Tricia Thompson, MS, RD is a nutrition consultant, author and speaker specializing in celiac disease and the gluten-free diet. She is the author of The Gluten-Free Nutrition Guide and has a MS degree in nutrition from Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts and a BA degree in English Literature from Middlebury College in Vermont.

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Living Gluten-Free

by Tricia Thompson, MS, RD, The Gluten-Free Dietitian
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Today’s blog is very long but if you have any interest at all in the history of celiac disease and early dietary treatment you will find the story that follows fascinating.

Long before gluten was identified as the culprit in celiac disease, a doctor by the name of Sidney Haas in New York City was successfully treating pediatric patients using what came to be known as the “banana diet.” A former patient of Dr. Haas recently contacted me. She very generously and graciously wrote down her recollections of the banana diet.

Early history of the gluten-free diet (excerpted from The Gluten-Free Nutrition Guide, McGraw-Hill, 2008)

The gluten-free diet has not always been the treatment of choice for celiac disease. Before the 1950s and the identification of wheat gluten as the culprit in celiac disease, the thinking was that people with celiac disease could not properly absorb carbohydrates and/or fat. A particularly interesting dietary treatment used during this time was the banana diet, made popular by physician Sidney Haas.

This diet restricted both carbohydrates (with the exception of ripe bananas) and fat. In his famous paper, “The value of the banana in the treatment of celiac disease,” published in 1924, Dr. Haas presented the following foods as a typical diet for a child with celiac disease: albumin milk, pot cheese, bananas (as many as the child would take, usually four to eight each day), oranges, vegetables, gelatin, and meat.

A former patient of Dr. Sidney Haas tells her story

I was born with celiac 77 years ago. I was a year old and my brother was 3 when it was discovered we both had celiac. I was told many years later that my brother had been close to death. We lived in New York City where Dr. Haas had his practice. He had done research with another doctor and found that bananas were a tolerated “starch” for celiac’s.

My mother had to prepare a formula with bananas that took hours to complete. My parents would have to buy “trees” of bananas because that is the way they were sold. Because my parents had to buy so many bananas for my brother and me, one of the neighbors in the apartment building where we lived in New York City, took my parents to court because they thought that my parents were poisoning us.

As a child, (as best as I can remember) my diet consisted of Acidophilus milk, buttermilk, Pot Cheese (not the kind that is sold in the stores today, which is gooey and awful), bananas, apples, dates, other fruits I can’t remember, most vegetables, beef, and butterfish (which my mother liked). A wonderful memory for me is when my mother baked bananas, apples, and dates with lots of butter.

Every time a new food was added to our diet, Dr. Haas had us take castor oil to clean out our stomach. This was terrible for me because my father had to chase me around the house. When he finally did catch me, he had to wrap a blanket around me, squeeze my nose so my mouth would open, pour the castor oil down my throat, and then jam an orange in my mouth to suck. I know that the castor oil must have been only a teaspoon, but I can still imagine the whole bottle being poured down my throat. For years and years after having oranges jammed into my mouth, I was not able to eat a fresh orange. Now I can’t eat them because they have too much acid for me.

Every time my brother and I went to birthday parties, my mother made sure to fix food for us that would have been similar to what the other children ate. I don’t know how she did it, but I never felt deprived. My brother on the other hand, was more daring than me. He always tried to sneak something that he wasn’t’ allowed to eat like candy.

When I was around 10 years old, I went “Trick or Treating” and was very “bad” because I ate lots of candy corn. That night, I became very sick and remember being delirious. The sugar was something that my stomach was not ready to handle. While children my age knew about bubble gum and other popular candy, I had no idea what they were talking about.

By the time I was 12 years old, I was able to eat “everything”. I was brought up to believe that sugars and starches were what a celiac was not able to digest. I was also told that I was “cured.”

Whenever I went to Dr. Haas’s office which was at 47 West 86th Street, his office was filled with children of all ages and many I remember looked like they came from the concentration camps during WW II with their sunken eyes and swollen stomachs. Growing up I’d hear stories from my parents about how Dr. Haas would tell them about children he’d been asked to see after doctors would ...    Continue

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@ 7:21pm ET on July 21, 2009
I can relate very well to your story. It sounds just like my early life. I too grew up in NYC as a celiac baby. My parents took me to Dr Haas' office. He recommended the banana diet. My father used to buy the banana trees so often that the neughbors thought he had a pet monkey!!

I eventually outgrew the strict dietary concerns but had a great aversion to bananas for years.

Unfortunatley, I have recently been diagnosed with Crohn's disease which can be related to celiac. Although I am totally asymptomatic and have been, it was a serendipitous finding from my colonoscopy.

THank you for your blog.

Steven Raskin

@ 9:06am ET on July 23, 2009
Hi Steven,

Thank you so much for sharing your story. Wouldn't it be great if those of you who were patients of Dr. Haas could get together and share your memories of your early diet and all those bananas...


@ 12:07am ET on April 21, 2011
I have been told in the past couple of weeks by three different practitioners
that I should quit eating gluten for some of my physical problems. I have
tried doing this in the past but I never was quite convinced it would help. I know
am willing to give it a try. So I went to Jimbo's health store and stocked up on
some gluten free foods. One of the things I bought was the fresh gluten free
pumpkin muffins. Looked promising but there was SO much sugar it was
inedible. If the gluten doesn't make you sick, the sugar content could!!

Does anyone else notice this problem? Udi's is terrible as well. Is there any
truly healthy gluten free baked goods? No refined sugar and high in fiber??

thanks! rmd

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