According to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, one out of 133 Americans –about one percent of our population – has celiac disease, an immune response to gluten. Celiac disease can prevent important nutrients from being absorbed, causing malnutrition and damage to the lining of the small intestine. Symptoms include stomach pain, diarrhea, constipation, fatigue, anemia, bone pain and severe skin rashes.
The only treatment for celiac disease is a strict, gluten-free diet with no foods that include or even come in contact with wheat, rye and barley. Even small traces of gluten can harm someone with celiac disease.
Fortunately, sticking to a gluten-free diet isn’t as hard as you might think, and you don’t have to sacrifice taste for the sake of good health. You just have to be a little more careful. Most grocery stores, food markets and restaurants are doing their part by creating gluten-free sections and menus.
Here are eight tips that will help you choose the right foods, ask the right questions and identify potential problems.
1) Go natural. If you’re new to a gluten-free diet, start by eating foods that are naturally gluten-free, like fruit, vegetables, fish, meat and rice. If you start with gluten-free breads, pasta and other products right off the bat, you’ll be more likely to notice differences in flavor and texture.
2) “Gluten-free” does not equal “healthy.” Just because a product is gluten-free, that doesn’t make it good for you. Look for sugar content, harmful fats and calories counts when grocery shopping.
3) “Gluten-free” does not equal “grain-free.” If you’re gluten-intolerant, you don’t have to miss out on the taste and health benefits of whole grains. Actually, most whole grains, including millet, quinoa, amaranth, teff and buckwheat, are gluten-free.
4) Read the entire label. You can’t just avoid barley, wheat and rye. You need to be aware of hidden sources of gluten. For example, gluten is commonly used as a preservative in soy sauce, barbecue sauce, salad dressing and other products. Also, make sure you’re only eating certified gluten-free oats.
5) Check your medications and supplements. According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, no law requires gluten to be included on the label of medication. However, wheat can be used for filler, water absorption and other purposes in tablets and capsules. Investigate gluten content when medication and supplements are prescribed.
6) Ask questions at restaurants. Don’t be afraid to dine out because you’re overwhelmed, and don’t be afraid to get the answers you need. You’re not being a pain if you’re asking questions that can prevent you from getting sick. Also, more widespread awareness of gluten sensitivity and allergies has led to more knowledgeable wait staffs.
7) Be careful about cross-contamination. A product may not contain gluten, but if it was prepared in the same environment as products that contain gluten, there’s a strong chance of cross-contamination. Whether you’re cooking at home or dining out, gluten-free products must be prepared with separate pots, pans, utensils, preparation surfaces and cooking oils.
8) Verify gluten content in questionable foods. Resources such as Celiac.com offer safe, gluten-free food lists. Just check back periodically because companies change ingredients from time to time. The Celiac Disease Foundation provides lists of foods that are a source of gluten, foods that may contain gluten and must be verified, and a number of other helpful resources.
Dr. James Proodian is an accomplished chiropractic physician and health educator who founded Proodian Healthcare Family of Companies to help people feel better, function better, and live longer. His expertise for the past two decades has been in physical rehabilitation, and he has successfully established himself as a spinal specialist. In his practice, he advocates the science of functional medicine, which takes an integrative approach to treating patients by addressing their physical, nutritional, and psychological needs. Alarmed by the escalation of complex, chronic illness in our country, Dr. Proodian has been speaking to companies and organizations through his “Wellness at Work” program since 1994, motivating thousands of people to make positive lifestyle choices and lead healthier, more productive lives. He can be heard weekly on his radio program, “Proodian Healthcare By Design,” on Tandem Radio.