Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Beware of "Experts"

A little over a week ago, I heard a program on a local NPR station whose guest was a "nutrition expert." I'm still fuming. The host had said they were going to talk about all kinds of health and nutrition topics, including food allergies. So of course I stayed tuned to listen.

During the show, the topic turned to celiac disease. Or, rather, "celiac's disease," [sic] as our expert nutritionist called it. She even claimed to have it. My eyes grew large and my hairs began to stand erect as I heard her tell a caller that celiacs have to avoid "hybridized forms of wheat," but that "non-hybridized forms of wheat" are gluten free! She recommended spelt and kamut as acceptable alternatives for people who can't eat gluten. She also cited rye bread as something eaten "in Germany" that is ok for celiacs.

I've since discovered that this "expert" has offices in two states and claims to have extensive experience working with celiacs and people who have other food sensitivities. Frightening.

This "expert" uses some letters after her name that look like some kind of credential. After searching, all I can figure is that this might be some kind of diploma mill-style designation. At the very least, it's obscure. Beware of letters after names. They can look impressive, but not mean much.

That said, during my time in the world of the gluten free, I've also discovered that even a recognized certification is not a guarantee of getting competent knowledge about gluten intolerance or food allergy. I had a terrible experience with a licensed dietician when I was first diagnosed. This was someone my diagnosing doctor had actually sent me to. She knew almost nothing about the requirements of a gluten-free diet, gave me some out-of-date info, and read from a photocopied list—that another patient had given her!—of name brand foods she "thought" I "might" be able to eat. She also suggested that the food allergy-related throat swelling and rashes I kept having were really manifestations of a "food phobia," and that I should explore the psychological aspects contributing to this. (How fascinating, I thought. I have "phobic reactions" even when I've unknowingly ingested one of the suspect foods! And I don't have these phobic reactions when I haven't eaten any of the suspect foods. The subconscious mind must be powerful indeed.) I found out later that this dietician's specialty is working with anorexics. She sees mental health issues behind every food related disorder. Idiot.

But anyway, that's a digression from talking about our original idiot. The upshot is, beware of "experts," even when they are presented with awe and esteem on what you'd previously thought was a trustworthy current affairs show on your local NPR broadcaster.

For the record, that whole thing about "hybridized wheat" is complete and utter nonsense. Some people with milder sensitivities to wheat alone, but NOT people with gluten intolerance or celiac disease, claim they can tolerate spelt and kamut. Many health food stores and companies like to tout these as wheat alternatives. But people who are gluten sensitive can never eat these. Wheat is wheat. Spelt and kamut are forms of wheat. Rye and barley also contain gluten, as do most oats that have not been grown under strict processes that eliminate cross contamination (and even then, some gluten intolerant people still can't tolerate even these "gluten free" oats). To suggest that rye bread is gluten free is unconscionable.

Beware of nutrition "experts."

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