Celiac Disease is a genetic, digestive, autoimmune disorder that is characterized by damage to the small intestine when you consume gluten. Gluten is a protein found in barley, rye, and wheat. If you have Celiac Disease and ingest gluten, your body reacts with an immune response that attacks and eventually damages the villi in the small intestine. Villi are tiny, finger-shaped projections that line the small intestine and promote nutrient absorption. Malfunction of the villi can lead to malnutrition.
Celiac Disease is diagnosed symptomatically, along with a blood test to look for a high level of certain antibodies and a biopsy of the small intestine. An estimated 1 out of every 100 people worldwide have the disease. It is also hereditary, so if you have a first-degree relative who has been diagnosed with it, your chances of developing the disease increases to approximately 1 out of 10.
Symptoms of Celiac Disease include:
- Stomach pain
- Joint pain
- Itchy skin rash
- Weight loss
While Celiac Disease cannot be cured, it can be managed, so that you can go on to live a long, healthy life.
There is only one treatment for Celiac Disease and that is to eat a gluten-free diet. Fortunately, there are many foods that are naturally gluten-free such as:
There are also a growing number of gluten-free products that are being developed by manufacturers.
There is, however, a little bit more to managing Celiac Disease than just eliminating gluten from your diet. You also have to make sure you are getting the proper amount of nutrients and vitamins including:
Weight gain can also be a problem for you if you are treating Celiac Disease, because you are now absorbing more calories from your gluten-free food.
Life with Celiac Disease
There are several steps you can take to live more healthfully:
- See a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) – He or she can help you to understand what foods are safe to eat and what you should avoid. An RDN can also help you with meal planning and what to do when eating in a restaurant. They will also ensure that you are receiving the proper vitamins and nutrients from your gluten-free diet and help you maintain a healthy weight.
- Try Alternate Grains – There are several grains that can be used in place of grains with gluten. These include: corn, rice, amaranth, sorghum, millet, quinoa and teff. There is also a large variety of plant foods and starches you can consume, such as: potato, buckwheat, flax, lentils, soy, tapioca, yucca, wild rice, and Indian rice grass. You can also speak to your grocer and ask for some of these alternatives to be put in stock. Most grocers will do their best to accommodate you.
- Learn about Ingredients – Many foods contain gluten even if they are barley, rye, and wheat-free. For example, soy sauce, malt, and modified food starch all contain gluten. Most processed foods and condiments contain gluten, as well. If you have Celiac Disease, it is critical to start reading ingredient lists on labels.
- Look for Gluten-Free Labels – While manufacturers are creating more and more gluten-free foods, if it doesn’t say gluten-free on the label, don’t purchase it. Something as seemingly innocuous as a rice mix can have traces of gluten in it.
While it may seem overwhelming at first, it can actually be fun to create your own gluten-free recipes. After awhile, you will know exactly what products you can enjoy to live a healthy, happy, productive life.