May is Celiac awareness month, this makes it the perfect time to make ourselves aware of Celiac disease and the difficulties associated with eating a strict gluten free diet.
What is Celiac Disease?
Over the last few years there has been a lot of focus on Celiac Disease and Gluten Free diets. Many of you are familiar with the term Celiac Disease, but how many of you know what the disease consists of?
Celiac Disease is an autoimmune disease that is triggered by the consumption of gluten containing food products. Essentially, gluten causes damage to the small intestine which then leads to a variety of symptoms such as abdominal pain, weight loss, chronic diarrhea and if left untreated can lead to malabsorption (the small intestine is responsible for absorbing many nutrients such as fat, protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals).
Another form of Celiac Disease that is becoming more common presents itself on the skin. When gluten containing foods are consumed, patients will develop itchy, blistering rashes.
In both cases, the only treatment for both forms of Celiac Disease is through following a Gluten Free Diet.
What is Gluten?
Gluten, we have all heard of it, but do we really know what it is?
Gluten is an interesting topic, especially with all the recent gluten free diets trending in the media. I have had many people asking me about gluten, many of which were very confused about what it really was.
In short, gluten is a protein.
Gluten is a protein that is naturally occurring in some varieties of grains. These varieties include, wheat (including wheatberries, durum, emmer, semolina, spelt, farina, farro, graham, kamut and einkorn), rye, barley, and triticale.
Gluten is an important component of baked goods as it provides structure and helps to bind other ingredients in recipes. An example of gluten at work would be stretchy bread dough, without gluten the dough would crumble when pulled.
Challenges of Living with Celiac Disease
Those living with Celiac Disease or any gluten allergy or sensitivity face many challenges when it comes to food. First off, without the structural properties of gluten in gluten free baked goods, it is hard to achieve the desirable texture that we are all so familiar with. It can be a hard transition for someone newly diagnosed with the disease who is used to eating gluten containing products. Luckily, the new gluten free diet trends have led to the food industry developing new techniques for creating gluten free food products with qualities very similar to the gluten containing varieties.
Another challenge is eating out. Although many restaurants offer a gluten free alternative, these restaurants often fail to take into consideration cross contamination when preparing these gluten free alternatives. Those living with Celiac Disease can agree that it is not worth the risk of eating a gluten free alternative if the kitchen does not have a dedicated gluten free production area or procedures in place to prevent cross contamination. Because of this, many people living with Celiac Disease prefer to eat their meals at home where they can guarantee there will be no cross contamination.
In terms of pre-made and manufactured food products, there are many manufacturers dedicated to producing gluten free products. For example, Three Farmers Foods Roasted Chickpeas, Pea Pops and Crunchy Little Lentils are inherently gluten free and are also produced in a facility that does not allow gluten or gluten containing ingredients to enter the facility. We take an extra step of precaution by conducting gluten testing of our finished products so that we can ensure our products meet the gluten free requirements set forth by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the United States Food Inspection Agency.
Heather Deck BScAHN, RD