View of gluten-free diets as fad ‘damaging’ to coeliacs

Estimated one per cent of the population is allergic to gluten

The characterisation of gluten-free diets as “a fad” is damaging to people who have coeliac disease and cannot digest the protein, head of the Coeliac Society of Ireland has said.

Gráinne Denning was speaking as Coeliac Awareness Week got under way. Increasing number of people are declaring themselves to be allergic to gluten but just 46,000 people, or one per cent of the population actually have coeliac disease. One UCC study found that only one in 10 people buying gluten-free products were coeliacs.

People with coeliac disease cannot digest gluten, the protein found in wheat, barley and rye and when they eat it, their symptoms include abdominal pain, recurring mouth-ulcers, weight-loss, vomiting and diarrhoea. A blood test followed by a biopsy from the small intestine is the most conclusive way to diagnose coeliac disease.

People with the disease fear that restaurants will not take their request for gluten-free dishes seriously if servers think it is being made for lifestyle rather than medical reasons.

Ms Denning said there had been a lot of talk in recent years about how gluten-free eating was just a fad. “This completely undermines the seriousness of coeliac disease and the fact that, for those diagnosed with the disease, the only treatment is to follow a gluten-free diet,” she said.

“While some people choose to eat gluten-free simply because they think it’s a healthier lifestyle, those with coeliac disease must do so or they will suffer serious health consequences and severe pain.”

Butcher shops in Dublin, Kilkenny, Cork, Limerick and Galway will hold gluten-free cooking demonstrations this week to mark Coeliac Awareness Week. To mark the week, the Coeliac Society and chef Adrian Martin broke a new record for cooking the largest gluten-free potato pancake. The pancake, measuring 1.5 metres, will now claim a place in the Guinness Book of Records.