Bread on the Brain – May is Celiac Disease Awareness Month
By Kelly Matheson, Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator, Complex Mental Illness Program
Going gluten-free has become increasingly popular, with books like “Wheat Belly” and celebrity endorsements encouraging a gluten-free diet for weight loss, clear skin and overall good health. However for the 1 in 133 Canadians with a diagnosis of Celiac Disease, avoiding gluten is an absolute necessity to live a long and healthy life.
The Dietitians at CAMH are knowledgeable and the go-to resource about various sensitivities and allergies related to food that our patients may have. Since May is national Celiac Disease Awareness Month, the Dietitians at CAMH want to help you understand what Celiac Disease is, how it is different from gluten sensitivity and what “going gluten free” actually means.
Celiac Disease is an autoimmune disorder. This means when a person with Celiac Disease consumes gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye, triticale, barley), the body has a negative immune response. This immune response happens in the small intestine (where gluten from the food we eat is absorbed) and can cause the lining of the intestines to become inflamed and damaged. The result: an inability of the body to absorb nutrients like protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, which are necessary for good health.
Currently there are 2 ways Celiac Disease can be diagnosed. One is through screening: a doctor may assess the signs and symptoms and recommend a gluten-free diet to see if symptoms clear. Since this is not the most reliable method (many symptoms of Celiac Disease are non-specific and similar to other conditions) there is also a blood test that can be completed to check for antibodies (called IGA antibodies). Another way is through a small bowel biopsy: this is done by a specialist and must be completed BEFORE a person switches to a gluten-free diet.
People who report being gluten sensitive may experience similar signs and symptoms to a person with a diagnosis of Celiac Disease. However, they will not have any IGA antibodies, and biopsies come back normal with no intestinal damage. Research is currently looking at gluten sensitivities, however there is no diagnosis and no statistics on how many Canadians have gluten sensitivities.
The only treatment for Celiac Disease is to follow a gluten-free diet for life. Because of the popularity of “going gluten free”, many people diagnosed with Celiac Disease are enjoying the increased options and lower cost of gluten-free items. But those with Celiac Disease need to be very mindful of all the food items that may contain even miniscule amounts of gluten. For example, gluten can be found as an additive in some medications, condiments and processed foods. A person with Celiac Disease must read nutrition labels and ingredient lists for all packaged products! It is recommended that a person with a new diagnosis of Celiac Disease meet with a Registered Dietitian, to learn more about foods that contain gluten, meal planning and cooking tips.
To celebrate Celiac Awareness Month, here is a fantastic gluten-free recipe, courtesy of Pulse Canada: