- What is Celiac Desease?
Celiac disease occurs when gluten (primarily from wheat products) damages the villi, small finger-like hairs, in your intestines that are responsible for the absorption of nutrients. Once damaged the villi are unable to absorb essential nutrients from other foods leading to malnutrition and a greater tendency to develop other autoimmune conditions such as diabetes, osteoporosis, anemia, etc. Celiac is an autoimmune disorder that affects 1 in 100 people, the statistics being higher for those who have the disease in their immediate family.
- What is the difference between being Celiac and Wheat Intolerant/Gluten Sensitive?
In someone who has celiac, their small intestines have been damaged and their bodies produce high numbers of tTG antibodies. Someone who is wheat intolerant or gluten sensitive may experience the same symptoms as someone with celiac, but they lack the high antibody count and damaged villi. It is still beneficial for these individuals to follow a life long gluten free diet.
- What are the symptoms for Celiac?
There are many symptoms for celiac that differ among individuals. Some of the following symptoms may be present in someone with celiac or gluten sensitivities:
– Abdominal pain
– Gas or bloating
– Weight loss or weight gain
– ADHD or hyperactive behavior
– Cloudy mind/brain fog
– Joint pain or sore muscles
– Itchy skin
– Hair loss
– Headaches and migraines
- What foods contain gluten?
Any foods that are made with wheat, barley or rye contain the gluten protein. Although oats inherently are “gluten-free” they are so easily cross contaminated that they are not considered safe to eat unless specifically labeled gluten free. Other common foods to avoid, unless labeled “gluten-free” are:
– Cakes, cookies and other baked goods
– Crusts (pies and pizza)
– Pastas (including raviolis, dumplings, couscous and gnocchi)
– Cereals that are made with wheat or flavored with malt flavoring
– Breakfast items such as muffins, pancakes, waffles, biscuits, etc.
– Cream sauces and soups thickened with flour
– Soy sauce
– Brewer’s yeast
– Flour tortillas
– Anything made with wheat flour
Always check labels to make sure that an item does not contain gluten. Even items that do not list gluten in the ingredient list may contain traces of gluten from being manufactured in the same facility as gluten containing items. It is essential to learn what ingredient items and allergy warnings to look for. Even the smallest traces of wheat can cause discomfort and inflammation.
- What foods can I eat if I am allergic to wheat?
There are so many snacking and meal time options to eat even if you are celiac or gluten intorlerant. In fact, living a gluten free lifestyle can prove to be very healthy since the safest items to eat are fresh fruits, vegetables, meats and nuts. You will find that the more you branch out in trying to find “safe foods”, you may discover many new foods you have a liking to. Some of my family’s go to snacking and meal options are:
– Chex cereals are all gluten free except for the wheat Chex (I mix the flavored Chex with the Corn or Rice Chex to cut down on sugar content)
– Gluten Free Rice Krispies
– Gluten Free Buttermilk pancakes
– Gluten Free Banana Muffins
– Oatmeal made with gluten-free oats
– Fruit, yogurt and granola parfaits made with gluten-free granola
– Breakfast burritos on corn tortillas
– Chef salads
– Teriyaki rice bowls with gluten-free teriyaki sauce
– Quesadillas with corn tortillas
– Filled baked potatoes
– Turkey and cheese rollups with gluten free deli meat
– Cream cheese and veggie topped rice cakes
– Marinara or mac n’ cheese pastas with gluten-free noodles
– Broth based soups (not cream based)
– Nachos made with tortilla chips and fresh toppings
– Grilled chicken tenders with fruit kabobs
– Chicken salad on rice crackers
– Sandwiches on gluten free bread
– Gluten free pastas and lasagna
– Meat (chicken, pork, fish or beef) with rice, quinoa or potatoes
– Fajitas, enchiladas, or tacos made with corn tortillas
– Casseroles made with homemade cream sauces using cornstarch as thickeners (as opposed to using cans of cream of chicken soup)
– Filled baked potatoes
– Broth based soups (not cream based)
– Stir fry using gluten free soy sauce and teriyaki sauce
– Salads with gluten free dressings
– Baked chicken roll ups with various fillings (think chicken cordon bleu without the breading)
– Chili, stew and lentils
– Pizza with gluten free crust
– Stuffed peppers and squash
– Carrot, celery and cucumber sticks with hummus
– Celery, peanut butter and raisins (“ants on a log”)
– Rice cakes with cream cheese and veggies
– Peanuts and cashews
– Yogurt, fruit and granola parfaits
– Fresh fruit and veggies
– Turkey and cheese roll ups
– Cheese sticks
– Chips and salsa
– Cottage cheese and rice crackers
– Gluten free banana muffins
Sweets and Treats:
– Gluten free cupcakes
– Gluten free cookies
– Frozen grapes
– Chocolate dipped fruit
– Ice cream and frozen yogurt in gluten free flavors
– Gluten free pudding
– Orange Julius and other smoothies
– Hot chocolate with whipped cream
– Frozen berries with warm white chocolate drizzle
Don’t make celiac disease an obstacle. Make it an adventure, a game of sorts. Learn to love the journey of discovering new and flavorful foods.
- How do I know if I have celiac disease and how is it diagnosed?
Discovering you have celiac most often begins with taking notice to the variety of symptoms as previously noted. Begin trying to identify which symptoms you are experiencing and when they most often occur. The next step is to inquire with family members whether or not the disease runs in your family since prevalence of this disease is much higher among family members. The final step is to consult with a doctor. If necessary, start with your primary care physician. However, it is essential to visit a gastroenterologist for an actual diagnosis.
It is extremely important to advise with a doctor rather than to self diagnose. A blood test followed by an upper endoscopy are necessary to fully diagnose celiac. If someone has already begun a gluten free diet prior to this testing, the results can be skewed since the villi have already begun to repair themselves and the tTG antibody levels will begin to lower. It is also important to see the extent of the damage in the intestines for someone that has celiac, so it is a wise idea to go ahead and perform the endoscopy even if you already have a positive blood test.
- As long as I just avoid eating wheat will I be okay?
Unfortunately no. Gluten is in all sorts of products. Depending on how sensitive you are, you may need to avoid certain medications, make up, shampoos and conditioners, lip balms, lotions, etc. Make sure to read the ingredients on all products that come into contact with your body.
Cross contamination is also a big issue when it comes to food. Even though you may not think you are eating gluten, traces of it may have landed in your food. Always inform your servers or cashiers that you have a food allergy so they can use dedicated fryers and switch out gloves when handling your food. You may even need dedicated appliances in your own home such as a toaster. Be sure to have your own butter, jam, peanut butter, mayonnaise, etc. containers.
- Can I grow out of celiac?
There has been conflicting information concerning whether or not someone grows out of celiac. Symptoms may come and go, however, according to my doctor and the Celiac Disease Foundation, this is a life-long disease that requires a life-long diet change.