Tips for Living Gluten-Free

One in every 133 people now require a gluten-free diet

Many grocery stores now offer gluten-free bread options

In Canada, it’s estimated that one in 133 people is affected by celiac disease, a genetic, autoimmune disease (not an allergy) in which proteins from wheat, rye and barley (known as gluten) cause damage to the small intestine.

For people with celiac disease, continued consumption of gluten-containing foods can lead to an inability to absorb iron, folic acid, calcium and vitamins A, D, E and K, as well as increase the risk of developing osteoporosis, infertility and certain cancers. Common symptoms of celiac disease include bloating, gas, nausea, diarrhea, extreme fatigue, weight loss, skin rashes, canker sores, easy bruising and joint pain.

Adopting a Gluten-free Diet

The only treatment for celiac disease is a strict gluten-free (GF) diet for life. Fortunately, many of the staples of a healthy diet are naturally gluten-free, including fresh vegetables and fruit, nuts, seeds, legumes, soy foods, lean meat, poultry, fish and milk products. Rice, flours made from corn, soy or other legumes, and small amounts of pure, uncontaminated oats are allowable grains in a GF diet. Amaranth, buckwheat, millet, quinoa, sorghum and teff are also highly nutritious grain alternatives. A good gluten-free cookbook (e.g., Gluten-Free Diet by Shelley Case) can provide guidance in adding these grains to meals and snacks. Gluten-free flours and baking mixes can be made or purchased to substitute into most recipes that call for wheat flour.

Since gluten is often a hidden ingredient in sauces, salad dressings, soups, prepared meats, deli meats and even candies, read the fine print on food packages. Obtain a detailed list of foods allowed, foods to question and foods to avoid from a registered dietitian or reputable resource.

Many great GF versions of bread, cereals, tortillas, crackers and other grain products are now available in mainstream grocery stores (although it should be noted that some of these products lack the nutrients found in wheat-based versions). People who need to follow a GF diet should consult a dietitian about how to plan healthy GF meals and snacks and avoid shortfalls in iron, B vitamins or other key nutrients found in grain products.

NOTE: If you’re experiencing the described symptoms, see your doctor. It’s important to get an accurate diagnosis before beginning a gluten-free diet.

Originally published in Wellness Matters, Canada Wide Media’s quarterly newsletter on health and wellness.