Though it’s reached cult diet status in recent years, going gluten-free isn’t optional for most who do it. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in every 141 Americans suffers from celiac disease, the inherited disease that causes severe gluten intolerance.
What is Celiac Disease?
As explained by The Mayo Clinic, those who suffer from celiac disease suffer an immune response in the small intestine upon eating foods that contain gluten. Over time, the reaction produces inflammation that damages the lining of the small intestine and prevents the absorption of nutrients. The effect? A laundry list of health problems. Weight loss, bloating and diarrhea are the early issues, but eventually the brain, nervous system, bones, liver and other organs will feel the effects of nourishment deprivation.
Am I Gluten Intolerant?
If you frequently experience diarrhea, abdominal distension or bloating, or have experienced recent and sudden weight loss, you should ask your doctor for a blood test. Because gluten causes malabsorption in those who suffer from celiac disease, vitamin B12, iron or folate deficiencies can also be a tip-off. And, of course, if you have a family history of celiac disease, it’s highly likely you’re suffering from the malady, too. Your doctor will be able to give you a definitive answer after a simple blood test. Just be sure you don’t go gluten-free prior to the test. Once you’ve eliminated gluten from your system, it’s harder to get an accurate result.
Is There a Cure?
While there is no cure for celiac disease, there is one course of treatment: Follow a strict gluten-free diet. Thanks to health-minded grocers such as Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and Fresh Market, gluten-free options are readily available. From pizza and pasta to cookies and bagels, there’s a gluten-free substitute for just about every crave-worthy snack. But, if you’re not into frozen or pre-packaged foods, maintaining a gluten-free lifestyle at home and out on the town is easy when you know what to look for.
What Foods Should I Avoid?
The list of gluten-filled foods is long, but the most prominent ingredients to steer clear of are: barley, malt, rye, wheat, durum flour, farina, graham flour, kamut, semolina and spelt. And, while some foods are obviously off limits (bread, croutons, cookies), others aren’t so apparent. Hidden dangers lurk in beer, cereal, gravy, imitation meat and seafood, processed lunch meat, salad dressings, sauces, seasonings, soups and certain chips.
What Can I Eat?
The lists above may seem to rule out everything on your grocery list, but there are plenty of gluten-free options for cooking and snacking. Replace ingredients above with: arrowroot, buckwheat, corn and cornmeal, flax, gluten-free flours, hominy, millet, quinoa, rice, sorghum, soy and tapioca. Fresh fruits and veggies, beans, seeds and nuts, eggs, dairy and fresh meat, fish and poultry are all naturally gluten-free.
What About Dining Out?
Many restaurants offer gluten-free menus, just ask your server. And when they don’t, just ask for the chef’s gluten-free recommendations. Always be up front with your server about a gluten allergy, as gluten can hide in shared fryers and on common surfaces, or in seasonings and batters.
Should I Use Gluten-Free Beauty Products?
There is no evidence that topical products containing gluten have a negative effect on the health of celiac sufferers. In fact, the gluten protein is too large to be absorbed through skin, so your makeup and skin-care products are safe. However, if you suffer from severe celiac disease, products that go on or in your mouth could cause problems. Swap out your toothpaste and lip products for gluten-free options to see if you notice a difference. If you do, stick with the change.
The Bottom Line
Living life without gluten can be tricky, but you’re not alone. And, with strength in numbers comes the power of increased knowledge. With so much gluten-free information floating around, major corporations (especially those who manufacture our food), and people who don’t have a medical need to live gluten-free, are learning just how serious the problem is. Between increased education and seemingly endless food options, living gluten-free is easier now than ever before.