I am writing this because I just attended my first brown bag lunch session at the hospital where I work and was nearly blackballed 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 the preferred diet for many people, even those who have not been “diagnosed” with celiac disease.
First of all, I want to point out that I was attending the lecture because I have been dismayed with the nutritional information being sent to employees via e-mail. I am passionate about health and nutrition and thought by attending I would be able to voice my opinions and create dialogue so everyone would become more knowledgeable about food and possibly improve the quality and content of future nutrition information. What I got was not what I expected. My opinions were not wanted and I was immediately told that the 30 minutes allowed for the 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.
The topic was on “Fad Diets” and, though the speaker 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 similar nutrients to those of wheat. But the speaker insisted that people following 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.
A gluten-free diet in no way shortchanges you of these vital nutrients. There are various other grains that are available to eat. Certainly inaccurate information should not be presented in an arena where people are gathering to gain knowledge about their health and where that learned information 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 experienced it firsthand.
The food industry has for years been altering the foods we eat to make them look or taste better and changing textures with their armory of food additives and colors. Now, however, there is mounting evidence that this manipulation of food and its 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 it seems even hospital employees are being mislead about food as well.
Gluten is, after all, not only present in grain products where you would expect it, as the primary protein in wheat, but also in nearly all processed foods. These foods contain gluten–otherwise known as vegetable protein, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, starch, modified food starch, malt, malt flavorings and vegetable gum (to name just a few of its many aliases). It is used in seasonings, condiments, processed meats, commercial soups, broths, ice cream and nearly all packaged foods found at your typical super-market. Thus to give up gluten, one would be giving up highly processed foods–in other words, a GFD is a diet based primarily on whole foods. Furthermore, gluten-free grains such as amaranth, quinoa and wild rice among 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.
I also tried to point out that getting a celiac diagnosis by a western-trained physician is not easy. There are far too many ailments that indeed are caused by gluten intolerance but 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, head aches, 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 7-10 years of suffering 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 that a whole foods diet free of artificial food additives offers.
Editor’s Note: When people first start on The Plant-Based Diet, many consume far too much bread, pasta, and rice. Eating a whole-foods, plant-based diet that is also gluten-free is possible but takes practice and education. Look at our Video Recipes and What to Eat for some ideas.