When my doctor first suggested that I go on a gluten-free diet, I was overwhelmed. I didn’t know what exactly gluten was, but it seemed to be in almost everything. Thoughts of running a vineyard in pasta-plentiful Italy turned to sour grapes. My shoe budget was reassigned to picking up the extra cost of gluten-free food. My favorite cookies: extradited to someone else’s pantry.
If you’re just starting out and are feeling the same way I was, here are some misconceptions I had about being gluten-free and what I’ve learned is the truth.
1) It’s a bad idea to vacation or live in Italy.
Think your meal options are absurdly limited in Italy? Not so. There is an entire Italian Celiac Association (Associazione Italiana Celiachia) dedicated to gluten-free living.
In Italy, all children are tested for celiac disease by age 6, so even if they’re asymptomatic, the disease is caught early. One in 100 Italians are living with celiac disease. This means 1 percent of Italians are gluten-free and have been for most of their lives (assuming those who have celiac eat gluten-free). One percent may seem like a small number, but that translates to more than 600,000 people who are living gluten-free in Italy.
Italians with celiac disease receive an allowance for gluten-free food, and the AIC continues to raise awareness and inform the public about progress in celiac disease research. It seems that Italy has a pretty good grasp of the needs of celiacs and absolutely has gluten-free food available to celiacs living and vacationing in Italy.
2) My shoe budget will forever be put toward the extra cost of gluten-free food.
Gluten-free foods tend to be more expensive. Don’t be surprised if a pizza shop that offers gluten-free costs extra for a slice or if your grocery bill suddenly seems fat.
Recently, while being interviewed on the U.K.-based GFree Radio Show, I learned that one argument for confirming celiac disease (as opposed to, for example, getting a blood test but not following through with the biopsy), is that there are medical benefits in the U.K. for confirmed celiacs. British celiac patients can receive gluten-free food and mixes at a discounted price as part of their prescription for the gluten-free diet, according to the Celiac Disease Foundation.
And it’s not just the U.K. Argentina, Canada, Ireland, and the U.S. have all implemented policies to offset the nutritional costs of being gluten-free. Argentinian health care providers are required to cover the cost of gluten-free flours and mixes, as the only known effective treatment for celiac is a lifelong gluten-free diet. Those living with celiac in Canada, Ireland, and the U.S. can receive tax deductions for the extra cost of gluten-free food. For example, if Brand Pasta costs X and the gluten-free version of Brand Pasta costs Y, Y-X will be tax deductible. The U.S. even has policies regarding tax deductions for associated travel expenses.
3) Gluten-free foods? Gross.
False! There are companies who understand that being gluten-free shouldn’t mean sacrificing taste or options, and they’ve created products to reflect this. For example, some of my favorites to indulge in are Udi’s Gluten Free and Glutino, which work to provide not only gluten-free foods, but gluten-free foods that you actually want to eat. I’ve served snacks from both Udi’s and Glutino to non-gluten-free eaters, and the reaction is always the same mixture of shock and delight at how delicious they are. They offer foods that I’d eat even if I didn’t need to be on a gluten-free diet.
My misconceptions left me grumpy about being gluten-free, until I learned the truth.
– Kaitlin Puccio