Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that interferes with the small intestine’s ability to absorb nutrients from food. It is triggered by the consumption of a protein called gluten, commonly found in bread, pasta, baked goods, lunch meat and many other foods containing wheat, barley or rye. The exact cause is unknown, but research suggests that there may be genetic links between celiac and other autoimmune disorders, including Type I diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. People with other autoimmune disorders may therefore be more likely to develop celiac disease.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration estimate that about one percent of Americans will develop this condition at some point in their lives. And according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), if someone in your immediate family has celiac disease, your individual risk rises to one in 22.
Symptoms and Side Effects
Certain symptoms of celiac disease affect the digestive tract and the ability to absorb nutrients from food. Some people experience few or no symptoms — or the symptoms mimic other, more common ailments such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), mild anemia or fatigue. These may include:
- Stomach cramps, pain or bloating
- Changes in bowel habits (particularly chronic diarrhea, but possibly constipation)
- Nausea or vomiting
- Weight loss
According to the NIH, adults with celiac disease may experience one or more of the following:
- Fatigue or exhaustion
- Pain in the bones or joints
- Changes in mood, especially anxiety, irritability or depression
- Sores inside the mouth
- Tingling hands or feet
- An itchy, red rash
- Anemia or osteoporosis with no apparent cause
- For women, irregular menstruation
If you or someone you know has experienced these symptoms, a test for celiac disease is in order. Diagnostic tests may include blood tests, a biopsy of the small intestine — and, if a rash is present, a skin biopsy.
Strict adherence to a gluten free diet is the most effective way to control the disease; removing gluten can eliminate symptoms in as little as a week! If you have this condition, consuming even small traces of wheat or other gluten containing foods can provoke symptoms. Untreated celiac can result in severe malnutrition, anemia and osteoporosis; it may also lead to cancers of the liver and bowel.
Adhering to this diet can present challenges. You can control your diet at home by reading labels carefully and keeping separate, gluten free cookware and prep areas — but you can't always be sure that foods from other kitchens are completely gluten free. These tips can help:
- Join a celiac disease support group for tips to help you adhere to your diet while enjoying what you eat. Check the Celiac Disease Foundation's website, www.celiac.org, for information on groups near you.
- Seek expert assistance. Your physician can provide guidance on adopting a gluten free diet; ask the registered dietitians at Giant Eagle for delicious, creative recipes and menu ideas designed just for you.
- Read labels. Wheat gluten can masquerade as other ingredients, including rye, barley, malt, farina, seitan or semolina. Check out this NIH table for a complete list of safe-to-consume foods.
- Choose naturally gluten free foods. Natural fruits, natural vegetables, 100% fruit and vegetable juices, eggs, fresh fish and fresh shellfish are all great choices.
- Plan ahead. Before visiting a new restaurant, check the menu, if available — and call to inquire about gluten free options.
- Bring meals and snacks from home. Gluten free string cheese, raisins, fruits and vegetables with gluten free dip make safe, nutritious take-along foods.
- Work with the kitchen at your office or school to develop gluten free meals. If your child requires a gluten free diet at school, talk to the school principal, your child's teachers and cafeteria staff.
- Communicate your dietary needs. Educate family and friends — celiac disease is 100% manageable!
These articles can help you, your family and your friends get a better picture of dietary requirements — and delicious dishes — for people with celiac disease.
- Make savory sides that everyone can enjoy with our Gluten Free Sides guide.
- Learn more about the gluten free lifestyle with the Gluten Free Living page.
- Get tasty and safe gluten free recipes.
- Schedule an appointment with a Giant Eagle registered dietitian.
- Check out the entire line of gluten free products from the Giant Eagle family of brands.
- Take a gluten free tour. Giant Eagle carries a wide variety of products suitable for gluten free and gluten restricted diets, but finding the right foods can be tricky. Take a guided tour of the store to learn how to identify gluten free offerings by reading food labels, and get specifics on the nutrients you need — plus ingredients to avoid. There is no charge for this event — so reserve your spot today!