How to Maintain a Gluten-Free Diet

If you suffer from celiac disease (CD), you are not alone. According to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, about 1 in 133 (or more than two million) people in the U.S. have CD. Yet as common as CD is, it often goes undiagnosed or misdiagnosed because many of its symptoms are similar to those of other diseases, such as irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, and diverticulitis.

Celiac disease is a chronic intestinal disorder caused by a hypersensitivity to gluten proteins found in wheat, rye, barley and possibly oat products. (While it's not clear whether oats are harmful for most people with CD, doctors generally recommend avoiding oats unless they are specifically labeled gluten-free.)

Although normally ingesting these proteins doesn't cause an immune response, in people suffering from CD, the immune system is abnormally activated by gluten, triggering an inflammation response in the small intestine. Eventually, this autoimmune response causes a partial or complete flattening of the villi, the tiny, hair-like projections that absorb nutrients from foods. Left untreated, the malabsorption of nutrients can lead to a host of maladies from skin rashes, chronic fatigue, bone loss and diarrhea to reproductive disorders and lymphoma.

The only available treatment for celiac disease is to follow a gluten-free diet, which means the complete elimination of wheat, rye, barley and possibly oat grains from your meals. But sticking to a gluten-free diet doesn't have to be difficult or boring. Just like any healthy diet, gluten-free meals should include a variety of fresh vegetables and fruit and fresh meats, fish and poultry (make sure they're not breaded, batter-coated or marinated). Other gluten-free foods include:

  • Most dairy products
  • Potatoes
  • Wine and distilled liquors, ciders and spirits
  • Grains and starches such as corn, cornmeal, polenta, buckwheat, arrowroot and amaranth and gluten-free flours, including rice, soy, corn, potato, bean)

Also, be on the lookout for foods or products with hidden gluten and be sure to check food and product labels. For example, many brands of soy sauce contain gluten as do some medications and food additives like flavorings and colorings. Talking with a registered dietician or nutritionist can help you sort through the food maze and determine the best diet plan for you.

Symptoms of Celiac Disease

Although not everyone suffering from CD will have symptoms, most will. Symptoms can include:

  • Gas
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach pain
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Itchy skin

If you suspect you may CD, see your doctor about getting a confirmed diagnosis.