What is celiac disease?
More than 20 million Canadians suffer from digestive disorders every year. Many of these Canadians (1 in 133) have a food intolerance or sensitivity to gluten – a family of proteins found in some grains including wheat, barley and rye. For these individuals, including those with celiac disease (CD), the dietary consumption of gluten can have adverse health effects.
The Canadian Celiac Association (CCA) defines celiac disease as “an autoimmune disease where the surface of the small intestine that absorbs nutrients from food is damaged by a substance called gluten.” The only medically accepted treatment for celiac disease is to maintain a gluten-free diet so that the body can absorb essential nutrients.
What is a gluten-free diet?
A gluten-free diet allows for fresh fruits, vegetables, meats and many dairy products, but excludes foods containing the gluten protein found in wheat (including durum wheat or just “durum,” spelt wheat, & kamut), barley, rye, bulgur, malts and in some food additives which are used for flavoring or thickening often labeled “dextrin.” Fortunately several grains and starches are considered safe in a gluten-free diet. The most commonly used are corn, potatoes, rice and tapioca.
There is a lot of confusing information about what (and what not) to eat when following a gluten-free diet. It is important to know that there are many options available, so that you do not avoid foods and lose out on important nutrients. For a list of foods that are safe, you may find this webpage from the CCA helpful:
The key to living well with celiac disease is to read food labels carefully and become familiar with the products that are safe. Gluten is commonly used in the production of many processed foods including obvious products (breads, pastas, and most common breakfast cereals) and not so obvious products such as seasonings, sauces, soy sauce, marinades, salad dressings, soups, prepared meats, and flavoured coffees.
The next time you are at the grocer, why not take the time to read the label of a new product or an older product that you have not tried? You may find yourself expanding your meal options and adding new nutrients to your diet. Some products that are not marketed as gluten-free may be gluten-free naturally.
If you are like me, and enjoy preparing healthy meals at home, CFC has dozens of nutritious, gluten-free recipes that even your kids will like. Polenta Chicken Pizza Bites found on www.chicken.ca is an easy, flexible recipe that calls for cornmeal and corn flour instead of wheat. You can change the toppings to suit your preferences. This recipe also works well with leftover roast chicken.