Celiac Disease is a condition where the absorptive surface of the small intestine is damaged when gluten is ingested. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. There is still controversy over whether or not people with celiac tolerate oats; Canadian associations do not recommend the consumption of oats.

When people with Celiac Disease consume gluten, their ability to absorb important nutrients is reduced and therefore they are at risk of not getting the necessary nutrients they need for good health. Once they remove gluten from their diet, the small intestine’s absorptive ability is restored. The treatment is clear and simple – a gluten-free diet. Cheaters never prosper, because even a molecule of gluten can trigger the damaging response.

The good news is that a gluten-free diet can be healthy and balanced. There are many foods that can still be enjoyed, such as fruits, vegetables, fresh meat, poultry, fish, eggs, flax, legumes, nuts, seeds, potatoes, corn, yogurt, cheese, milk, and rice. As for pastas, cereals, breads, and baked goods, there are many gluten-free options available.

A gluten-free diet can be difficult to manage without proper education. Examples of foods to avoid are rye, oats, barley, wheat, malt, kamut, couscous, or any derivative of these foods, such as wheat germ. There are also hidden ingredients that contain gluten; therefore, it is extremely important that you read food labels. Be aware of fillers in foods, such as processed meats and soup thickeners. If you are not sure about a food product, call the food company or if it’s processed meat, ask the butcher if the food product in question is gluten-free. As well, it is important that your gluten-free food does not get cross-contaminated with gluten containing food. Make sure to clean counter tops, appliances, and utensils are  thoroughly before they are used for your gluten-free foods. For a detailed list of safe foods and foods to avoid, please visit www.celiac.ca.

When traveling, follow the above rules and pack gluten-free food to ensure that you can stick to the gluten-free diet.

Following a gluten-free diet is essential for the treatment of Celiac Disease. Remember to read food labels and ask if the food is gluten-free. And most importantly, enjoy!

Naomi Ross, Registered Dietitian
Life Screening Centers
First published in the Inside Tract® newsletter issue 147 – January/February 2005