What’s the deal with going gluten-free anyway? Needless to say, the majority of Australians are clueless when it comes to the basic premise of a G-free diet, despite the surge in popularity. However, those who follow such diets are often unfairly targeted as ‘fad followers’.
31-year-old Sydneysider, Leanne has had a ‘gutful’ of feeling victimised for being gluten-free. “There’s a lot of criticism of the gluten-free diet, but for some of us, it’s the right choice” she says.
With close to one in 10 (8%) Australians now following a gluten free diet and approximately one in 70 people affected by coeliac disease, it’s clear that more education and awareness is needed, so that gluten-free followers don’t have to compromise.
According to a new study by Amcal Pharmacy, 50% of the gluten-free population admitted to having been ‘gluten shamed’ by loved ones, who either think it is a passing fad or an inconvenience at social gatherings.
“Over fours years I’ve experienced gut issues, causing all sorts of problems, depression, anxiety and social isolation. I’m tired of people not acknowledging the seriousness of my condition and having to constantly explain why I choose to avoid gluten other than following a ‘fad diet’ or just an excuse to avoid carbs. It’s one thing to handle the eye rolling or the snide judgements from strangers who think it’s an attention seeking thing, but I can’t handle the fact that I never really know if something I eat in a restaurant is free from gluten or if it will make me sick,” says Leanne.
“This is the type of gluten shaming that should stop. Everyone has the right to explore ways to help regain their health. If ditching gluten is one way that helps – as bothersome as it can be – people need respect that.”
THE RISE OF NON-COELIAC GLUTEN SENSITIVITY
While coeliac disease is a serious autoimmune disease, which requires an individual to completely eliminate gluten from their diet, many of the people who adopt a gluten-free lifestyle (by choice) are self-diagnosing, believing they have a ‘sensitivity’ to gluten whereby they experience similar symptoms, such as bloating and stomach pain.
This condition is better known as ‘non-coeliac gluten sensitivity’, however the cause and treatment of this highly controversial condition remains misunderstood.
Gastroenterologist Professor Peter Gibson set out to tackle the big issue of whether gluten causes problems in people who do not suffer coeliac disease. The study provided the first randomised, controlled data about whether gluten might indeed be responsible for inducing gut symptoms in people who do not have coeliac disease. The results showed that FODMAPs*, not gluten, might be triggering gut irritability. Yet, despite the results, most patients in the study continued on a gluten-free diet because ‘they felt better’ – this lead the researchers to believe it this was not because the gut symptoms improved, but because their psyche did.
Eliminating gluten from your diet is not a trivial undertaking and anyone experiencing symptoms associated with coeliac disease should pursue medical testing from a GP, Accredited Practicing Dietitian or pharmacist to ensure the most reliable and safe outcomes.
For those voluntarily adopting a gluten-free lifestyle, it is important to understand that some gluten-free foods are higher in sugar and fats, lower in fibre and may lack the fortification of extra vitamins and minerals that you may find in a regular gluten-containing diet.
So perhaps we should cut some slack to our gluten-free friends? Because they are missing out on birthday cakes and sourdough – and that’s really sad.
Coeliac Awareness Week runs from 13- 20 March For more information, head to Coealiac Australia.
*FODMAPs (Fermentable Oligo-saccharides Di-saccharides Mono-saccharides And Polyols) are a large group of dietary sugars found in many common foods such as specific dairy products, wheat and other grains, legumes, and some fruits and vegetables that can be poorly absorbed, contributing to the onset of symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) – the most common digestive complaint.