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Every day someone is finding out they have celiac disease or are gluten intolerance. With the growing occurance of these, we decided to devote a page to handling these digestive issues.
Celiac Disease, Wheat Intolerance, Wheat Allergies
What's the difference?
While celiac disease, wheat allergies, and gluten intolerance are treated similarly, it is important to note the differences. Here's why:
Celiac is an autoimmune disease. For individuals with celiac disease, the ingestion of gluten (the protein found in many grains, including wheat) causes an immune system response that damages the intestinal wall. These people carry a specific gene that triggers an immune systems response once gluten is consumed. Symptoms of celiacs include (but not limited to) diarrhea, short stature, iron-deficiency anemia and lactose intolerance. It is believed that one in 133 people have celiac disease, but 97% do not know it. Because celiac disease is an autoimmune disease, the body starts attacking normal tissue when gluten is consumed. This can lead to severe intestinal damage, malabsorption of food, and nutrient deficiencies. People with celiac are also at a higher risk of developing another autoimmune disease. This is considered a permanent condition.
Wheat is one of the top eight most common food allergies. It is believed that a different part of the immune system is triggered in people with wheat allergies as compared to celiac disease. Symptoms include rash, wheezing, lip swelling, abdominal pain and diarrhea. People with wheat allergies can eat many of the other grains that those with celiac can not. This is a condition often found in children, who often outgrow is as they become adults.
Food intolerances are not necessarily believed to trigger a response from the immune system, but will cause upset in the digestive tract, including gassiness, abdominal pain, abdominal distension, and diarrhea. Typically any grains with gluten (barley, rye, etc) will affect these people. Many experts believe 1 in 20 people have some gluten intolerance.
Neither wheat allergy nor gluten intolerance are considered permanent conditions and should not cause permanent damage. If you think your symptoms are severe enough, your doctor can perform tests for celiac disease.
Finding Gluten Free Foods
As time goes on and the number of people with some sort of gluten intolerance increases, there are
more and more gluten free foods on the market. But are they all truly gluten free? We have probably
mentioned in newsletters before that when you're choosing gluten free brands you should be careful,
especially if you have celiac disease or a severe reaction to gluten or wheat. Many companies are
now offering gluten free options but they are not necessarily processed in dedicated gluten free
facilities, or their facilities are not cleaned well.
We recently discovered the Gluten Free Certification Organization (GFCO), associated with the
Gluten Intolerance Group. They offer inspection and certification of products and will not certify
products with any potential allergens. Visit their website to learn about their certification process
and look up companies and products: GFCO.
Also associated with these groups is the Gluten Free Restaurant Awareness Program (GFRAP). Participating restaurants must provide their gluten free menu options and their preparation techniques. GFRAP offers resources to the restaurants to help them menus and procedures. You can check out their list of restaurants currently participating here: GFRAP.
Remember, gluten free products are available at case discounts. Stop in the store and tell us what you need, pay for it and save 20 - 45% on the case ~ usually arrives within 7 days!
Gluten Free Superfoods
As we all know, the problems of celiac disease and gluten intolerance are digestive. The dietary changes that are necessary can sometimes lead to low nutrient intake. Plus, the damage caused in the gut may cause poor absorption. One thing that can help with both of these is adding superfoods. Superfoods are nutrient-dense foods that are also often healing. Adding these to any diet, but especially a gluten-free diet, can have some great benefits. Here's a few that we think are excellent choices:
Coconut is a highly nutritious food, rich in many vitamins and minerals. It is known
for many healing qualities. Check out Dr. Fife's list of health benefits here: Coconut.
All part of the coconut have benefits. Coconut oil is becoming widely popular. The
unique makeup of fatty acids in coconut oil make it very easy to digest. Plus, it
also seems to actually help improve digestion. The juice (or coconut water) is an
excellent source of electrolytes. Coconut meat is great for the fats as well as fiber.
Bonus: the meat can be ground into flour! It makes excellent gluten-free pancakes!
Kefir is a fermented drink, most commonly made from milk, that has been used as a healing food for over 5000 years. What makes this more beneficial than yogurt is that kefir has many, many more probiotic strains. Probiotics are very beneficial to those with celiac. Plus, kefir is often recommended for people with compromised digestive systems. You can find premade kefir or you can make your own by adding kefir grains (not really a 'grain' but a culture of bacteria and yeasts) or kefir starter to your choice of milk (yes, coconut milk will work! Two superfoods in one!).
Chia seeds are filled with fiber, vitamins and minerals, omega-3s, and antioxidants, all of which are beneficial to celiac disease. When added to liquid, chia takes on a gel texture, which can be soothing and helpful to the intestinal tract. Plus, the gelling properties make chia an excellent gluten-free thickener when added to soups, smoothies and puddings.