Sunday, May 17, 2009

Book Review: Elisabeth Hasselbeck's "The G-Free Diet"

The G-Free Diet: A Gluten-Free Survival Guide, by Elisabeth Hasselbeck (NY: Center Street, 2009).

The publisher sent me a copy of this brand-new book by television personality Elisabeth Hasselback, a celiac herself, and here's my thoughts.

A new book about the gluten-free diet is always welcome and having a celebrity author brings extra public awareness to the issues of celiac disease and gluten-intolerance. I applaud Mrs. Hasselback for bringing her own experiences to print (embarrassing digestive disturbances and all) and letting more people know about the symptoms and long-term health effects of celiac disease.

The most useful chapters are the ones in which she describes strategies for food shopping and preparation and ways in which she and her family, a combination of gluten-eaters and "G-free" dieters, avoid contaminating kitchen work surfaces and cooking implements. Hasselbeck also dishes out lots of good advice about how to approach family, friends and restaurant workers when eating away from home. There are many recommendations for specific restaurant chains which offer gluten-free dining options and information regarding certain food brands and products, although this kind of data is so easily changed that the book became dated the minute it rolled off the printing press.

The concerns I have with the way the book is packaged. I assume that is the author's picture on the front dust jacket pushing away a tempting assortment of crusty breads and rolls. Why make these breads so delicious-looking? Why don't they look moldy or misshapen or bad for you, like a squishy, spongy, loaf of supermarket bread? I say, forget the food stylist for that cover photo and just show the sparkling health of Mrs. Hasselbeck next to some unappealing piles of glutenous products.

The dust jacket blurbs are also kind of goofy. The quotes on the rear jacket promote the gluten-free diet as a "lifestyle" option that can help you lose weight, and as the "next big movement in health and wellness". 95% of Americans with undiagnosed celiac disease, suffering from any of the myriad, commonplace and sometimes subtle symptoms, might pick up a copy of this book, scan it quickly and get the wrong idea to self-diagnose and stop eating gluten before being medically tested. The actual text of the book and Dr. Peter Green's foreword do caution against this, but the dust jacket just sends the wrong messages out.

Hasselbeck's book is a nice addition to the gluten-free library and would be good to peruse if you are newly diagnosed as a celiac or want to pass on a copy to a friend or family member who wants to cook for you. For an introduction to gluten-free living, I personally favor the more comprehensive information in Danna Korn's "Living Gluten-Free for Dummies" (2006) and the glorious and delicious writing of Shauna James Ahern's "Gluten-Free Girl" (2007). However, Hasselbeck's "The G-Free Diet" has the opportunity to introduce many more people to the issue of celiac disease and gluten-intolerance because they are familiar with her from "The View" and "Survivor". She has lots of good information to share and is working hard to promote the book and the issue of celiac disease, so it is a welcome book. Just throw away the dust jacket.



hi rachel,
i was happy to read your fair review of hasselbeck's new book. loved YOUR proposal for the cover photo--have any other genius ideas, pour moi? (i.e. vanilla spoons) ;)

Arlene Delloro said...

I tried, I really did, to suspend judgment until I read your review, but I'm afraid my opinion of Hasseleck is so negative, I was unsuccessful. Her "celebrity" notwithstanding, I was happy that you suggested a more helpful volume for people who suspect or have diagnosed with this challenge.

Anonymous said...

There has been so much negative buzz on Twitter in the GF community regarding her TV appearances. Glad you actually read the book and tried to give it a fair review. Also like that you pointed folks to another book. I'm waiting for my Amazon copy to arrive so I can see for myself.

jess said...

Thanks for trying it for all of us!

From Fatigued to Fatigues said...

This book definitely has great tips like keeping your kitchen utensils from being contaminated with gluten. And changing to gf makeup and shampoos improved my symptoms significantly so I think all her advice is really valid. I also avoid grain alcohol (like Elisabeth does) because 1 sip makes me feel weird, yet I can drink potato vodka with no issues, so why take stupid risks?

Unknown said...

I agree with you--why make it seem like such a deprivation for those of us who are gluten intolerant and celica, by making that bread look so lucious? A very bad message to send in my opinion.

Maria said...

Good grief! Give the girl a break, either buy her book or don't. She isn't any worse or better than anyone else on the View, or any other show. The picture on the cover, so what, most of us need to loose weight anyway, and I ususally loose if I don't eat all those delicious breads. There is so much food and choices to eat gluten free or any other way, that getting mad about a picture on a cover is silly to me...

Rachel said...

Maria: If you read my review of this book carefully you'll see that I don't criticize the author or the content. In fact, I think there's a lot of good information in there.

My criticisms are with the way the publisher has marketed this book as some sort of fad diet book, when in fact, there are serious health problems that can develop if someone with undiagnosed celiac disease or gluten intolerance chooses this "G-free" (hate that phrase), aka gluten-free diet without first going to their doctor. Right now celiac disease can only be detected if a person is ingesting gluten and the effects are seen in the blood and gut.