What You Need to Know About Celiac Disease

By Megan Moore, RDN

“Going gluten free” has recently become popular among people desiring to lose weight, but for 1 out of every 100 people it is an absolute permanent health need.

 

Celiac disease is a genetic autoimmune disorder in which the ingestion of gluten leads to serious damage in the small intestine. When the villi inside the small intestine become damaged they cannot absorb nutrients properly, which leads to a whole host of long-term health effects.

 

Gluten is a combination of proteins found in wheat, barley, rye, triticale, and typically oats (unless they are labeled gluten free, otherwise they are cross-contaminated with wheat). Celiac disease is hereditary, meaning that it runs in families. People who have a first-degree relative with celiac disease have a 1 in 10 risk of developing the condition themselves.

 

It is also interesting to note that the later the age of diagnosis, the greater the chance of developing another autoimmune disorder in addition. So, if you do have family members with celiac disease it is a good idea to get the whole family tested as well, even if there are no present symptoms. (1)

 

How Do I know If I Have Celiac Disease?

Celiac Disease chart

Get Tested to Know for Sure!

Your doctor can order a simple blood test that screens for celiac disease antibodies, called the tTG-IgA test. For this test to work, you must be consuming gluten. Do not begin a gluten free diet prior to being tested. If your blood test results suggest celiac disease, your doctor will recommend a biopsy of your small intestine to confirm the diagnosis and analyze the extent of the damage in to your small intestine to date.

 

What is the Treatment?

The good news is celiac disease is generally manageable through the elimination of gluten in your diet.  Of course, this is much easier said than done! There are many hidden sources of gluten out there to be sure. Fortunately, the popularization of gluten free diets has been beneficial to people suffering from celiac disease as well, and there are a plethora of certified gluten free products in most every basic grocery store these days (which wasn’t the case 15 years ago!).

 

Remember: There is no health benefit to excluding gluten if you do not have celiac disease or a true gluten sensitivity. If traditional processed foods (crackers, granola bars, cookies, cereal, cupcakes, etc.) are simply replaced with gluten free processed foods, there is no health enhancement. In fact, gluten free packaged products tend to be lower in fiber than their whole wheat counterparts. 

 

The great news is fresh vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, and seeds are all naturally gluten free and should make up the majority of a healthy, nutrient-dense diet for everyone to begin with.

 

Eating gluten free

While celiac disease is a serious autoimmune condition, following a gluten free diet is very doable. Rice, cassava, soy, potato, tapioca, beans, sorghum, quinoa, millet, buckwheat, arrowroot, amaranth, teff, flax, chia, yucca, GF oats, and nut flours are all alternative grains that may be safely included. 

 

Reading food labels and looking for the “Certified Gluten Free” symbol is important. Also remember “wheat free” does not necessarily mean “gluten free.” Keep reading for other possible gluten sources in the ingredient list, especially sneaky ones such as malt, starch, soy sauce, brewer’s yeast, malt vinegar, dextrin, brown rice syrup (may be made with barley enzymes), and mixed seasonings.

 

It is also helpful to buy a good gluten free cookbook, such as Whole Bowls or Gluten Free, Hassle Free, and check out other resources, such as the Celiac Disease Foundation.

 

Here’s a healthy gluten free recipe to get you started!

 

Rainbow Summer SaladSummer salad

  • 8 cups mixed salad greens
  • 1 (15oz) can no-salt added chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup lightly packed microgreens (such as pea shoots)
  • 1 cup fresh corn kernels (about 2 ears)
  • 1 cup shelled edamame beans
  • ¼ cup sliced radishes
  • ½ cup ready to eat baby beets
  • 1 avocado, sliced into 12 wedges

Homemade Buttermilk-Avocado Dressing:

  • 1 small ripe avocado, chopped
  • 1 cup chopped fresh herbs (tarragon, dill, parsley, chives)
  • ½ cup + 2 TB low-fat buttermilk
  • 2 TB water
  • 1 small garlic clove
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • ¼ tsp salt

Combine all dressing ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth. Spoon over salad.

Substitute recipe

  1. Celiac Disease Foundation; https://celiac.org/
  2. Today’s Dietitian; February 2015 Issue; Living Gluten-Free: Creating a Healthful Gluten-Free Kitchen, By Beth W. Orenstein; Today's Dietitian; 17 No. 2 https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/021115p20.shtml