Over the last several years, there has been an invasion in grocery store aisles across America. You may have heard it on the news, or read about it in your daily magazine or newspaper. You’ve probably noticed it on bookshelves, too, at your local bookstore: “gluten-free” is fast becoming as ubiquitous as the “fat-free” stamps of the 1990’s.
The rise in popularity of a gluten-free diet has millions of people across the country jumping for joy – and not because it is a weight-loss-miracle cure by any means. For those with Celiac Diseaseor Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS), the increased availability in gluten-free products translates to a sense of relief, freedom and normalcy.
It just so happens that May is Celiac Disease Awareness Month. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that is triggered when gluten - a protein found in wheat, barley and rye - is consumed. The body reacts to gluten as an enemy combatant, and it results in damage to the villi of the small intestine (tiny hair-like projections that absorb nutrients from food). This damage can be chronic and life threatening, causing an increased risk of associated disorders – both nutritional and immune related.
Symptoms are vast and of varying degrees of severity; some people have even reported no symptoms at all. The most commonly-reported complaints are bloating, diarrhea, skin rashes, unexplained weight loss and inhibited growth in children, and abdominal pain. Not all of these symptoms are experienced, nor are they always severe. Some people may not even notice anything – so how can you tell if you have Celiac or are NCGS?
To start, if someone in your immediate family or a close relative has been diagnosed with Celiac Disease or any autoimmune disease (such as thyroid disease or Type 1 Diabetes), your risk of having it increases. If you or your loved one is experiencing any of the above symptoms, visit a medical professional for proper testing and diagnosis.
A gluten-free diet - while a fad for many - is a life-saver for others, as currently the only treatment for Celiac Disease is a lifetime avoidance of gluten.
But how does one live without gluten? It is in so many things! From bread, crackers and pizza to cookies, bagels and cereal, going gluten-free can be a seriously intimidating undertaking. Then there are all the foods in which it might be hidden, from processed meats and rice to sauces and soup! This is why a gluten-free label can help the newly-diagnosed.
While gluten-free packaged foods offer some support toward easing into a permanently gluten-free life, it’s not recommended as a long-term solution. As with most pre-packaged food products, those gluten-free bagels and cookies are typically low in fiber, and contain more sugar and fat, than if made from scratch. They are great as an occasional treat, but ultimately the best option is to eat whole foods that are naturally gluten-free, such as fruits, vegetables, beans, dairy and lean meats. There are some grains (also known as pseudograins) that are also naturally gluten-free, including millet, amaranth, buckwheat and arrowroot. Rice and oats can be safe, as long as they have not been milled on the same equipment as their gluten-containing counterparts – be sure you purchase rice or oats that have a gluten-free stamp of approval!
With so many gluten-free alternatives available, no child with Celiac Disease or NCGS needs to feel singled-out as “different.” For parents with a child following a gluten-free diet, it’s important to talk to the school about your child’s needs. Offer to keep a supply of gluten-free snacks on-hand for those classroom parties, and volunteer to bring gluten-free treats every once in awhile!
Family support is vital, as even miniscule amounts of gluten, from double-dipping a knife or crumbs from a toaster, can harm those with Celiac Disease. Pack gluten-free snacks when going on vacations and field trips; go to restaurants with gluten-free menus. There are many blogs and other resources with tips on how to raise a family gluten-free, and the Celiac Disease Foundation is a great place to start! Visitceliac.org to find recipes, products and more!
Here at Red Rabbit, we believe it is important to support children with dietary restrictions, so we include alternatives appropriate for vegetarian, and gluten-, egg-, dairy- or soy-free diets. Therefore, on days our menu includes conflicting ingredients, we provide a meal that meets these restrictions for those who need it.
Following a gluten-free diet does not have to be intimidating. Thanks to increased awareness, resources and availability of gluten-free products, having Celiac disease or NCGS can be just as fun and healthy as a “standard” diet.
Here’s to a lifetime of healthy eating!
Hayley Lutz, Red Rabbit Communications & Accounts Coordinator