It seems like the gluten-free community has been waiting forever for a proper show about celiac disease to be aired on a mainstream TV show. They finally got their wish (well, almost) when Dr. Oz did a twenty five minute celiac segment on his health related syndicated TV show on December 10th. In 2003, NBC’s ‘Today Show’ did a nine minute segment about celiac with Shelley Case and other celiac experts. So, a full hour long show about the condition has still not aired in the U.S.
Before the show even aired there was a lot of gluten-free blogosphere static about the celebrity guest for the celiac segment. Elisabeth Hasselbeck, host of ‘The View’, who herself has celiac was the most prominently featured guest of the segment.
Some people that follow the gluten-free diet but don’t dine out, had no problem with the fact that the book Elisabeth Hasselbeck wrote contains a lot of unhelpful tips about gluten-free dining. For those of us who love dining out – the misinformation in the book was actually a bit of a problem. The dining card in the book actually listed some gluten-free items as things to be avoided, indicating the author must be intolerant to more than just gluten. That dining card is only applicable for Hasselbeck so it’s unclear why it’s perforated for readers to tear out and use themselves.
During the celiac segment of the show, Hasselbeck was on stage with Dr. Oz while the more authoritative and educated (about celiac disease) Dr. Peter Green sat in the front row of the audience. In my opinion, it should have been the other way around. Most of the celiac disease information on the show was correct, which was a relief. Everything that Dr. Green shared was factual, of course. He even mentioned that some people test negative for celiac but have gluten intolerance instead. That is something that many U.S. doctors have no knowledge of, no doubt!
One of the largest gluten-free diet gaffes made on the show was a comment about blue cheese. Dr. Oz stated that blue cheese contains gluten – and of course Hasselbeck agreed. News flash to them both – blue cheese is considered gluten-free. Even when the starter used to make it is mold from bread, testing showed no detectable levels of gluten were in the finished product. If Dr. Green tried to correct the untrue information that Dr. Oz shared, his comments were edited out of the show.
Here is some factual information about blue cheese, from the Canadian Celiac Association website:
Dietitians from the Canadian Celiac Association (CCA) Professional Advisory Board have researched background information about the gluten-free status of blue cheese. Shelley Case, author of Gluten-Free Diet: A Comprehensive Resource Guide and one of the CCA dietitians reports that “gluten containing grains are not frequently used in the production of most blue cheese on the market. However, when the mould spores are harvested from a gluten-containing medium, the fermentation process breaks down the gluten. The medium is discarded and the spores are added to the milk in very small concentrations (1 g of mold in 10,000 litres of milk). Various samples of blue cheese made with spores grown on a gluten-containing medium were sent to Health Canada for analysis using the highly sensitive ELISA test using three different methods. No detectable gluten was found in any of the samples”.
There was no dietitian on the celiac disease segment. What a gift it would have been if the producers had invited Shelley Case to appear on the show. There was no one from GIG, the NFCA or any other such group on the show, which was disturbing. Luckily, Dr. Oz’s comments will probably prompt a lot of people to talk to their doctors about celiac. However, when some of their less knowledgeable doctors blow them off and tell them they can’t have celiac because they’re African American or they are not Irish, the poor people won’t know where to turn for accurate information and help.
The Dr. Oz show was a good beginning to get a dialogue about celiac and gluten intolerance going but there is much work yet to do. It was fabulous that Dr. Green touched on some extremely key points in the shockingly short time he was given to speak. He got in several important facts, including that untreated celiac can lead to cancer and even infertility. He mentioned anemia and mood changes as symptoms as well.
Possibly the most important message was something that Hasselbeck mentioned. She explained that she was told for years that she has IBS, but what she actually had was celiac all along. Dr. Oz then mentioned that IBS was a grab bag type of diagnosis that doctors often use when they can’t come up with another diagnosis. Wow! Dr. Oz probably made a lot of doctors unhappy with that comment. Can you imagine how many people with supposed IBS are calling their doctors after hearing that often times, cancer causing celiac is misdiagnosed as IBS? That message alone is worth the mistake about blue cheese!
Kudos to Dr. Oz and Dr. Green for getting some much needed information to the American public – many of whom are still suffering needlessly all because of their diet. How many people will be able to get pregnant now, because they figure out they have celiac and eating gluten is keeping them from conceiving a child? All in all, the show did more good than harm and if the worst thing that happens is that the blue cheese myth doesn’t die for another five years, so be it. It was unfortunate that the entire show was not devoted to celiac disease, but twenty five minutes on a wildly popular health related show is better than nothing!
Zach over at Gluten Free Raleigh did a great job in recapping some of the show’s highlights and glitches. Read his thoughts here in full if you missed them. He’s right on the money about the diet NOT being a weight loss tool and clears up a mistake made by Hasselbeck about trying the diet and then getting tested – it’s actually the other way around.