Remembering back to my undergraduate nutrition program about 13 years ago, celiac disease was not as well known as it is today. In fact, it seemed to be quite a rarity. It has only been within the past several years that this autoimmune disorder has broken into mainstream media, bringing much more awareness to what this disease is as well as how one can be tested and treated.
Symptoms can vary and depend upon such factors as age and sex and how long one has been suffering with the disorder. Some typical symptoms, however, include chronic diarrhea or constipation, pale foul-smelling/fatty stools, abdominal pain, gas, vomiting and/or weight gain/loss. There are several tests available to diagnose one with celiac disease, including blood test for celiac-specific immunoglobulin A antiendomysial antibodies. Unfortunately, one may be misdiagnosed numerous times before being diagnosed with having celiac disease. The “gold standard” test to confirm whether one is affected by celiac disease is having an intestinal biopsy.
Once diagnosed, however, the treatment is for one to adopt a gluten-free diet. This is easier said than done since gluten can be hidden in many products that you would not suspect, such as in broths/soup bases and egg substitutes. Consulting a Registered Dietitian who specializes in food allergies/sensitivities is the optimal place to start to help identify foods to avoid and those to include.
Going “gluten-free” means something completely different to one who suffers from celiac disease than to one who thinks it’s another fad weight loss diet. What the general public may not know is that people affected with celiac disease needs to restrict gluten from their diet to essentially save their lives. Foods containing gluten act like a poison to their body and could cause inflammation of the small intestine and malabsorption of iron, folate, calcium and vitamin D along with the vitamins A, E and K if left untreated for a prolonged period of time.
Luckily now, there are numerous gluten-free products out on the market. Today, there are aisles filled with gluten-free products in supermarket chains, where several years ago those affected needed to search out such products at specialty health stores. Not only have the number of products increased, but also the quality has improved tremendously. At one point, many gluten-free foods were stigmatized as being not very palatable. Now, the taste and texture of many products have improved tremendously, thanks to the increase in demand. In fact, the May edition of Today’s Dietitian dedicated five pages to its 2012 Gluten-Free Buyer’s Guide. Some companies highlighted included Garden Lites, Enjoy Life Foods, and Ian’s Natural Foods. In addition to purchasing gluten-free processed products, one can choose to incorporate some of these naturally gluten-free foods (not an all-inclusive list).
• Flax seed
• Garbanzo beans
• Nuts, nut flours, nut meals
Life does not have to end with the diagnosis of celiac disease. It’s a matter of adapting to a new way of life. Encourage your celiac clients/patients to seek assistance from a registered dietitian for sage advice and guidance on reading labels and honing a new way of eating…one that will be a lifesaver for them.