Celiac Disease: An Autoimmune Disease
For those with this autoimmune disease, ingesting even the smallest amount of gluten sets off a reaction in the small intestine. Over time, this damages the intestinal lining, preventing your body from absorbing nutrients such as carbohydrates, fat, protein, vitamins and minerals. Untreated celiac can lead to serious health problems, including osteoporosis, infertility, and even neurological conditions. But don’t self-diagnose; celiac needs to be confirmed through testing for specific levels of certain autoantibodies (proteins that react against the body’s own cells or tissues) in the blood. A positive blood test is then confirmed by intestinal biopsy.
Gluten Sensitivity: A Range of Uncomfortable Symptoms
Also known as gluten intolerance, and often mistaken for a food allergy, this condition is less severe than celiac disease. For those who have it, regular consumption of gluten can cause symptoms such as abdominal pain, fatigue, headaches, and tingling in the extremities. This happens because the gut can’t properly break down and digest gluten. Many of my clients who have removed gluten from their diet due to a suspected sensitivity have reported loss of excess weight, increased energy, and improvement in skin problems such as acne and eczema.
While I’m not a medical doctor, once a diagnosis of celiac disease or gluten sensitivity is made, holistic nutritionists such as myself are trained to assist clients with building a healthy meal plan to ensure adequate fiber and nutrient intake so they can avoid a gluten-free diet that relies on junk food.
The main sources of gluten are foods with protein from wheat, barley or rye. Avoiding them may seem overwhelming, given that the majority of baked goods and pastas contain gluten, and even foods such as seasonings, soup mixes and gravy may contain gluten. But many stores now carry a variety of grains and products that can be used instead, such as quinoa flour, buckwheat, almond meal, ground millet and brown rice flour.
Choose whole foods that are not stripped of fiber; chia seeds, quinoa and millet are excellent options. Remember, just because something is labelled gluten-free doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Many products that are gluten-free are made with refined flours, such as white rice flour, and have little nutrition.
Eat simply; I advocate choosing naturally gluten-free foods, as opposed to those with a long list of ingredients.
November 2012 issue of Best Health magazine