Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease, whereby the immune system reacts against gluten and causes damage to the villi of the digestive tract, specifically the small intestines. This affects proper absorption of nutrients, which can lead to a host of other health problems. Approximately 1 in 100 people have celiac disease. In Canada, more than 330 000 people are believed to be affected by celiac disease with only 110 000 people being diagnosed with the disease. Delayed or undiagnosed celiac disease can lead to the development of many chronic medical issues.
Being newly diagnosed with celiac disease can be daunting and overwhelming but with the right tools and guidance, the transition can be less painful as you orient yourself within this new, perplexing gluten-free world.
- Learn to read labels
You will typically find gluten in cereals, bread, pasta, pastries, crackers, beer but it is important to read labels. Look for gluten-free labels. Gluten-free labels means that there is less than 20 parts per billion (ppb) of gluten in the product. Be aware of gluten-containing grains. The gluten-containing grains include wheat, rye, barley, spelt, triticale, kamut, durum, semolina, malt, brewer’s yeast, wheat starch.
- Become aware of hidden sources of gluten
Hidden sources of gluten can be found in candy, sauces, seasonings, malt flavouring, soups, soya sauce, processed lunch meats, sausages, brown rice syrup, French fries, potato chips, multi-grain breads, crackers or chips, imitation bacon bits, imitation seafood, flavoured coffee and teas.
- Be careful of cross-contamination
Cross contamination can occur quite easily with shared utensils, shared cooking surfaces, shared cooking containers. Be sure to use different utensils, cooking surfaces and containers than gluten-containing foods. It can also occur if food is cooked in the same oil as gluten-containing food. This can easily occur in restaurants, so be sure to ask if your gluten-free food is being cooked separately. Food must not come in contact with any gluten-containing foods to avoid cross-contamination.
- Be aware of non-foods with gluten
Anything that touches the skin or mouth gets absorbed into the bloodstream and can cause a reaction in the body, therefore you need to be aware and read labels of non-foods such as toothpaste, lip balms, make-up, skin creams and lotions, shampoos and conditioners. The other place that gluten is sometimes hidden in is vitamins, supplements, medications and play-doh.
- Do not go overboard on Gluten-free products.
Just because it is gluten-free does not mean it is healthy. Packaged, processed foods are still not nutrient-dense foods. See this gluten-free, celiac-lifestyle as an opportunity to eat real foods such as organic, non-GMO vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, grass-fed meats and wild seafood.
Regardless of whether you have symptoms or not, if you have celiac disease and eat gluten you are harming your body. Even a crumb can be damaging. You may be tempted to cheat but don’t give in as it will be impairing the proper functioning of your body whether you realize it or not. Having a strict gluten-free diet is the only way to effectively treat celiac disease.