Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease in which people afflicted with the condition can only eat gluten-free food. Gluten, which is a type of protein found mostly in grains, is to be avoided by celiac patients because ingestion of such triggers an immune response that causes damage to the lining of their small intestine. Aside from grains such as wheat, rye, and barley, gluten may also be found in products such as nutritional supplements, some medicines, dental products, as well as cosmetics. Celiac disease is also known as gluten intolerance and celiac sprue.

The immune system keeps the body healthy by fighting off bacteria, viruses, and other foreign substances. When people with celiac disease consume gluten, their body’s immune system reacts to the presence of gluten by attacking the villi of the small intestine. When the intestinal villi are damaged, the body fails to absorb the nutrients it needs. Because of this, various vitamin and mineral deficiencies can result.

As many as two million Americans are believed to have celiac disease, but around 97 percent of them go undiagnosed. Because the undamaged portion of the small intestine is still capable of absorbing a number of nutrients, symptoms of celiac disease do not become apparent in some cases. However, this does not mean that such condition requires little attention. This disorder often causes life-long digestive health issues and keeps the body from getting all the nutrients it needs to function properly. Over time, celiac disease can bring about complications such as anemia, osteoporosis, infertility, skin rashes, and a lot more.

Symptoms of celiac disease include stomach pain, chronic diarrhea, fatigue, irritability, weight loss, skin rashes, and failure to thrive. Most people with such condition have one or more symptoms. However, remember that despite its reputation of being a digestive dilemma, not all people with celiac disease have digestive problems. Adults, in particular, don’t usually show the classic (digestive) symptoms of the disease. Adults often tend to have symptoms that are not entirely intestinal in nature, such as numbness of the hands and feet, weight loss, anemia, osteoporosis, arthritis, alopecia, stomatitis, seizures, ataxia, infertility, hepatitis, fatigue, and depression, among others.

As mentioned earlier, people with celiac disease are only allowed to eat gluten-free food. Therefore, gluten-rich grains such as wheat, barley, and rice must be excluded in the diet. The following ingredients are made from wheat and should be avoided: phosphated flour, plain flour, self-rising flour, Semolina, white flour, bromated flour, durum flour, enriched flour, farina, and Graham flour. Meanwhile, here are some items that may contain wheat, barley, or rye: Matzo, self-basting turkey, rice mixes, sauces, seasoned tortilla chips, soy sauce, soups, brown rice syrup, potato chips, hot dogs, cold cuts, salami, sausage, French fries, and gravy.

If you’re not sure whether a certain product has gluten or not, try to read the food label. Because the law requires products to list all the ingredients, you’re more or less sure that you’ll have a reference on the food packaging. Also, you can choose to call the manufacturer if you want. Most products list their company’s toll-free number on the food labels. Ask the company representative whether the product is 100 percent free from gluten.

Most patients feel very restricted when it comes to their diet. The truth is, there is still a wide selection of delicious food items that are gluten free. Grains and flour that are safe to eat include rice, corn, quinoa, amaranth, arrowroot, cornstarch, buckwheat, flax, potato, sweet potato, sago, millet, soy, tapioca teff, and Indian ricegrass. Nuts and legumes are safe to eat as well. Oats remains a controversial product because commercial oats can be contaminated with wheat, barley and rye. Note though that there are now pure, uncontaminated oats available in the market.

Milk, buttermilk, plain yogurt, most ice cream, cheese, cream cheese, and cottage cheese are all free from gluten. Ice creams that contain wafers and cookies might contain wheat flour and therefore must be avoided. Again, check the label first before eating.

Celiac disease can have debilitating effects on a person who does not strictly adhere to a gluten-free diet. If you’re suffering from such condition, or if you have a friend or relative who has the disorder, be sure to educate yourself and them the importance of eating gluten-free food products in intestinal healing as well as prevention of serious complications.

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