Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Happy Celiac Awareness Month!

May is Celiac Awareness Month, so shout it from the rooftops!  It's important to get the word out about Celiac Disease, as well as wheat and gluten allergies and intolerance.  It's such a misunderstood issue, and one that has been twisted so much in the media lately that there's a lot of confusion surrounding what exactly going gluten free means. 

It's imperative that the larger public understands that for those with Celiac or other forms of gluten intolerance, a gluten free diet is an absolute medical necessity, not a lifestyle choice or a fad.  There is no other treatment.  And gluten is everywhere, even in foods that have no business containing gluten.  People often ask me why products like yogurt or juice would need to be labelled as gluten free.  The addition of gluten to so many products makes reading every label an absolute necessity, and greatly curbs the choices available. 

Dining out also becomes an exercise in detective work.  Foods that would seem safe at first glance, like soups or salads, often contain ingredients that are unsafe.  Foods that are safe are sometimes prepared or cooked in ways that contaminate the dish and cause illness.  People who would never dream of serving someone with a peanut or shellfish allergy a dish prepared on the same surface that had traces of those allergens don't always understand the damage that the tiniest bit of gluten can do to someone with Celiac disease, particularly since the reaction isn't always immediately apparent. 

Explaining the internal damage, the long-term increased risk for developing other diseases and disorders, the difficulty in absorbing nutrients, impact on fertility, etc. is complicated but essential for people to take this disease seriously, beyond the simple celebrity endorsements of increased weight loss and general wellbeing.  Living gluten free for medical reasons is a life-long endeavour, that can be trying and difficult at times. 

The recent increase in media coverage and explosion of gluten free options on store shelves has helped make things easier, but food companies must understand that this is not simply a fad or a passing food obsession for many people.  More awareness of the medical issues behind a GF diet is needed to ensure that when the popular interest in trying out a gluten free diet out of curiosity wanes, the choices available to those who must eat this way for  health don't disappear.

So, spread the word, clarify the misconceptions and be vocal about supporting medical professionals, companies who provide gluten free options and local businesses who go out of their way to make dining safe for all customers. 

Happy Celiac Awareness Month!

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