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.
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 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.
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.