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The G-Free Diet: A Gluten-Free Survival Guide, by Elisabeth Hasselbeck

With a Foreword by Dr. Peter Green

About.com Rating 3 Star Rating
User Rating 4 Star Rating (4 Reviews)

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Updated June 27, 2009

The G-Free Diet: A Gluten-Free Survival Guide, by Elisabeth Hasselbeck
Center Street, Hachette Book Group
Elisabeth Hasselbeck has written a warm, friendly book about the gluten-free diet that’s easy to read and packed with useful information. Most if not all celiac disease patients (and family members) are likely to recognize themselves in at least a few of her passages.

Update: In June 2009, a woman named Sue Hassett sued Hasselbeck in federal court for $3 million, charging copyright infringement and plagiarism. I've posted my opinion of this lawsuit.

For those who don’t know, Elisabeth Hasselbeck is a co-host of ABC’s morning talk show The View. In 2002, she was a contestant on CBS's Survivor. When I first heard she had discovered she had celiac disease after returning from taping Survivor in Australia, I assumed she’d been sick in the outback. As the book relates, the reverse is true: Hasselbeck had been going from doctor to doctor for years, suffering painful gastrointestinal symptoms, until her stint on Survivor. There, when she ate so little that she was nearly starving, her symptoms vanished. Even so, upon coming home she had to figure out her celiac disease diagnosis on her own because none of her doctors believed her theory.

Finally, Hasselbeck was officially diagnosed by Peter Green, M.D., head of the Celiac Center at Columbia University in New York City. Dr. Green wrote the foreword to the book and is quoted frequently in the text. In her coverage of the medical aspects of celiac disease (symptoms, tests, associated conditions, complications), Hasselbeck appears to have been careful about facts and figures.

Her discussions of gluten-free living are comprehensive and encouraging. She writes that surviving on the gluten-free diet is not about eliminating gluten but about replacing gluten with healthier, high quality alternatives –- “about substituting…a food that will heal you for a food that your body is not meant to have.” She’s so right. I wish I’d thought of saying it that way.

In an informal, across-the-kitchen-table style, Hasselbeck offers advice on adjusting to a celiac disease diagnosis, setting up your kitchen, eating at home, eating out, going to parties, and traveling. She has tips for parents of gluten-free children and for people who live with gluten-free partners. She also devotes a chapter to children with autism.

In one of the “Points to Remember” sections that come at the end of every chapter, Hasselbeck notes (correctly) that celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder, not an allergy. Still, she occasionally describes her condition as an allergy, as when she told her beloved grandmother why all of a sudden she couldn’t eat the traditional family dinner: “I am allergic to the pasta.” Frankly, I too have found that it’s sometimes easier to describe celiac disease as an allergy when I’m telling people why I can’t eat their food. Because this book is about learning to make life on the gluten-free diet easier, it didn’t bother to me to read that Hassebeck sometimes describes her condition as an allergy. On the other hand, if someone unfamiliar with celiac disease were to come away from the book thinking it's an allergy, Hasselbeck would have done that reader a disservice.

I’m less comfortable with her conviction that a gluten-free diet is a healthy choice even for people who don’t have celiac disease or gluten intolerance. I think the diet puts people at risk for side effects, some of which Hasselbeck acknowledges. Furthermore, she writes that the gluten-free diet is a good way to lose weight and stay slim, but most celiacs I know who are gluten-free have struggled with excessive weight gain, not loss. There's a real danger that readers without celiac disease may see the gluten-free diet as a fad or a fitness diet, which it's not.

Also, Hasselbeck's avoidance of gluten extends far beyond the limits advised by most celiac experts and the large celiac organizations. For example, she will not use gluten-containing personal care products (although it's well-known that gluten molecules cannot pass through the skin), drink grain alcohols or instant or decaffeinated coffees and teas, or lick any stamps or envelopes. These opinions, and other some of her other advice, have become controversial in the celiac community, even prompting a letter from the head of a major organization.

The Bottom Line

Elisabeth Hasselbeck is not a medical authority, and The G-Free Diet should not become anyone's celiac disease bible. In fact, no single source of medical information should ever be considered a "bible" -- it's always best to confirm information with several sources. (If you're looking for sound medical advice about celiac disease in a book, I do recommend Celiac Disease: A Hidden Epidemic, by Dr. Green and Rory Jones.) Even so, The G-Free Diet is an encouraging, easy-to-read book about the author's transition to a gluten-free diet. I hope that because of her celebrity, the book will go a long way toward raising awareness of celiac disease.

User Reviews

Reviews for this section have been closed.

 4 out of 5
Just my opinion, Member Redougherty

Most people looking for information about how to better their health, usually have more than one ""Bible"" to live by. Her easy to read and informative book gives lay people a chance to understand the disease and makes M Hasselbeck feel more approachable. In my own field, I do daily education for the patients I am to care for but by no means am an expert, though certified in my field. I have been told I have an easy way of explaining an issue, as does M. Hasselbeck. I sort of feel that the reviewer was disdainful of E. Hasslebecks right to talk on the subject that she lives. She did employ medical folks to offer up the expert advise, but allows the reader a chance to explore her way of living with this illness. Overall , the celebrity offers up a face to a disease that many people suffer from and hopefully will bring a better understanding of this illness to others.

3 out of 3 people found this helpful.

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