Celiac Disease and Gluten-Free Diets – Important Topics that are Much Misunderstood
According to the National Institutes of Health, “Celiac disease is an immune disease in which people can’t eat gluten because it will damage their small intestine. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. Gluten may also be used in products like vitamin and mineral supplements, lip balms, and some medicines.” A new study shows that less than one percent of the U.S. population has this disorder, but most of them don’t know it. Conversely, most of people following gluten-free diets do not have this disease.
Diagnosing celiac disease is not easy. If blood tests show positive results the presence of the disease may be confirmed by a biopsy which involves taking a tiny piece of tissue from the person’s small intestine. A definite diagnosis cannot be made based on food diaries, allergy skin tests, or saliva samples as claimed by some alternative practitioners.
If a person has a confirmed diagnosis of celiac disease, the only treatment is total avoidance of foods containing gluten – wheat, rye and barley and foods made with ingredients from those grains. Cutting back on those foods is not enough – total avoidance is needed to prevent damage to the person’s intestinal system.
Symptoms of celiac disease vary from person to person. Various combinations of diarrhea, abdominal pain, irritability, or depression have been reported. Another reason this disease is confusing is because there are so many foods that include gluten – breaded foods, most breads, bagels, croissants, buns, cakes, donuts, pie crust, most breakfast cereals, many types of cold cuts and sausage, crackers, croutons, some sauces and salad dressings, some chips, gravy, pancakes, waffles, pasta, pizza, most soups, stuffing and even some kinds of beer as well as self-basting turkeys. People with this disease must learn to be careful label readers with the guidance of a registered dietitian or qualified health expert.
Source: Susan Nitzke, UW-Extension Nutrition Specialist and UW-Madision Professor Emeritus