The G-Free Diet Doesn’t Make the Grade

gdietAnother celebrity diet book.

This time it’s Elisabeth Hasselbeck from The View.  She’s written a book called “The G-Free Diet: A Gluten-Free Survival Guide” that extols the virtues of going gluten-free.  Perhaps you’ve seen her making the rounds on all the talk shows.  If not yet, you will.

Elisabeth has celiac disease so a gluten-free diet is her treatment.  It’s the only way to manage this autoimmune disease.  So it’s great that she’s sharing her personal story, but I have real problems with her glorifying gluten-free and making it appear to be the best thing since, er, sliced bread.   “Even people with no health issues have a great deal to gain by giving up gluten,” she writes.  “The G-Free Diet can help with weight management, it can elevate your energy levels, improve your attention span and speed up your digestion.  Whatever your motivation for going G-free, this book will help you achieve your goal.”

Not necessarily.  In fact, many people say they’ve gained weight by going gluten-free — especially if they load up on all the gluten-free processed foods that have exploded onto the market. It can also be tough nutritionally — many people who eliminate all gluten-containing foods wind up deficient in several nutrients.   If celiac is ruled out, there is little or no evidence to support a connection between gluten and other ailments.  Read my earlier post  Gluten-Free is Latest Diet Craze.

On the positive side, Elisabeth’s media blitz is bringing attention to celiac disease — one of the most under-diagnosed disorders in the country.  The estimated incidence is 1 out of 1oo people , yet 95% of the people who have it don’t know it.  So it’s critical that people who suspect a problem get a proper diagnosis. 

The big problem I have with The G-Free Diet is that it makes giving up gluten appear trendy.  Self-diagnosis is already rampant and this book will simply add fuel to the fire.   Jumping on the gluten-free bandwagon without being tested for celiac may make a proper diagnosis even trickier.  If you do have celiac, eliminating gluten will help the gut heal temporarily.  So if you get tested after you’ve started a gluten-free diet, an accurate diagnosis could be missed.  That’s what troubles registered dietitian Shelley Case, a leading expert on celiac and gluten, who I spoke to about the book.   She’s concerned that without an official diagnosis of celiac disease, people might not be motivated to strictly adhere to the diet or receive follow-up medical care.  For people who truly have celiac, gluten-free is far from a fad — it’s the only treatment and it must be adhered to for life.

Shelley pointed out several errors in the book, including the descriptions of which foods and ingredients contain gluten.  Come on, that’s pretty bad if you can’t even get that right.   Elisabeth also incorrectly refers to celiac as an allergy.  Several online reviews have pointed out some of the book’s shortcomings, and many folks in the “celiac community” have become alarmed over the misinformation. 

Elaine Monarch, founder and executive director of the Celiac Disease Foundation, just released a statement pointing out many of the inaccuracies in “The G-Free Diet.”  Among her comments: 

  • “Several items in the book are misleading and inaccurate and place further limitations on the GF diet.  The gluten-free lifestyle is a lifelong commitment for the diagnosed celiac, not an option, not a fad diet — adhering to the GF lifestyle requires patience and persistance.  This lifestyle cannot be trivialized.”
  • “Our mission is to assist in getting people accurately diagnosed and the message in this book could defeat this mission.  It appears that this book is being marketed as a fitness diet — eat g-free and feel so much better.” 
  • “While it is important to call attention to celiac disease, the information must be accurate — the inaccuracies in this book are potentially dangerous and detrimental to celiacs and to those yet to be diagnosed if people self diagnose and start eating GF.”

What disturbs me the most is that  Elisabeth sets herself up as the expert.   I hope in her media interviews she will point out the need to see registered dietitians like Shelley who specialize in celiac and gluten-free diets. Giving up gluten can be tough since this ingredient is so prevalent in our food supply, and the diet is fairly restrictive.   Nutrition counseling with an RD will help people learn the complexities of a gluten-free diet and the nutritional challenges.  

I also hope she’ll urge the public to NOT try the diet before seeing their doctor to be tested for celiac.  That’s the best public service she could provide.

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