You have just been diagnosed with Celiac Disease and the biggest challenge you know face is figuring out what to eat. You can no longer have regular pizza, pasta and bread and your mind draws a blank on what exists beyond your favorite carbs. It feels like there is nothing for you to eat, let alone enjoy. You know that millions of people are now following a gluten free diet, but this doesn’t comfort how you feel right this moment. After your pity party and grabbing a coffee (with no real idea on whether or not it contains gluten) you feel a tiny bit more brave and walk into the first grocery store you see. Panic ensues as you have no idea where to find this mysterious gluten free food, but you march on determined to leave the store with one gluten free item even if it takes you all day. You walk down the first isle, which happens to be the frozen pizza section and you cry a little. Passing by the bags of fries, rolls and waffles, you see a sign ahead that’s like finally finding water in the desert: “Gluten Free”. There is hope! You discover pizza, bean burritos and chicken nuggets and begin loading your cart. Happy that you will no longer starve, you move to the checkout with renewed hope that you can do this.
Prescriptions for Gluten Free Staple Foods in the UK
The shock of being diagnosed with Celiac Disease or any form of gluten sensitivity can feel overwhelming, but imagine if your doctor could point you in the direction of gluten free food that is healthy and doesn’t taste like cardboard. This isn’t normal for doctors in the United States, but it’s exactly what happens in the UK. Say what? Patients who are diagnosed with Coeliac Disease – that’s what Celiac Disease is called in the UK – are often written a prescription for gluten free staple foods. They have a program in place called The National Prescribing Guidelines that recommends the amount of these staple foods a patient can receive each month and each item available has to be approved by the Advisory Committee on Borderline Substances. So what’s included in these staples? Gluten free breads and rolls, cereal, crackers and crispbreads, pizza bases, pasta, oats, flour and flour mixes. After a patient receives the prescription they go to their local pharmacy to get their food! This means the pharmacists are also knowledgeable about gluten free foods – I have found that it’s hit and miss at my local pharmacies in the U.S. Here are more details about the prescriptions for gluten free staple foods in the UK.
Is the food healthy that is available within the prescription for gluten free staple foods?
This may seem like a silly question to people in the UK, but I don’t agree with everything our Food and Drug Administration deems healthy and safe, so I’m skeptical when I first learn about advances with gluten free food. In the UK, the companies that create and supply the food available with the prescription are referred to as UK-based prescription brands and supply directly to pharmaceutical wholesalers. One company is called Juvela and I received this explanation after emailing them: “We only produce products specifically for medically diagnosed coeliacs.” Juvela has people on staff who work directly with healthcare professionals and and also dietitians who work with patients. Another company is called Glutafin and they also confirmed that they are a healthcare brand. Glutafin is part of Dr. Schar and the Dr. Schar Institute, which “is the dedicated healthcare professional resource for experts specialising in coeliac disease and gluten sensitivity,” per their website. I found this extremely interesting to learn not only because Schar bread tastes amazing and is closer to the “regular” bread I grew up eating, but also because of the medical expertise driving the products produced.
Why Don’t U.S. Doctors Offer Prescriptions for Gluten Free Food?
I can’t say for sure that prescriptions for gluten free food are not available in the U.S., but they certainly are not widely available. Doctors and nutritionists may recommend certain gluten free foods to include in your diet, as well as vitamins, but discovering products and covering the cost is up to the individual. There are ways to cut to costs over time, but our current healthcare system is not setup to get someone started on a gluten free lifestyle or help cover the costs. Although cutting the costs of my beloved gluten free foods would be great, I’m concerned that the overall costs of healthcare would greatly increase if doctors started writing prescriptions for specific gluten free foods. The number of people diagnosed would certainly increase since we know that pharmaceutical companies would begin to heavily push these prescriptions. This would create more awareness of Celiac Disease and gluten sensitivity with doctors, but it would also push a diagnosis on people who may not actually need to follow a gluten free diet. My assumptions on this are based on what happens when a new drug comes on the market and the sudden increase in prescribing that drug.
Would I love to see more people who are truly gluten free find the resources and help to start and remain on the diet they need? Absolutely! I’m not sure of the right solution or model for this that would fit into our current healthcare system, but I do think starting at local levels and within gluten free communities is the place to start. The people who are most knowledgeable on a gluten free diet are those who actually practice it. I’m confident that we can determine a solution by working with gluten free companies and referring to our own experiences of helping each other.
Do you have a brilliant idea to help people in the U.S. who have been diagnosed with Celiac Disease or gluten sensitivity? Comment below!