If you are diagnosed with Celiac Disease, you must adopt a strict gluten free diet.
Adopting a gluten-free diet allows the villi in your small intestines to repair themselves so that proper absorption of nutrients can take place -- and health can be restored. The time for the villi to return to normal varies among individuals.
If you're gluten sensitive but don't have Celiac, your body doesn't need to repair any damage, but a gluten-free diet will quickly help your symptoms.
One thing should be emphasized right up front before getting into the nitty-gritty of the gluten-free diet. Following a gluten-free diet is not the kiss of death, and it IS NOT NEARLY AS HARD TO FOLLOW AS IT USED TO BE!
Once upon a time -- as recently as 9 or 10 years ago -- following a gluten-free diet was difficult, and at times socially isolating. And it wasn't always tasty, either. That's because, back then, there was not NEARLY the selection of gluten-free foods that is available today. And most of the gluten-free substitutes for things like bread, crackers, and cookies tasted like cardboard. What was available was harder to find (you often had to shop in faraway places or online). And when it came to dining out at restaurants...well, not only were there no "gluten free menus," but chefs usually didn't even know what "gluten-free" meant!
Well, we've come a long way, baby. In the past few years alone, the number of gluten-free items on shelves has exploded. And it's not just at stores like Whole Foods or Trader Joe's. Most grocery chains either have a dedicated gluten-free section -- or have plenty of gluten-free specialty items scattered throughout the store. If you're lucky, sometimes they're labeled to make them easy to spot on shelves.
The variety and quality of gluten-free foods has come so far that it is no longer a sacrifice to choose a gluten-free product. People even without Celiac Disease are doing this willingly. The taste, texture, and freshness of gluten-free foods rivals that of the best "regular" foods. (It's just the price that's still not comparable -- yes, you'll pay a bit more.)
The important thing to keep in mind if you're diagnosed with Celiac Disease or gluten sensitivity and prescribed a gluten-free diet is that it's a relatively easy "treatment" for a serious disease. Try to keep things in perspective: There's no surgery required. No prescription drugs. No necessity for numerous doctors' appointments.
Diet alone will heal your body, and you'll feel better than you ever have.
In fact, after suffering for years before a proper diagnosis, most people are THRILLED to learn they have Celiac Disease or gluten sensitivity. Really. They are just glad to finally have an answer and to begin on a path of renewed health.
So what exactly does a gluten-free diet entail?
Before we talk about what you CAN'T have, let's talk about what you CAN eat: meat, beans, nuts, vegetables, fruits, dairy, rice, potatoes, and anything corn-based. Bonus for those of you with a sweet tooth: most ice cream and a lot of candy is gluten-free!
A gluten-free diet means avoiding anything containing wheat, rye, or barley. (This also includes spelt, triticale, and kamut.) Oats are also off-limits, unless they are clearly labeled gluten-free (as some now are). This is because of the prevalence of cross-contamination with wheat when growing, storing, and transporting oats.
It's easy to spot some culprits in our everyday diet: things like pasta, crackers, cake, cookies, bread. (Of course, as mentioned above, there are now fantastic gluten-free versions of these foods everywhere.) But the more challenging task is to learn and recognize the many hidden sources of gluten.
Take beer, for instance. It's a no-no because of the barley. And most soy sauces are wheat-fermented. (So beware of anything with an Asian marinade or dressing that contains soy sauce.) Here are some other hidden sources of gluten:
- Latex or rubber gloves -- can be dusted with wheat or oat flour
- Gloves used at your dentist's office -- request "unpowdered" gloves
- Rice syrup -- may use barley enzymes
- Pancake syrups -- may contain barley malt flour
- Breakfast cereals -- may contain malt flavoring (from barley)
- Soups -- may use flour as a thickener
- Seasoning packets -- often have hidden sources of gluten
- Chewing Gum -- often dusted with flour
- Art supplies -- gluten often hides in glue, paint, clay, and is in Play-Doh
- Personal care items -- check lipsticks, lip balm, toothpaste, mouthwash or anything that might be ingested (most experts say gluten in body lotion or shampoo is okay, but it is up to you to decide on your comfort level).
Please don't be overwhelmed. It is a lot to digest (no pun intended) at first, but there is a treasure trove of free information available to you regarding sources of gluten and what to avoid. In time, it will become second nature to you. Learn the basics of shopping for gluten free foods and cooking gluten free. You can also read our tips for dining out and traveling gluten free.