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Celiac Disease: What to Know About Going Gluten-Free

May 7, 2012

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May is Celiac Awareness month, and with more and more people going gluten-free, we wanted to shine the spotlight on this growing health issue. 

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that is triggered by the consumption of gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. Three million Americans have celiac disease, yet 95% of those who have it are undiagnosed or misdiagnosed with other conditions. You can find out if you have celiac by requesting a blood test through your doctor. However, the celiac test is not a reliable way to find out if you have gluten intolerance.

The only known way to cure celiac disease is through dietary changes – by removing gluten-containing foods from the diet. While it may sound like a simple change, it’s actually more complex than it sounds.

Gluten is hidden in many of today’s packaged foods, including ones you would never suspect – for example, soy sauce, ice cream, canned soups, candies, artificial sweeteners, milk substitutes, and meats. It can also be found in non-food products such as over-the-counter medications, lotions, soaps, toothpaste, and lipstick.

How to avoid it?

The first line of defense in avoiding gluten is to learn which are the unsafe ingredients. Always read labels carefully for hidden glutinous ingredients – if you can’t read it, don’t eat it.

Most packaged foods now note if a food might be cross contaminated with glutinous foods. Check the fine print to see if it might contain wheat or was made with equipment that is also used to make wheat products.

When dining at a restaurant, ask your waiter to check if a dish is gluten free. If they don’t know, make sure you are aware of which ingredients may contain gluten so you can ask them to leave them out (or so you can order a different dish).

You can also choose cuisines that are naturally gluten-free. Some of those include: 

  • Thai – curries and rice-noodle dishes are gluten free. Avoid any dishes with soy sauce
  • Indian – curry and tandoori dishes are gluten free. Papadum is made with lentil flour, but avoid the breads and dipping sauces (which may be bottled and thickened with wheat).
  • Japanese – sushi is gluten free. Avoid the soy sauce and tempura dishes.
  • Mexican – the primary grain used is corn, and as long as you avoid the flour tortillas, you’ll have many options.

Why would you cut out gluten if you don’t have celiac disease? Some people find that even though they test negative for celiac, cutting out gluten soothes their stomach, or reduces aches and pains because it helps their healthy gut bacteria rejuvenate and reduces inflammation.

If you have celiac, or if you want to try out a gluten-free diet, check out our guide to gluten-free living, which includes recipes, resources and more.  Some of our grads also make gluten-free products

Have you tried going gluten free? If it wasn't because you have celiac, why did you decide to try it?