“Living with celiac disease can be challenging, but with the right knowledge, you can successfully manage this condition while also enjoying your new diet. The cornerstone to management of celiac disease is a strict gluten-free diet. Let’s discuss practical tips to help you navigate the gluten-free lifestyle.
Education is Key
First and foremost, educate yourself about celiac disease, the symptoms, and the importance of a gluten-free diet. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder, triggered by the ingestion of gluten, which is a protein found in barley, wheat, and rye. When individuals with celiac disease consume gluten, their immune system can attack the lining of the small intestine, resulting in damage and inflammation. In celiac disease, a gluten-free diet is essential, even for individuals who may not experience noticeable symptoms as the continued consumption of gluten leads to ongoing damage to the lining of the small intestine; over time, this can result in changes to the intestine that may lead to nutrient deficiencies. Additionally, if left untreated, celiac disease can lead to long-term complications including, but not limited to malnutrition, osteoporosis, anemia, and intestinal lymphoma. Even small amounts of gluten that can occur through cross-contamination, where gluten-containing foods come into contact with gluten-free foods, can be of concern. Therefore, maintaining a strict gluten-free diet is crucial. This is not an easy task though, and we’re here to help. Before we get into the weeds, it is important to note that the diagnosis of celiac disease should be confirmed by a healthcare professional through blood tests and in some cases an intestinal biopsy. If you suspect you have celiac disease or have been diagnosed with it, always consult a healthcare professional.
Understand that gluten is found in many common foods including barley, wheat, rye and even some oats. Familiarise yourself with gluten-free alternatives and get in the habit of reading food labels. Organisations like the Celiac Disease Foundation and Beyond Celiac provide valuable resources and support.
Clear Out and Restock
To create a safe gluten-free environment, we recommend you clear out your food pantry, as well as refrigerator, of any gluten-containing products. In their place, buy certified gluten-free alternatives (i.e. gluten-free pastas, breads, flours, snacks). While shopping, be sure to read the food labels to avoid hidden sources of gluten that can be found in condiments and sauces, for example. If others in the house are not gluten-free, it is helpful to designate separate shelves as gluten-free only to avoid cross-contamination.
Embrace Whole Foods
This is the perfect time to incorporate more whole, naturally gluten-free foods into your everyday diet. Think fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and lean proteins. Experiment with grains like quinoa and buckwheat to add variety to your meals.
Try Gluten-Free Cooking and Baking
You may be surprised to find out the wealth of gluten-free cooking and baking recipes out there. Explore online or buy a gluten-free cookbook for inspiration. Building confidence in the kitchen will give you greater control over the ingredients you consume and result in crowd-pleasing meals.
Dine Out with Care
Eating outside the home can be one of the most challenging aspects of embracing a gluten-free lifestyle. Try researching gluten-free or gluten-friendly establishments in your area. You can also inform the waitstaff about your dietary restrictions. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about how the food is prepared to ensure minimal cross-contamination.
Traveling Gluten Free
This is another aspect that will require some advanced and careful planning, but don’t let it deter you from exploring new destinations. We recommend doing your research in advance and packing some suitable snacks for emergencies. If traveling by air, inform the airline in advance about your dietary requirements.
Living with celiac disease can be an adjustment and may even feel isolating at times. Seeking support from others with celiac disease through online communities or local support groups allows for connection, shared experiences, tips/advice, and even new recipes. Don’t forget to be patient with yourself as you tackle this major lifestyle change and celebrate the small victories along the way.