Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Gluten-Free: Diet Fad or Medical Necessity?

Here's a short editorial I wrote for my journalism class:

As the number of individuals who are going gluten-free continues to rise, the diet has become somewhat controversial. Many see it as a trendy weight loss fad, which is an issue for those who have to be gluten-free for medical reasons because their needs aren’t taken seriously.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and sometimes oats. With a better understanding of gluten related ailments and an increase in testing, more and more people are being diagnosed with gluten sensitivity or celiac disease, a genetic autoimmune disorder that has no cure aside from a completely gluten-free diet.
It is estimated that one out of every 141 Americans has celiac disease (83% of those individuals are undiagnosed), and 5-10% of all Americans have some form of non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
The most common misconception about the gluten-free diet is that it’s healthier. This may have been true when there weren’t a lot of options available and you had to eat mostly fresh, unprocessed foods, but with the recent boom in the gluten-free industry comes an increase in gluten-free “junk” food.  Food companies keep coming out with new gluten-free products such as cookies, breads, pizzas, and other highly processed foods with low nutritional values, therefore, gluten-free doesn’t necessarily mean healthy.
It has also become more common for restaurants to offer gluten-free options, however, a majority of these are not truly gluten-free due to cross contamination with gluten containing items, and are only suitable for those who choose to avoid gluten or have a very mild sensitivity.
This is frustrating for those who are required to be on a strict gluten-free diet because it is catering more to those who avoid gluten because they want to and leaves those of use who have no choice in the matter with few options.
Recently, a number of celebrities and professional athletes (such as Miley Cyrus, Jennifer Aniston, and James Starks) have publically gone gluten-free. This is beneficial because it gets more attention for the gluten-free lifestyle, but it is also hurtful because some celebrities endorse it as a weight loss method, which can make it seem more like a diet fad than a serious health issue.
It’s disheartening for those who are medically required to avoid gluten because it can cause carelessness in food preparation or indifference about the importance of remaining gluten-free. For many, one crumb could make them sick for weeks, which is a malady that most can’t afford in this fast paced world.
I was sick for a majority of my childhood and missed out on a lot because I never felt well. It wasn’t until my brother was hospitalized due to severe anemia, which we eventually found out was caused by untreated celiac disease, that I got tested.
It came as a surprise because when you’re trying to figure out what it is that’s making you sick, bread isn’t usually what comes to mind. It has taken six years for my immune system to recover, and at 19 I’m finally relatively healthy.
Gluten-free is not a trendy new diet; for many, it’s a necessary lifestyle that should be taken seriously. If you think you may have some form of gluten sensitivity, ask your doctor about it because, as stated before, most individuals go undiagnosed.


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