Celiac disease is one of the most common gastrointestinal diseases, affecting as many as 1 in 100 people. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. When a person has celiac sprue, the immune system recognizes gluten as a threat and attacks it. As the food passes through your small intestine, the immune response damages the intestines themselves, inhibiting nutrient absorption and causing pain, diarrhea, and other symptoms. There is no cure for celiac sprue yet, but it can be effectively managed by completely eliminating all forms of gluten from your diet.
Research studies are ongoing in an attempt to find medications that can help with celiac sprue. But overall, those who adopt a gluten-free diet invariably eat healthy and natural foods that improve their overall health as well.
Knowing What Not to Eat
A diagnosis of celiac sprue or gluten allergy means an overhaul of your kitchen and diet, starting with no longer consuming any gluten-containing products. Wheat, rye, and barley play a major role in the Western diet, far beyond simple bread and pasta. Everything from beer to breakfast cereals to condiments may contain gluten. One of the first steps, when you’re diagnosed with celiac disease, is to become adept at reading nutrition labels, keeping an eye out for words like:
- Chapatti flour
- Durum flour
- Brewer’s yeast
- Ale, jager, or beer
- Anything with the word “wheat”
- Anything with the word “malt”
- Anything with the word “rye”
- Anything with the word “barley”
Understanding Food Options
When many people are diagnosed with celiac sprue, they are concerned that their diet will be both very limited and very expensive. It’s true that packaged breads, pastas, and other traditionally wheat-based foods can be expensive, due to the high amount of processing involved.
However, a gluten-free diet can still be varied, delicious, and affordable. People with celiac sprue are well-served by practicing a “shop the edges” technique, where the majority of food purchases are produced, meat, dairy, and bulk foods as nuts, rice, and quinoa. As you experiment with recipes and products, you’ll also find flour, bread, and pasta substitutes you enjoy.
Cross-contamination is a major concern for people with celiac sprue. If a food is prepared on equipment that also is used to prepare products that contain gluten, some gluten may be present. If you still keep products with gluten at home, be sure to have separate preparation spaces and materials for each type of food.
When shopping, be wary of products that advertise as “gluten-free.” With many people adapting the gluten-free diet for non-medical reasons, many major food companies are jumping on board. Companies not devoted to health or gluten free foods may contain cross-contamination, so do research before buying products.
Start Planning Meals
As you’re transitioning your diet, you may find it difficult to create meals and choose snacks at a moment’s notice like you used to. Try planning a week’s worth of meals in advance. If you don’t know where to start, try using or adapting a plan available online.
Planning Long-Term Health Care and Support
It’s particularly important for patients with celiac to schedule regular check-ups with health care professionals. A nutritionist can help you plan and monitor how balanced your diet is as you transition to a gluten-free diet. Your physician will monitor you for signs of accidental gluten ingestion. Since people with celiac disease have a higher risk of developing certain conditions in the future, your doctor will be involved in monitoring those issues.
There is always an adjustment period after a diagnosis of celiac, because it is such a major change for most people. After the initial adjustment period, your symptoms from gluten ingestion will fade, you’ll establish a healthy, enjoyable diet, and shopping and preparing gluten-free foods will become second nature.
A leading gastroenterologist on celiac disease is Sheila Crowe MD, who is currently director of Research in the UCSD Division of Gastroenterology, UC San Diego. She also manages the Adult Celiac Clinic at UCSD Perlman Ambulatory Outpatient Center. She is a thought leader in the celiac world and has helped disseminate information on celiac disease to professionals and the public. Her website can be viewed here. It’s worth noting that Dr Crowe not only emphasizes the need to identify better the undiagnosed cases of celiac disease in the US, affecting approximately 1% of the entire population, but that celiac disease can manifest into various conditions outside of the GI tract- skin rashes, osteoporosis, iron deficiency anemia, neurological problems, and obstetrical problems.
We have compiled a whitepaper on the 9 Signs of Celiac Disease that can be accessed by clicking the button below and completing the form. We will be happy to send it right over to your inbox for learning more about Celiac Disease and for sharing with anyone who may also be recently diagnosed with Celiac Disease.