Tips for Living a Gluten Free Life
by Dr. Ian Wahl, DAc, LAc, CH
Gluten has been a huge topic in the news in 2009. We notice that more foods are being promoted as “gluten-free”. Yet most people have no idea what gluten is or why there are “gluten-free” foods. Let’s see if we can bring some clarity to why even Chex Cereal is now being advertised as “gluten-free”.
Gluten is nothing more than a protein in wheat, rye, barley and oats. Most of us would never know if we ate something with gluten in it. However, some people have a sensitivity or intolerance to gluten which manifests as a “wheat allergy”. If you have a wheat allergy, your body thinks that wheat is a harmful substance that needs to be attacked and repelled. The symptoms of a wheat allergy vary, but commonly manifest as some gastrointestinal distress, maybe skin irritations, and even sinus congestion.
On the other hand, there is a more serious autoimmune disorder known as Celiac Disease. Celiac disease is not a “wheat allergy”. It is a genetic disorder in which the body attacks itself when gluten is ingested. Celiac disease is difficult to diagnose without specific blood testing. Most people with celiac disease have been misdiagnosed because of its wide range of symptoms.
The following are a sampling of the symptoms of celiac disease:
- Short-term symptoms include, bloating after eating gluten, diarrhea, constipation, nausea, vomiting, difficulty concentrating, irritability, itchy skin rashes
- Long-term symptoms include chronic fatigue, anemia, osteoporosis, easily fractured bones, chronic weight loss.
It is estimated that as many as 1 in 133 Americans have celiac disease with as many as 2 million people who are unaware that they even have it.Although there is no cure for celiac disease, following a gluten free diet will allow the intestinal lining to heal and will also relieve all celiac symptoms. The long-term effect of not following a gluten free diet for someone with celiac disease can be life-threatening.
Gluten is in many food products, such as bread, pizza, cookies and cakes, but is also a hidden substance in foods in the forms of food starch, natural flavoring, fillers and seasonings. Gluten is also found in many over-the-counter and prescription medications as fillers and excipients. Gluten is also often used in cosmetics, health and beauty products and household products. You can see how a person with celiac disease must be vigilant in order to eliminate all gluten from their lives.
The good news is that today gluten-free foods are available in most local grocery stores as well as in specialty food stores and on-line. Even restaurants have become so familiar with celiac disease, that many provide gluten-free menus.
Tips for Following a Gluten Free Diet
1.When baking, there are great substitutes for wheat flour now available. They contain a combination of rice flour, tapioca starch and potato starch, which can be substituted 1:1 for wheat flour in many recipes. These ready-made, all-purpose, gluten free flour products are available at many grocery and specialty stores, as well as on-line.
2. Although the internet is filled with misinformation, the following websites are accurate and provide a tremendous amount of information on how to live a gluten free life: www.glutenfree.com; www.glutenfreemall.com; www.celiacdisease.net;www.csaceliacs.org.
3. As mentioned above, many restaurants now have gluten free menus. However, when eating out, always inform the server that you are on a gluten free diet when you are seated. Ask to speak to the manager and go over menu choices and preparation before ordering. The manager will alert the kitchen staff and chef to insure that your food is prepared safely.
4. When traveling, staying in a residence-type hotel with a kitchenette, makes it easier to follow a gluten free diet.
5. Sleep-away camp can still be fun for a child with celiac disease. Just work with the camp directors and staff to insure a safe experience for your child. Some camps will even provide a section of a freezer and a microwave so pre-made foods can be sent from home while following the camp menu with gluten free alternatives.
6. Parties can be managed quite well by calling ahead and speaking with the host or hostess. This will enable you to determine the planned menu and bring a dish that is gluten free.
7. Find a local celiac support group by searching for one in your area on the internet.
Remember, a diagnosis of celiac disease for you, your child, or a loved one, is not “the end of the world”. It is the beginning of a wonderful, transformational journey toward healing, health, and well-being that will allow you to become the healthy person you were meant to be.