Gluten-free foods are becoming more commonplace and are essential to the well-being of individuals with celiac disease. Celiac disease is easily managed, but it is important to reduce the intake of gluten if you are diagnosed with it.

Barbara Paolucci is a family nurse practitioner with Novant Health Gastroenterology Brunswick in Supply at 13 Medical Campus Drive, Suite 102. She has some points on celiac disease that you should know.

1. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder in the small intestines

If someone has celiac disease, they should avoid eating gluten in their diets. I“What happens when someone has this disorder,” said Paolucci, “is that it impairs the body’s ability to break down certain food, and because of that you have inflammation in the gut.” This can cause varying symptoms and can lead to more serious health problems down the road.

2. Celiac disease has varying symptoms and increases the risk of cancer

“Everybody is very different,” said Paolucci “and so some people can be not symptomatic at all, and some people can be severely symptomatic.” Patients might experience abdominal pain and bloating, frequent bowel movements and diarrhea. A decrease in appetite also can come with celiac disease, and even malnutrition that results in weight loss. One symptom many might not consider is that children with celiac disease can experience slow growth. They are not growing at the rate they should be on a healthy growth chart, for example. Cancer is another thing to consider. Intake of gluten can affect the structure of the intestines and mutate the cells. Repeated mutations of the cell can eventually put you at risk for small bowel cancer. Paolucci says this is why it is so important to stay on a gluten-free diet for those with celiac disease. Even taking in small bits of gluten is repeated injury to the intestines, and over time that can increase the chances of getting cancer.

3. Celiac disease and gluten intolerance are different

While those who have celiac disease and gluten intolerance should avoid gluten in their diets, there are some differences between the two. There are tests done to see if a patient has celiac disease, including a bowel biopsy which would show structural changes within the colon. There is also a blood test. Another component to celiac disease is genetics. “Somebody who has gluten intolerance may have tested negative for the genetic component,” said Paolucci, “or even possibly negative for the biopsy and the blood test. So, there was no definitive diagnoses for celiac, but still when they got on a gluten-free diet, had improvements of their symptoms.” Both those with celiac disease and gluten intolerance benefit from being on a diet free of gluten. Paolucci also notes that a person should be on a gluten diet at the time of the testing, or else the results could be falsely negative.

4. Gluten-free options are more readily available

Treating celiac disease includes a gluten-free diet. Gluten is a protein found in rye, wheat, barley and other types of flours, and that means that options might appear to be limited. Pastas, pizza, crackers, and cereal are typical foods that contain gluten and should be avoided if a patient has celiac disease or a gluten intolerance. Today, there are many different kinds of flours, such as almond flour, that do not contain gluten. “Many more restaurants are now having gluten-free products there,” said Paolucci. All you have to do is ask for gluten-free options. Even grocery stores are broadening their offerings of gluten-free food, so it is not as hard as it may seem to avoid food filled with gluten.

5. Experiment with your diet, and pay attention to labels

There are a lot of gluten-free foods out there, but some people might still be hesitant that they can’t enjoy food like someone without celiac disease. This is not the case. “Gluten-free foods are not terrible in taste,” said Paolucci. While bread, for example, might not be as fluffy, there are different types of gluten-free bread, so it’s all about preference. Explore all the different options and find what you enjoy. It’s also important to pay attention to labels, because some gluten-free foods like nuts might have been processed on the same equipment as wheat. An important thing to remember is that celiac disease doesn’t prevent you from enjoying the great taste of food, but it is also essential to avoid gluten with the disorder.

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