Dear Annie: The current "fad" of gluten-free products is both beneficial and harmful to those of us who must follow a gluten-free diet because of celiac disease. On one hand, it's easier to find gluten-free foods. But on the other hand, those of us with celiac disease are looked upon as if we are simply food faddists. Here's some of the problems we face:
Restaurants are more aware of the need to serve gluten-free meals, but are often sloppy in their attempts to avoid cross-contamination, not being aware of the importance of "not even a crumb."
When a hostess declares a dish to be gluten-free, does she understand the restrictions of wheat, rye and barley? Will she be kind to us if we question her recipes? Will she be offended if we decline to partake?
When we are at a dinner, we often hear such ignorant comments as, "Are you trying to improve your athletic performance?" or "Go ahead, a little won't hurt you. Don't be so fussy."
Can you help educate the public about the difference between celiac disease, which necessitates a gluten-free diet for medical reasons, and those who are simply making a personal choice? - Cheryl in Pennsylvania
Dear Cheryl: No one should treat eating restrictions as a "fad," because you never know who truly has a serious problem. In people with celiac disease, eating anything with gluten triggers an immune response. It can damage the small intestine and make it difficult to absorb nutrients from food. Left untreated, celiac disease can lead to anemia, osteoporosis and lymphoma. In children, celiac disease can slow growth and weaken bones. There is often a genetic component. On the other hand, some folks are simply gluten sensitive. Eating gluten may make them uncomfortable or tired, and when they cut gluten out of their diet, they feel more energetic. "Cheating," however, will not cause the severe symptoms of celiac disease.
Annie's Mailbox is written by Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar, longtime editors of the Ann Landers column. Please email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to: Annie's Mailbox, c/o Creators Syndicate, 737 3rd Street, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254. To find out more about Annie's Mailbox and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com