Whether social media glorifies the gluten-free diet as a fad or a trend, Molly Buszard believes that any publicity is good publicity when it comes to raising the awareness of coeliac disease…
If you type #glutenfree into any social media site, thousands of updates and pictures of food appear on your screen. A whole community of free-from-ers now exists, but has this become just a trend in today’s society rather than a health issue?
Having suffered from gluten sensitivity since I was 15, I know how much of a struggle it is. Just as I was about to start university I was also diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. Not only was it hard dealing with the constant debilitating symptoms, but it was also challenging, adjusting to a whole new way of living. Eliminating gluten and dairy really has changed my life. Now aged 21, I am passionate in believing that I know what is best for my body and health. No matter what studies, research, facts or figures there are, what works for you is the most important factor of them all.
There was a time when you could only access gluten-free food by a prescription or in health shops. Now in almost every supermarket you will find a free-from aisle, selling items that claim to be as good as the original, as well as having a list of health benefits. Cafés, shops and restaurants must be noticing the huge trend of free-from-ers and are using this to their advantage. They are stocking gluten-free snacks and have separate menus for their customers who suffer with intolerances.
Free-from products have become a hugely lucrative market for manufacturers. The niche audience that used to buy these products has become much more widespread. With mainstream shops selling these items, not only consumers who suffer with food-sensitivities are able to buy these, but also those who want to try a new way of eating or dieting by eliminating gluten or dairy.
In June, an alert was issued across supermarkets about certain gluten-free stock containing gluten. They had been cross-contaminated with a very low percentage of gluten during the baking process, leading to them being recalled from all major supermarkets. It is unbelievable to think that the products that you trust in could actually be making you ill. I have been into several cafés and restaurants that, when asked if they have anything without gluten or dairy, their common response is, ‘well it only has a little bit.’ No matter how little or large a quantity there is, it will still affect me in some way. Damage will still be happening to my body, even if that damage is silent. People know the extent of how life-threatening it can be to cross-contaminate allergens, such as nuts, with other foods. Food intolerances should be treated with the same degree of seriousness.
People need to be educated as to the importance of food sensitivities, so we can feel confident when eating out. Social media sites, especially Instagram, are a large promoter of all things food. Millions of users upload daily photos of their recipes and meals, which brings a whole community of foodies together. This is great for people like me, who can get their story out and talk to others about their way of eating. But, for the thousands of gluten-free, dairy-free and wheat-free consumers, hash-tagging really shows the extent of those who are only eating this way to fit in with the trend.
The past few months I have been reading more and more articles denying there is even such thing as non-coeliac gluten sensitivity. Articles state that people are faking it, that they are making it up and following the gluten-free diet for attention, or to look cool. Some authors of these articles have neither medical experience, or any personal experience for that matter.
I have been tested, prodded and poked for years by doctors when I was younger, saying it was a bug I picked up in Morocco, or I was attention seeking, or most commonly, that there was nothing actually wrong with me. I ended up taking it upon myself to do an elimination diet of wheat and gluten, and within a few weeks I felt back to my normal self. Due to the coeliac marker not appearing on my blood tests, doctors were sure that there was no way gluten affected me. Well I can tell you that non-coeliac gluten-sensitivity is real. I am sure some of you have been in a similar situation, feeling fed up and exhausted, not knowing what to do or even whom to turn to.
Do doctors even believe our sensitivities are real? If nothing shows up in our blood or the results come back negative does that mean we are faking it? Will we start to even doubt ourselves?
With the combination of negative attention from media, along with trend-setting diets on social sites, it is understandable why some do not take these invisible conditions seriously. I want to reinforce the reality and seriousness of the conditions that these people have. Being coeliac, or having food sensitivity is not a diet, nor is it a fad that will disappear. One day I believe we will live in a world where everyone will be educated on how food affects our bodies. For now, the most important thing that you can do is to be aware of what works best for both you and your body.
Yes, people may see gluten-free just as a trend rather than a health issue. But, through the power of social media, articles and magazines, awareness is being raised. People are also starting to become more educated; food intolerances are now starting to be accepted, as well as being seen to be somewhat the norm. I am all for the ‘gluten-free’ trend if it means that people are being made aware as well as understanding the importance of food intolerances. Long may the influence of this #glutenfree trend live.
- It is estimated that coeliac disease affects 1 in 100 people worldwide.
- It is estimated that 21 million people in the UK suffer from at least one type of allergy.
- In 2009, the global market for gluten-free foods was worth around 2.3 billion US. dollars.
- The average length of time taken for someone to be diagnosed with coeliac disease from the onset of symptoms is a staggering 13 years.
- The University of Chicago Coeliac Disease Center estimates 97% of those with coeliac disease remain undiagnosed.
by Molly Buszard (www.mollybhealthy.com)