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Celiac Disease


Gluten is a protein composite found in grains and flour products, including wheat, kamut, semolina, spelt, barley, bulgur, rye, and oats. These are in many readily available products, including most bread, pizza dough, pastries, cereals, vegetable burgers, tortillas, soy sauce, Worchester sauce, and some salad dressings.


For many people looking for alternative protein sources, wheat gluten (Seitan) is an important addition to their diets.  However, gluten intolerance (Celiac disease) is a big concern.  Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that affects the small intestine. Our body’s immune system is designed to protect itself from foreign invaders. When people with celiac disease eat foods containing gluten, their immune system forms antibodies, which attack the intestinal lining. This causes inflammation in the intestines and damages the villi, the hair-like structures on the small intestine lining. The villi normally absorb nutrients from food. If the villi are damaged, the body cannot absorb nutrients properly, resulting in malnutrition because of the lack of absorption.  Some of the symptoms of celiac disease are – bloating, gas, diarrhea, pale stool, weight loss, skin rashes, iron deficiency, musculoskeletal problems, growth problems for children, seizures, and nerve damage.


Symptoms of celiac disease often mimic other diseases, such as irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, and diverticulitis, which can be difficult to diagnose.  A specific blood test will determine whether you have high levels of autoantibodies, antibodies that react to your body’s tissues.  It might be necessary to have an endoscopy to obtain a sample of the tissue (biopsy) from your small intestine, which will determine the damage to the villi.


There is no cure for celiac disease; switching to a gluten-free diet is the only relief.  This change is not easy to adjust to, but like anything new, it takes some getting used to. You may initially feel deprived by the diet's restrictions. However, try to stay positive and focus on all the foods you can eat. You may also be pleasantly surprised how many gluten-free products, such as bread and pasta, are now available in local stores.


Cross-contamination is one consideration if you are affected with celiac disease.  This occurs when gluten-free foods come into contact with foods that contain gluten. It can happen during manufacturing, for example, if the same equipment is used to make various products. Some food labels include a "may contain" statement if this is the case. Be aware that this type of statement is voluntary. You should still check the ingredient list. If you're unsure whether a food contains gluten, you cannot buy it; check with the manufacturer or consult a dietitian or practitioner like me.


Cross-contamination can also occur at home if foods are prepared on common surfaces or with utensils that weren't thoroughly cleaned after being used to prepare gluten-containing foods. Using a common toaster for gluten-free bread and regular bread is an example of possible cross-contamination. If this condition concerns you, meeting with a trained professional would be wise to map out a plan to keep your diet gluten-free.


There are many grains and starches considered acceptable for gluten-free diets. The most frequently used are corn, potatoes, rice, tapioca, amaranth, arrowroot, millet, chickpea flour, quinoa, buckwheat (not related to gluten found in wheat products), sorghum, teff, almond, coconut, pea flours, and cornstarch.


Below are safe products (or foods) that can be used (consumed) on a gluten-free diet.

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