Your doctor says you have celiac disease, a serious genetically-based autoimmune disease. You can no longer eat wheat, barley, and rye because these grains contain proteins that trigger an immune response in your body that damages the lining of the small intestine. This damage, if left unchecked, can lead to a lot of major problems, including vitamin and mineral deficiencies, anemia, and bone disease.
The good news: The availability of gluten-free grains, flours, and products made from them has never been greater. You can find amaranth, buckwheat, quinoa, millet, sorghum, teff, and wild rice in many mainstream grocery stores and most natural food stores. All of these grains are delicious and their flours make fabulous baked goods. There also are gluten-free versions of almost every wheat-based food you can think of – sandwich breads, breakfast cereals, pastas, muffins, bagels, pizza crusts, cookies, and pretzels, just to name a very, very few. And most grocery stores, even small ones, seem to be stocking gluten-free products these days.
Maintaining a Balanced Diet
When You Are Gluten-Intolerant
The not so good news: You must remove all sources of wheat, barley, and rye, including the grain, flour, and products made from them from your diet. The learning curve for the gluten-free diet is steep but it still requires a bit of a transition. The following tips should help:
1. Schedule an appointment with a dietitian who knows a lot about celiac disease. A state-by-state listing is available at:
2. Clear some cupboard or pantry space for your grain-based gluten-free products. You want to store your gluten-free foods separately from your gluten-containing foods to prevent cross contamination. You do not want wheat-based bread crumbs or bits of wheat-based pasta falling on your gluten-free foods.
3. Make a trip to your local food store to see what kinds of grain-based gluten-free foods are available.
4. Read food labels carefully for sources of gluten. Many food products will be labeled “gluten-free.” If they aren’t, read the ingredients list looking for the following words and terms that mean gluten: wheat, barley, rye, oats (unless labeled gluten free), malt (unless a gluten-free source is named), and brewer’s yeast. For more information on reading food labels, please see the articles: http://www.glutenfreedietitian.com/gluten_free_diet.php http://www.glutenfreedietitian.com/newsletter/dietcom-blog-how-to-tell-if-a-food-is-gluten-free/
5. Go online and visit a few gluten-free food sites, including the gluten-free mall http://www.glutenfreemall.com/ to help you visualize the abundance of food products available to you.
6. Experiment with cooking using gluten-free whole grains. Brown rice is just as delicious—even more so—than white rice. Quinoa can be used as a substitute for rice. Teff and sorghum make great hot cereals.
7. Experiment with baking using gluten-free flours and starches. Don’t get discouraged if your first efforts need a bit of work.
8. Purchase a good cookbook. I am partial to the American Dietetic Association’s Easy Gluten-Free http://www.glutenfreedietitian.com/gluten_free_books.php, but there are oodles of good books available.
9. Invest in a good general information book on gluten-free diets. I am partial to The Gluten-Free Nutrition Guide
http://www.glutenfreedietitian.com/gluten_free_books.php, but there are plenty of good books out there.
10. Join a support group—both national and local. There are three national support groups–the Celiac Disease Foundation, Celiac Sprue Association, and the Gluten Intolerance Group. There also are many local affiliates of these groups. For a state-by-state listing, please see http://www.glutenfreedietitian.com/newsletter/celiac-disease-support-groups/.
11. Find restaurants in your area with gluten-free menus. Many chain restaurants, including Legal Sea Foods and PF Changs have gluten-free menus or gluten-free items identified on menus. For more information please see http://www.glutenfreedietitian.com/newsletter/dietcom-blog-restaurant-chains-with-gluten-free-menus/
12. Talk with your friends and family. Explain the gluten-free diet and why it is important that you strictly follow it.
13. Invite people to your house to sample all the gluten-free fare you have learned to cook and bake. And don’t be shy about taking a gluten-free entree to a get-together with friends.
14. Relax and enjoy how much better you are starting to feel now that you are gluten free!
15. Schedule an appointment with a dietitian who knows a lot about celiac disease. Yes, this guidance was given in tip #1 but it is so important that it is worth repeating. The tips provided in this column are just the beginning. You need a good dietitian who can monitor your progress on the diet, watch for sources of contamination, and answer the questions you inevitably will have about many aspects of this diet.
Here’s to healthy and happy gluten-free eating!
Tricia Thompson, MS, RD is an internationally recognized expert in celiac disease and the gluten-free diet. A researcher, consultant, and writer, she is the author of The Gluten-Free Nutrition Guide, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Gluten-Free Eating, and American Dietetic Association’s Easy Gluten-Free: Expert Nutrition Advice with More Than 100 Recipes. For more information on celiac disease and the gluten-free diet, visit Tricia’s website at www.glutenfreedietitian.com.
The articles written by guest contributors are the sole responsibility of the individual writers in terms of factual accuracy and opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher of this blog.