What the GF?

One of the worrying things that has come to my attention during my Veganuary journey is how many vegan products and recipes are also gluten free.

Believe me, I’m not trivialising Coeliac disease. It runs in my family and I know how devastating it can be, especially when it goes undiagnosed for decades. My mother had it, at least one of my aunts, and we reckon an uncle died undiagnosed. But gluten free has become ubiquitous. A neighbour, who to be fair does have health problems, told me she was giving up gluten. Why? I asked. She looked surprised at the question, then assumed a slightly martyred expression and said it was for her health. But she hasn’t been advised by the GP to give it up, has not been tested for Coeliac disease, she’s just decided that for some reason gluten free is a healthier option.

Now I don’t believe all those vegans buying gluten free products have Coeliac disease, nor do I believe they are all allergic to gluten or intolerant of it. Like my neighbour they have erroneously fallen for some bogus dietary myth that gluten is somehow evil.

It’s great for those living with Coeliac disease that there are currently so many products available, but presumably this dietary fad will pass as so many have in the past and those products will disappear from the shelves. What’s less great for Coeliac sufferers is the widespread ignorance surrounding their particular condition and the cynicism a request for a GF option can be met with when the need is genuine and medical. The physical side effects of eating gluten as a Coeliac sufferer are serious, and can cause long-term damage to your digestive system meaning you don’t absorb the nutrients you need.

Not only that, but a survey of people who said they had given up gluten for health reasons were not able to say what gluten is. Celebrity endorsements from Russell Crowe to Victoria Beckham fuel the fad, but they’re not doctors, not nutritionists. so why on earth would you take their advice about what you should be eating?

So if you decide to exclude something from your diet – wine, meat, dairy, gluten, whatever – know why you are doing it and don’t just follow a fashion.

9 thoughts on “What the GF?

  1. Amen! Friends of mine went on the GF bandwagon because their doctor wrote a book saying that wheat is poisonous to us because it has been genetically modified from what wheat was in Biblical times. I gently informed her that the Mayans genetically modified an in-editable plant to make corn so they could eat it. I am concerned about the chemicals used in products but people have been genetically modifying food for centuries to create new varieties of plants and foods so we can eat better. All that is to say I agree that people need to have viable explanations for eliminating foods. This person ended up having medical problems and another doctor informed her that it was because she needed to eat more whole grains.

    • It’s weird isn’t it? Of course here in 2016 we had the spectacle of a politician, Michael Gove, saying the country had had enough of experts. All the same, it’s a bit rich when Gwynneth Paltrow and others can use their celebrity status to exert such influence on the way we eat without a single qualification in the subject.
      I know I am at risk of developing coelic disease. My family history makes me predisposed to it. I hope it doesn’t happen. I’m quite happy to eat eat gluten until then.

    • This is true. It lead to carers thinking my mother had made a lifestyle choice, or that we had made it on her behalf, not to have gluten and being very careless and uncaring with her diet. I received a message saying they had no proof she had Coeliac Disease and would therefore not being giving her GF foods, this despite the fact she had some of those foods on prescription from her GP! I had to provide proof from her consultant.

  2. I’m certain you’ve noticed in the UK as here that many “gluten free” processed foods are full of ingredients that are gluten based and a hazard for those with celiac disease. I think that what began as a trend towards refusing processed foods has turned into a bandwagon for “gluten free” much the way that MSG (another gluten!) was targeted in the 1970s. The real culprit, as we know, is processed food lacking in nutrition in in the first place.

    • Yes and no. Many GF options are full of sugars and salt. It also seems to have some sort of cachet to claim to be gluten intolerant – like having blue blood. That said, people who are truly gluten intolerant rarely, in my experience, assume that Princess and the Pea expression when offered something they can’t have.

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