I continue to run into people, both online and in real life, who have celiac disease or cannot handle gluten, including an elderly neighbor who was just diagnosed for the first time.
This Monday Mission topic was confirmed when I heard Elisabeth Hasselbeck, host of The View and former Survivor contestant, describe how she was diagnosed with celiac: when she started Survivor: The Australian Outback, she had been feeling so sick all the time, and she was shocked to find that after some time on the show, eating little but white rice, she actually felt better. The gluten-free diet did it! (See her book, The G-Free Diet)
Her emphatic recollection of the pain she had been feeling hit home with me. Celiac is an oft under-diagnosed disease for a variety of reasons. It can make people feel awful and eventually become life-threatening, and I think it’s important to be familiar with these symptoms in case anyone in our lives runs into a gluten problem.
Your mission, if you choose to accept, is to increase your awareness of gluten.
I challenge you to learn why it negatively affects many people, what the symptoms of celiac disease are, and what foods contain gluten.
Symptoms of Celiac Disease
The small intestine is the casualty in people with celiac disease, who cannot eat gluten without consequences. The scariest thing about celiac is that sometimes people can consume gluten and have no noticeable ill effects, but their intestine is being damaged anyway. Here are the major symptoms, according to WebMD:
- gas, abdominal swelling, bloating
- abnormal stools or diarrhea
- weight loss
- also weight gain!
- fatigue and weakness
- (some) vomiting
Some large-scale negative impacts include:
- delayed onset of puberty
- frequent respiratory infections.
- problems with memory and concentration
Watch for Gluten-Containing Foods
It’s easier to remember the gluten grains than I expected: it’s a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye.
Just make sure you include variations of wheat like spelt, Kamut, triticale, einkorn, and durum. There are lots of grains that don’t contain gluten, like corn, quinoa, rice, millet, sorghum, teff, amaranth, buckwheat and oats. Oats are a tricky one, because they’re almost always contaminated with wheat flour, so a celiac would need gluten-free certified oats. (source)
Not everyone is sensitive to gluten, of course, but I always think it’s helpful to raise awareness of what exactly you’re eating. Gluten is making an appearance in more and more foods these days (one theory as to why more people are sensitive and allergic to it). By finding it, you’ll get a good education in (1) where gluten is hiding and (2) how difficult it is for gluten-sensitive people and celiacs (allergic to gluten) to avoid the stuff.
Walking a mile in another person’s shoes (or taking a forkful from their plate) is a mind-opening exercise and important to participate in occasionally.
I’m pleased to introduce Amy Green of Simply Sugar and Gluten Free. She struggled for a long time with her weight and with food cravings, until her doctor told her to stop eating sugar and gluten. When she made those changes in her diet most of the cravings went away and she is now at a normal weight. I encourage you to read her entire story. Here she is, to explain gluten and gluten intolerance.
So, what’s gluten?
If I had a nickel for every time I’ve been asked this, I’d be really rich.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. It’s what gives structure and form to our breads, rolls, and cookies. Sounds harmless, huh?
For most people it is. For those with Celiac Disease, though, gluten causes an autoimmune response and the body produces antibodies that attack the intestines. Over time, this can cause a myriad of problems including stunted growth, anemia, osteoporosis, vitamin and mineral deficiency and depression.
I don’t have Celiac Disease so I can’t talk in detail about how it impacts life. The Gluten Free Homemaker is a great resource for anyone wanting to learn more.
Gluten intolerance, on the other hand, doesn’t involve an autoimmune response but still causes gastrointestinal distress and has a significant impact on health and well being. For someone like me, wheat impacts mood, hunger, weight, mental clarity, and general well-being.
Is gluten-free healthier?
Many heavily processed, gluten-free shelf products are higher in fat and sometimes sugar to create a consistency like their wheat laden counterparts. Starchy flours like tapioca, white rice, sweet rice, and cornstarch often make up the majority of the baking mix. I’d be a liar if I told you they were healthier.
Whole foods instead of processed shelf products. Lots of fresh fruits and veggies. Nutritious whole grains like millet, quinoa, and amaranth.
You may not need to eat gluten-free, but you can certainly improve the quality of what you eat by taking some cues from those of us who do. After being sick for so long, we seem to develop a passion for health and well being. Going to any length to eat well is what we live for.
Hidden Names for Wheat and Gluten
Where is there hidden gluten in your house?
The catch is that you can’t just skim for wheat, barley and rye. Three words would be far too simple.
Ingredient labels are almost never quite as easy as wheat flour, water, sugar, salt. It seems you need to take a thesaurus with you to the store these days if you want to buy anything with more than one ingredient (even with the best of intentions, most of us realistically can’t make everything from scratch).
Other names for wheat include:
- Binder or binding
- Duram (durum)
- Gum base
- Hydrolysed wheat protein
- Modified food starch
- Modified starch
- Thickener or thickening
- Triticale (a hybrid of wheat and rye)
Other names for gluten may include:
- Natural flavor
- Monosodium glutamate (already a Pandora’s Box – see the 20+ titles under which MSG can be filed)
- Lectins (lecithins)
These lists were found here (click for more information on why the four above are included on the list). If you want to see a serious list that is 2-3 times as long as this abbreviation, see this unsafe gluten-free food list, which includes such possible gluten hazards as some artificial colors, baking powder, modified food starch and hydrolyzed-a-bunch-of-stuff.
A reader directed me to this amazing site: Catholic Celiac Children – be sure to read a few posts; I really got a sense of what it feels like to be part of a family with someone with celiac disease.
I have to admit that my ears perked up when I discovered celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder. We’re unfortunately familiar with those at my house as my husband has Crohn’s Disease (thankfully symptom free for nearly 7 years now). I’m always trying to figure out what his “trigger” foods for digestive issues might be.
Please check out Free to Feast, a brand new blog written by a college student about her harrowing experience with Crohn’s Disease, gluten-free life, and the Specific Carbohydrate Diet. Denise is a wonderful writer and has much to say!