What is Celiac Disease?
Celiac disease is an inherited disease whereby a person cannot digest gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and triticale (a rye/wheat hybrid). If gluten is eaten by affected persons, the body’s immune system damages the small intestine. Because nutrients from food are absorbed through the small intestine, a person with undiagnosed celiac disease is not getting the proper nutrition and this can lead to life-threatening nutritional deficiencies.
How is it diagnosed?
The diagnosis of celiac disease is reported to be 1 in 133, or 1% of the population, but may actually be much higher. If you have an immediate family member (parent, sibling, child) that has been diagnosed, your chances of having the disease become 1 in 22. However, because so many people go undiagnosed, family history is not always a good gauge.
Most people think of celiac only as a “gut” problem disease, however, there can be many additional and/or accompanying symptoms such as:
Skin rash (dermatitis herpetiformis)
Symptoms vary from person to person and sometimes a person with celiac disease shows no symptoms whatsoever. Diagnosing celiac must be done by a physician with a good knowledge of the disease and should include a medical review of symptoms, as well as a blood test to look for a high level of certain antibodies, and possibly a biopsy of the small intestine.
What is the cure for celiac disease?
Celiac disease cannot be cured. It can only be managed by maintaining a gluten-free lifestyle which means eliminating gluten from the diet.
What can I eat on a gluten-free diet?
You can eat many “whole” foods such as fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, eggs, nuts and more! Also, there are many gluten-free products being developed daily; many more than in the past.
Just make sure that you READ all food labels….remember, gluten-free is NOT wheat- free! “Wheat” can hide under many other names, such as malt, brewer’s yeast, modified food starch and dextrin, to name a few. Soy sauce most likely contains wheat!
When in doubt, don’t eat it!
You now have the opportunity to try some new grains such as quinoa, millet, amaranth, teff, and sorghum. Some familiar safe grains are rice, corn, buckwheat, and oats. Oats are inherently gluten-free but often become contaminated with wheat by-products, so it is much safer to stick to Certified Gluten-Free oats.
There are so many great gluten-free cookbooks, easy recipes online, blogs, and articles that you can look through to get some ideas about your new lifestyle.
Eating gluten-free does not have to be boring!
How else can I get healthy living gluten-free?
The best advice to living gluten-free and healthy is to see a registered dietitian. This professional can help you not only eat gluten-free at home but also steer you in the right direction to make healthy choices when dining out.
You also need to make sure that you are getting the proper nutrients – in particular, iron, calcium, fiber, and the B-vitamins to maintain a healthy weight. Sometimes people on a gluten-free diet gain weight due to the fact that their body is now absorbing nutrients and calories from food.
Tricia Thompson, a registered dietitian and a leading expert in the field of gluten-free living, has compiled a handy list of registered dietitians, state-by-state. This is a great resource!
An additional resource worth checking out is the Whole Grains Council:
Note: The information provided above does not take the place of medical advice from a qualified professional. We are not medical doctors and know that the gluten-free lifestyle is much more complicated than what is presented above. Please consult your health care professional.