What is a Celiac Diet?

Gluten free bread

When a person with celiac disease eats gluten, a protein found in cereal grains, their immune system gets confused and attacks the person’s digestive system. In the short-term, this may cause abdominal discomfort, gas, bloating, and/or diarrhea, but in the long term it can have serious effects. Ignoring celiac disease may cause damage to the intestines so severe that the patient’s body cannot absorb essential vitamins and nutrients, leading to malnutrition. This disease also increases the risk of several forms of cancer.

With so much at stake, it is important that a patient with celiac disease follow a celiac diet. In the most simple terms, this means that a celiac patient must strictly avoid foods that contain gluten. This excludes a lot and it is a difficult transition for even the people with the strongest willpower. Many people new to a celiac diet may find working with a dietician or nutritionist to be extremely beneficial. People in all stages of following celiac diets may find benefits of participating in support groups.

Gluten is found in barley, rye, triticale, and wheat, so it is vital that these grains are avoided. This may be trickier than it sounds, since wheat masquerades under many names. Durum flour, farina, graham flour, kamut, semolina, and spelt are some of the more common sneaky names wheat products may be labeled as. Malt, such as used for malted milks or malt vinegar, is derived from barley. A few other surprising food products that may contain include french fries, imitation seafood, ice cream, processed lunch meats, sauces, seasoned rice mixes, soups, and vegetables in sauce. Additionally, many medications and vitamins may contain gluten as a binding agent, so it is important to make sure there is a note about your celiac disease on file at your pharmacy.

A further complication for celiac disease patients is the threat of cross-contamination. This means that even though an item is not meant to contain gluten, it may have been contaminated by a gluten containing product. This may happen in the manufacturing process. Fortunately, most manufacturing companies are responsible about labeling gluten-free foods that a processed on machinery that also processes gluten-containing foods, despite this label being voluntary. Kitchens that are not dedicated to gluten-free cooking may also present danger of cross-contamination. Gluten is sticky and may linger on even the most fastidiously cleaned dishes and utensils, particularly those made of porous materials. Storing gluten-free foods underneath a gluten containing product in the pantry may also lead to cross-contamination. Smartphone apps, such as Find Me Gluten Free may help direct you to restaurants with truly gluten free kitchens instead of places with gluten-free options that may still present a risk of cross-contamination.

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