A diet danger on P.E.I.

Before going gluten-free, consumers need to go to their doctor and get a simple blood test for celiac disease, says Dr. Jenni Zelin

Sally Cole scole@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on May 14, 2015

Dr. Jenni Zelin, right, and Jean Eldershaw, president of the P.E.I. Chapter of the Canadian Celiac Association, are looking forward to the Gluten Free Fair at the Murphy Community Centre in Charlottetown, May 16. Zelin, a member of the Canadian Celiac Association professional advisory council, will give a presentation on gluten-free diets.

©SALLY COLE/THE GUARDIAN

In 2015, the gluten-free diet is one of the biggest trends in the food world.

And there are signs of it everywhere. Restaurants are now offering gluten-free selections on their menus. Retailers are also placing gluten-free options next to breads and pastas in the grocery store.

While many people need to eat gluten-free because of health conditions like celiac disease, others are flocking to the trendy diet to lose weight or in an attempt to improve their health.

And this has a P.E.I. physician concerned.

“If you’re thinking about going gluten free, get tested first,” says Dr. Jenni Zelin of Charlottetown.

That’s because without a proper diagnosis, people can put their own health at risk.

“You may miss the proper diagnosis of celiac disease. And, if you have it, there’s an increased risk of illness if you’re not on a strict gluten free diet for life,” says Zelin, who is giving a presentation at the Gluten Free Fair at the Murphy Community Centre on Saturday, May 16, beginning at 11 a.m.

The workshop will provide helpful information about the diet and dispel many myths.

“There’s false information in print, on the Internet and in the media. Celebrities are also embracing it. And some people are tempted to try the diet, based on claims that are not medically supported.”

There’s even the potential of going on a “bad gluten-free diet.”

“That’s why people who go to their doctor first and get a diagnosis of either celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity are always referred to a dietician.

“They are an important part of the health-care team, in terms of correcting the nutritional deficiencies and preventing them on the restrictive diet.”

The president of the P.E.I. Chapter of the Canadian Celiac Association is excited about the May 16 workshop.

“I think that Dr. Zelin’s presentation will help a lot of people,” says Jean Eldershaw, who says the P.E.I. doctor is a good choice to speak on the issue.

Zelin’s interest in the subject comes from personal experience. Both she and her son have celiac disease. Classic symptoms include bloating, abnormal pain, constipation, diarrhea, weight loss and nausea, among others.

Living in constant pain, her journey back to health wasn’t easy, says Zelin, who was diagnosed in 1997.

“At first, it was horrible. In those days no restaurant knew what a gluten-free diet was. Also, we had to order your gluten-free products from the Hospital for Sick Kids’ specialty food store food,” says Zelin, who was living in Toronto and going to medical school at the time.

Back then, there was also no legislation concerning labelling products.

“Everything was at risk. You had to phone 1-800 numbers on boxes of food, all the time, to see what was in them. It was horrible.”

Eighteen years later, the advances in labelling and the development of gluten-free foods has improved living conditions for people with celiac disease.

“Now it’s wonderful. I love to counsel new people with celiac disease because there’s very little they’re missing out on now.”     

AT A GLANCE

If you are going

What: Gluten Free Fair.

When and where: Murphy’s Community Centre, May 16, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Vendors: Zoey’s Gluten Free Goods, Duinkerken Foods, Mary’s Cornwall Bakery, Arbonne, Caron Prins Batter It, Epicure, The Kitchen Witch, Island Favourites, Island Taylored Meats, The Butcher Stop, Sobeys.

Admission: Free.