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Celiac Disease and Gluten-Free Diets

Overview

You may be overwhelmed by a recent diagnosis of celiac disease, but it isn't difficult to gain an understanding of celiac disease and how a gluten-free diet can vastly improve your health. Despite your dietary restrictions, eating and preparing food can be pleasurable. With a few tips and guidelines, you can nourish your body with tasty and delicious gluten-free alternatives. Talk with your doctor for guidance on what specific dietary adjustments should be made for your particular situation.

Definition

The cause of celiac disease is unknown and occurs when the lining of the intestine becomes impaired in response to eating gluten. The body's immune system reacts to eating gluten by damaging the villi, resulting in the inability to absorb nutrients. People who have a family member with the disease are at a greater risk of developing celiac disease. It is most prevalent in Caucasians and persons of European ancestry. Women experience celiac disease more than men. People who have celiac disease are more likely to possess autoimmune disorders, Addison's Disease, Down syndrome, intestinal cancer, intestinal lymphoma, lactose intolerance, thyroid disease and type 1 diabetes.

Diagnosis

Your doctor may use one of several methods to determine if you have celiac disease. He may use a blood test that can indicate increased levels of antibodies. If you have celiac disease, your immune system recognizes gluten as a foreign substance and may produce higher levels of antibodies. Your doctor might take a sample of your small intestine to confirm a celiac disease diagnosis. Another method for diagnosing celiac disease involves swallowing a pill-sized camera that collects images of your small intestine by transmitting pictures to a recorder that you wear on your belt.

Do not begin a gluten-free diet prior to testing and diagnosis for celiac disease. Doing so may change the results of a blood test so that they appear normal.

Foods Containing Gluten

Those with celiac disease must avoid all food and beverages containing barley; bulgur; durham; farina; graham flour; kamut; matzo meal; rye; semolina; spelt (a form of wheat); triticale and wheat.

Avoid the following foods unless they carry the 'gluten free' label: beers; breads; candies; cakes and pies; cereals; cookies; crackers; croutons; gravies; imitation meats or seafood; oats; pastas; processed luncheon meats; salad dressings; sauces (including soy sauce); self-basting poultry and soups. These foods can be consumed if they are produced with corn, rice, soy, or other gluten-free grains.


Read food labels to ensure that your food is free of gluten. Choose products manufactured in a facility that is free of wheat or other contaminating products. Oats, for example, can become contaminated with wheat during the harvesting and processing phases of production. Doctors are unsure whether oats are harmful for people with celiac disease. Many doctors suggest not eating them unless the label states that the food is 'gluten free.'

Products and Foods to Avoid

Gluten is found in common food products. Avoid food additives including malt flavoring and modified food starch. Read the labels of lipstick and lip balms. Many medications and vitamins contain gluten as a binding agent. Gluten is also found in play dough and toothpaste.

Gluten-Free Options

You can eat many foods if you are following a gluten-free diet. Grains and starches you can consume while on a gluten-free diet include amaranth; arrowroot; buckwheat; corn; cornmeal; gluten-free flours (rice, soy, corn, potato, bean); hominy grits; polenta; pure corn tortillas; quinoa; rice and tapioca.

Other gluten-free foods include: fresh meats; fish and poultry (not breaded, batter-coated or marinated); fruits; most dairy products; potatoes; rice; vegetables; wine and distilled liquors; ciders and spirits.


Your supermarket or health food store may have a gluten-free section. Gluten-free substitutes are widely available for many foods that traditionally contain gluten including brownies, beer, bread, pasta, cereal, and snack bars to name just a few.