June 10, 2014 -- Going gluten-free seems to be all the rage these days. But for every blog, book or friend extolling the virtues of foregoing flour, there may be another grousing about how it’s just another fake food allergy.
“Allergies are not cool,” said Brian Donovan, a comedy writer based in Los Angeles.
As someone diagnosed with celiac disease, Donovan cannot properly digest the gluten protein found in wheat, barley and rye. When he consumes a gluten-containing food like bread or pasta, he says he feels like he has appendicitis and an alien is about to burst from his stomach. His disease can lead to long term health problems like osteoporosis, arthritis or cancer.
But as he points out, celiac is a relatively rare condition. Only about one percent of the population has been diagnosed with celiac, Food Allergy Research and Education reports. The other 30 percent of adults who said they have tried a gluten-free diet in the past year, according to the consumer research firm NDP, may or may not have a true allergy or sensitivity to the grain protein.
Donovan said it worries him that the trendiness of a gluten-free diet means his disease may not be taken seriously.
“I love seeing that look in a waiter’s eye when asks himself, “Is this a hipster crackpot or someone who actually can’t eat flour?”
A blog post by an anonymous waitress that went viral, suggests Donovan may have a point.
“You’re on nothing more than a high-powered Atkins diet, and while it’s great that you’re feeling healthier, it’s not great that you blame the discrepancy between your previous and current state of health on a fictional allergy,” the waitress wrote on the social media site Ticklr.
New York-based creative director Tracey Kimmel is also a celiac who says she, too, feels exasperated when someone claims they have a gluten sensitivity – especially when they haven’t bothered to get an official diagnosis.
“If you haven’t been to a doctor then, guess what? You don’t have a sensitivity and I do,” she said. “This is a disease and a disease shouldn’t be treated like a fad.”
Kimmel said it makes her blood boil when she goes out with someone who poses as gluten intolerant and then eats a piece of bread in front of her.
“If you really, truly have a sensitivity, even a slight cross-contamination from your food being made in the same pan as something with gluten can make you sick,” she said.
But thanks to the gluten-free trend, Kimmel says there are now a lot more foods for her to choose from but she says many of the new products are unhealthy, don’t taste very good and are astronomically expensive. She said she doesn’t understand why anyone who isn’t celiac would want to remain on such a diet.
Colleen Kavanagh, a 47-year-old celiac from San Francisco, said she doesn’t think people should make up food allergies because it does make it harder to convince people that celiac is a real disease. However, she said she’s a bit more tolerant of the gluten intolerance trend.
“Even if there are some fakers out there, so what? They’ve helped raised awareness for gluten-free foods,” she said. “Now when I order at restaurants at least they know what I’m talking about.”
Have you tried going on a gluten-free diet? Or do you roll your eyes every time you hear someone mention this trend? Either way, come share your thoughts about gluten-free and celiac disease on today’s ABC News Health tweet chat.
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