've explained it a hundred times, still get annoyed that we can't share dough balls with them at Pizza Express.
First off, let me just say that this blog post is in no way a criticism at coeliacs; but instead me urging gluten intolerance to be taken more seriously- or failing that; at least be acknowledged. Yet while gluten intolerants are certainly being catered for in supermarkets and restaurants, the attitude towards them is becoming more and more negative with many experts simply refusing to acknowledge exists.
My first thought when writing this post was to make sure I linked in some studies that do acknowledge the possibility of Non-Coeliac-Gluten-Sensitivity. Yet every study I found seemed to offer a complex contradiction- either that NCGS did exist but then might actually be undiagnosed coeliacs or a placebo effect. Of course, given that the symptoms of NCGS are so varied and diagnosis is impossible; it's no surprise that we can't manage to figure out if it exists or not.
But can we stop for a minute and consider this: does it matter? We all know someone who can't eat something. Whether it's that the food 'doesn't agree with them', 'can't stomach it' or 'gives them a headache'; the majority of people know their body. What do we do when someone shares this with us? Do we tell them there is no such thing and ask if they've been tested for an allergy at the doctors? Do we tell them we've read a magazine article about it and they're being hypochondriacs? Of course not! Because it's none of our business what they eat and we want them to feel well.
Yet those with NCGS are fair game. And there are lots of us. Don't get me wrong; there are a small minority who are giving up gluten for weight loss or to be more like Gwyenth Paltrow; but 99% of those stop when they realise their not losing weight/walk past a bakery. Give them a month and gluten-free is just another faddy diet that didn't work for them. The rest of us are in it for the long-haul because despite it being a complete and utter faff- we know it makes us feel better. I hear stories of all sorts of different conditions being improved by gluten- IBD, IBS, Fibromyalgia, Psoriasis. It may be anecdotal rather than statistics but there's 1000's out there who just know their body does better without it. Not because we're trying to be trendy but because we want to be well. Do you know how difficult it is to live life without bread? Believe me, if this was just to be fashionable, I'd rather spend all money on designer clothes than spend my days trying to fit gluten free bread in the toaster.
My life when I try to slice gluten-free bread. You can read more about these moments in my 10 Gluten Free Fails post
And what about doctors? Well, I'm sure they are completely fed up being asked pointless questions about gluten intolerances but they then counteract it by saying gluten is actually nutritious. Yes, they're right: properly baked bread or even Seitan- a high-protein meat alternative eaten in Asia- can be extremely nutritious. But the last time I checked no-one's eating those. So instead, people are chowing down on a waffle applauding themselves for following doctor's orders.
To put my Nutritional Therapist hat on for second, I'd obviously stress that no-one thinking about it should give up gluten before being properly tested for coeliacs (and if the blood test comes back negative, push for a biopsy if you're not convinced: blood tests aren't always accurate.) I'd also suggest that if you are paying attention to gluten in your diet, that should extend to other things too- raiding the free from shelves isn't going to help your health. There's also a possibility your gluten intolerance is FODMAP related, so if symptoms don't improve and you find you're sensitive to things like onion, fruit and garlic- that diet could be worth exploring.
Now I've taken my cap off, I'll offer one final piece of advice: If you genuinely think being gluten free helps your body feel better, then listen to your body. While we may not yet be given the empathy we deserve, us gluten intolerant folks will be here to stay- long after Gwyneth and Co move on to their next trend.