Celiac Awareness Month: Go Gluten Free!

by Sue Taggart

May is Celiac Awareness Month. Celiac (SEE-lee-ak) disease is a digestive condition that affects 3 million Americans and is triggered by protein gluten,  which is found in foods that contain wheat, barley and rye. There is no cure for celiac disease, so people suffering with it have to make considerable dietary changes…..hence the significant growth of gluten-free foods such as breads, pasta, pizza and baked goods. Sales of gluten-free products increased 16 percent in 2010, according to the Nielsen Company, and are steadily rising.

When people with celiac disease eat foods containing gluten, they experience an immune reaction in their small intestines, causing damage to the inner surface of the small intestine. This causes abdominal pain and diarrhea, as well as an inability to absorb certain nutrients. Eventually, the decreased absorption of nutrients (malabsorption) that occurs with celiac disease can cause vitamin deficiencies that deprive your brain, peripheral nervous system, bones, liver and other organs of vital nourishment. People with wheat sensitivities can have a similar reaction to gluten, but with less severe consequences,

Often celiac disease goes undiagnosed—almost 95% of celiacs are undiagnosed—the effects such as a loss of energy, acne or skin problems, bloating, diarrhea, cramping and constipation can led physicians to think that maybe something must be missing from the diet rather than something in the diet causing the problem. According to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, there are more than 300 symptoms of celiac disease and the symptoms vary considerably from person to person.  As they point out, one person might have diarrhea and abdominal pain, while another person has irritability or depression. Some patients develop celiac symptoms early in life, while others feel healthy far into adulthood. Some people with celiac disease have no signs or symptoms. With such diverse symptoms it makes diagnosing celiac disease very difficult so it’s no wonder that so many are undiagnosed or misdiagnosed with other conditions.

You can find out if you might have celiac by checking your symptoms at Celiac Disease Symptoms Checklist »

According to www.celiaccentral.org, like other autoimmune diseases, celiac occurs in more women than men. In fact, women in the general population are diagnosed with celiac disease two to three times more often than men, which means that 60% to 70% of those diagnosed with celiac disease are women. This further complicates life for women as bone loss is a common symptom of undiagnosed celiac disease and osteoporosis becomes a regular concern for women as they approach menopause and have an increased risk of fracture. Not only is celiac disease more common in women, but also many of the potential manifestations and complications are central in a woman’s health.

Many people are choosing to have a gluten-free diet because they just feel better not eating gluten. Whether this is because they have gluten intolerance, or because our food supply is changing and our bodies cannot keep up with the number of chemicals and additives that we are consuming either knowingly or unknowingly. Gluten can be hidden in additives, binders, fillers, flavorings and even medications, so even the most vigilant celiac sufferer can consume gluten without knowing.

Some experts believe that the introduction of GMO foods may have a lot to do with the increased incidence of food allergies and autoimmune disorders. But, that’s a topic for another article.

Whether you have been diagnosed with celiac disease, or feel you have a sensitivity to gluten, just know there is a lot of information out there and some wonderful gluten-free products available–you can look for a circle GF on labels to know something is gluten-free. Here are some of our favorites:

And just in case you were wondering if alcohol is gluten-free, here’s a quick check list:

Wine                            Gluten-free

Distilled alcohols      Gluten-free – even though they may be made from fermented grains that contain gluten, the distillation process removes the gluten protein and leaves only alcohol

Beer/ale                      Not gluten-free

Cider                           Could go either way – check labels carefully

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