Last week, we explored whether cutting gluten from your diet can impact weight loss. Many people who have Celiac Disease, which is an inherited autoimmune disorder, have not been diagnosed. Experts estimate about 3 million people in the United States have Celiac Disease, a disorder that damages your small intestine and keeps it from absorbing the nutrients in food.
The damage is a result of the body’s immune system reacting to gluten, resulting in villi, small tubules that line the small intestine, to be damaged or destroyed. This causes issues for the body as villi are what help the body absorb nutrients from food and into your blood via the walls of the small intestine. Celiac disease can cause people to become malnourished, resulting in a cascade of issues. No matter how much food is consumed, the body isn’t able to absorb nutrients, which can lead to issues like joint pain, seizures, and anemia. Other symptoms can include cramping, bloating, nausea, and diarrhea, all of which can impact daily routines and overall quality of life.
Studies estimate that from the time that symptoms begin to diagnosis, roughly four years pass; this time span increases the chances of people developing serious complications. The University of Chicago Medicine Celiac Disease Center shares that if undiagnosed or untreated, Celiac Disease can lead to the development of other autoimmune disorders, as well as osteoporosis, infertility, neurological conditions and in rare cases, cancer.
How to manage symptoms of Celiac disease
The short story is that if you have Celiac disease, gluten-free diet is the only treatment. Some foods that are gluten free include:
- Meat and poultry
- Fish and seafood
- Beans, legumes, and nuts
Symptoms can be managed by taking steps:
- Check food labels: Avoid einkorn, emmer, spelt, kamut, wheat starch, wheat bran, wheat germ, cracked wheat, and hydrolyzed wheat protein. Stay away from emulsifiers, dextrin, mono- and di-glycerides, seasonings, and caramel colors because they can contain gluten. The Celiac Disease foundation also warns- foods that are labeled “wheat free” are not necessarily gluten free. You can read our previous posts about food labels as well as the real meaning behind common food terms.
- Avoid certain foods completely: many processed foods like chips, processed meats, candy, undistilled alcoholic beverages (like beer), sauces, soups, etc. contain gluten or traces of gluten that can trigger symptoms.
- Voice your needs: if you’re eating out, partner with the server and ask how foods are prepared. Request foods that don’t have gluten, and be specific in requesting that even utensils and cutting boards that are used during prep are not shared with foods that contain gluten. When visiting friends and family, let people know ahead of time that you have food restrictions so that it’s not a surprise at mealtime. For those that are unfamiliar with Celiac disease, it may be a challenge to prepare Celiac friendly foods; some sources share that to lift the pressure (and still avoid symptoms), offer to bring your own plate, or make it a part of the gathering to make gluten-free foods together.
Johns Hopkins Medicine shares these additional tips:
- Avoid all products with barley, rye, triticale (a cross between wheat and rye), farina, graham flour, semolina, and any other kind of flour, including self-rising and durum, not labeled gluten-free. While it is a general rule that all breads, crackers, pastas, and baked goods contain gluten, some are prepared using gluten-free flours and grains. These items can often be found in the freezer section of stores.
- Be careful of corn and rice products. These don’t contain gluten, but they can sometimes be contaminated with wheat gluten if they’re produced in factories that also manufacture wheat products. Look for such a warning on the package label.
- Go with oats. Recent studies suggest you can eat oats as long as they are not contaminated with wheat gluten during processing. You should check with your healthcare provider first.
- Substitute potato, rice, soy, amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat, or bean flour for wheat flour. You can also use sorghum, chickpea or Bengal gram, arrowroot, and corn flour, as well as tapioca starch extract. These act as thickeners and leavening agents.
The Celiac disease foundation has fantastic resources available for those working to shift their diet to gluten-free. You can find meal plans, recipes, and more! If you are experiencing symptoms, do not hesitate to speak to your provider to help pinpoint the cause. Whether it is Celiac disease or something else, being informed is the first step to then address it and improve your quality of life.