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The rise of gluten-free: good or bad for those with Coeliac Disease?

GF AisleOver the past few years there has been a rise in the amount of people declaring themselves gluten-free, either for medical reasons or possibly just out of preference, which has seen a surge in the availability of gluten-free products in supermarkets and in public awareness. But has this meant coeliac disease is now better understood, or are there some downsides to this current trend?

Pros

  • Greater choice – There’s now a lot more ‘free from’ products easily available from supermarkets, offering alternatives for breads, pastas, cereals and snack foods, and the range of brands and options is continuing to expand. This means easier swaps to the ‘free from’ replacements, which can be especially useful following initial diagnosis before becoming better acquainted with naturally gluten-free foods.
  • More awareness in restaurants – Staff will better understand your needs when you inform them you’re coeliac and need your meal to be free of gluten, especially following the new EU laws (or this should be the case!).
  • Less stigma – Overall more people appear to be choosing to make different dietary choices and it’s not uncommon for people to choose to exclude certain foods from their diet, for various reasons. Gluten-free is talked about more through various channels, therefore eating gluten-free nowadays perhaps means those individuals are less likely to stand out as ‘different’ and public awareness of coeliac disease is greater.

Eating Out

Cons

  • Mixed messages – If someone is choosing to eat gluten-free for reasons other than coeliac disease where strict, permanent exclusion is needed then this may be confusing for others e.g. in restaurants if someone asks for their meal to be gluten-free but then follows this with a dessert with gluten in.
  • Taken less seriously – Some people may be of the opinion that anyone who is eating gluten-free is on the latest ‘fad’ diet. This can be damaging to the general opinion towards those eating gluten-free, and potentially dangerous if those responsible for providing food for the public don’t realise how seriously coeliac disease must be taken.

Is a gluten-free diet healthier for those without coeliac disease?

This has been an interesting topic due to the rise in sales of gluten-free products amongst those who don’t have coeliac disease, probably due to media influence. There is currently no evidence to suggest removing gluten leads to a healthier diet however, and gluten will only be detrimental to you if you have coeliac disease or a diagnosed intolerance.

So who needs to avoid gluten?

  • Individuals with coeliac disease
  • Individuals with gluten intolerance/non-coeliac gluten sensitivity – this is a relatively new diagnosis, though isn’t a new condition. It can cause the same symptoms as coeliac disease, such as abdominal pain, headaches and fatigue, but without the underlying damage to the gut.
  • Possibly individuals following a low FODMAP diet – This diet aims to reduce digestive symptoms in those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Some people with IBS may find reducing wheat, barley, and rye helps ease symptoms. However, this may not necessarily be due to Gluten Freethe gluten specifically so full exclusion is unlikely to be needed. Choosing gluten-free options may be a more practical way of following the diet for some people though.

It’s vital that those providing food for the public can meet each individual’s needs by being aware of what’s in the food they are preparing. If you know of a restaurant that has yet to receive training on the EU allergen laws that have been in place since last December, then please get in touch at info@food-freedom.co.uk

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