Celiac Disease and Navigating the Gluten Free Diet

This past Tuesday evening, Nutritionist and Registered Dietitian Anna LaBarre explained the science of Celiac Disease and Gluten sensitivity and assisted with guidelines on how to live happily with this all too common affliction.

Avoiding gluten foods has become one of the fastest growing food trends in America. LaBarre commented that there is nothing more ‘healthy’ about this diet, except that it does cause folks to avoid ‘fast food’ – which is healthy in itself.

Firstly, Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder – an intolerance to wheat, barley and rye which causes small intestine damage, inflammation and mal-absorption. Celiac disease is estimated to affect 1 in 100 people worldwide – with and estimated 2.5 million undiagnosed cases in the US. First degree relatives of someone with Celiac – such as a parent, child or sibling – has a one in ten risk of developing Celiac. As an autoimmune disease, it is associated with others such as Type 1 Diabetes, autoimmune thyroid disease, Addison’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis.

Classic symptoms of Celiac are diarrhea or constipation, bloating, gas, abdominal pain, cramping, acid reflux, vomiting, weight loss or weight gain. There are also a number of silent signs of Celiac – not everyone with the disease suffers from the classic symptoms. Some of these ‘silent’ symptoms include arthritis, bone or joint pain, tingling or numbness, bruising, irritability, depression, fatigue, migraines, skin rashes and many more. Diagnosing Celiac is often difficult, but when it is suspected a blood test can confirm the disease.

In contrast, non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity, has the same ‘classic’ symptoms of Celiac, but no damage is done to the small intestines. The gluten elicits an innate immune response, but does not attack the tissues like the Celiac autoimmune disease. Research estimates that Gluten Sensitivity affects as many as 18 million Americans.

The only treatment for Celiac and Gluten Sensitivity is to avoid eating foods that have gluten in it. No other medications are available. With a change in diet, relief will be noticed within days. Sufferers need to select naturally gluten-free grains such as brown rice, quinoa, gluten-free oats, buckwheat and millet, as well as many favorite foods such as potatoes, corn, beans, nuts, vegetables, fruits, meats, poultry, fish, soy, eggs and most dairy products. There are now many products available with FDA labeled gluten-free such as bread, bagels, pizza, tortillas and condiments that are acceptable.

LaBarre urged everyone to be sure to study the ingredients of baked and packaged goods for ingredients. Look for hidden gluten in unexpected places, such as condiments and seasonings; processed and luncheon meats; bouillon, broth and brines; fried foods; candy; caramel color; ice cream; imitation seafood; vegetarian meat alternatives; soups; thickeners; medications. Remember that “wheat-free” is not necessarily “gluten-free” (e.g. malt foods) . Another big concern is cross-contamination with gluten can happen on cooking surfaces, appliances and utensils, or in jars of food such as Peanut Butter and jam and in fried foods.

LaBarre recommended that folks suffering should consider joining a Celiac or Gluten Sensitivity Support Group. She offered a number of excellent resources for further research on living with Celiac Disease or Gluten Sensitivity.

Celiac Disease Foundation: http://celiac.org
National Foundation for Celiac Awareness: www.celiaccentral.org
Gluten Intolerance Group: www.gluten.net
Gluten Free Drugs: www.glutenfreedrugs.com
Find me Gluten Free: www.findmeglutenfree.com (Also download the app)
Gluten-Free Diet: A Comprehensive Resource Guide by Shelley Case, RD
Gluten-Free, Hassle Free (book and cookbook) by Marlissa Brown, MS, RD, CDE
Gluten Freedom: The Nation’s Leading Expert Offers the Essential Guide to a Healthy, Gluten-Free Lifestyle by Alessio   Fasano, MD
Celiac Disease. The Celiac Disease Foundation website. http://www.celiaccentral.org. Accessed October 25, 2014.
Marlissa Brown, MS, RD, CDE. Gluten-Free, Hassel Free (2nd Ed.). New York, NY: Demos Health; 2013.
Gluten Sensitivity. The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness website. http://celiac.org/celiac-disease/non-celiac-gluten-sensitivity/. Accessed October 25, 2014.
National Institutes of Health. National Institutes of Health Consensus Development Conference Statement: Celiac Disease, 2004. http://consensus.nih.gov/2004/2004CeliacDisease118html.htm. Accessed October 25, 2014.
Escott-Stump, S. Nutrition and Diagnosis-Related Care: Celiac Disease. Baltimore, MD: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2008