A recent article in the New York Times revealed that a number of individuals may have gluten sensitivity According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) 3 million Americans have celiac disease. However, 95% of them don’t even know it.

Celiac disease, also known as nontropical sprue, or gluten sensitive enteropathy, is a condition in which individuals cannot tolerate a protein called gluten. Gluten is found in wheat, rye, barley, and oats. Its exact cause is not known, but it is thought that Celiac disease can be inherited by a close relative who has the disease (mother, father, brother, sister). It can also be triggered and occur after surgery, pregnancy, childbirth, emotional stress, or a viral infection. Eating foods with gluten triggers an immune response in the body and damages the lining of the small intestine.

Symptoms are variable and can include gas/bloating, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, constipation, vomiting, muscle cramps, weight loss/gain to name a few. Consequently, malnutrition, anemia, and osteoporosis may occur due to malabsorption. Infertility has also been linked with gluten sensitive individuals.

As it is a rare condition, it can go undetected or even be misdiagnosed. And, since many individuals do not elicit actual symptoms, many healthcare practitioners do not test for it. To diagnose celiac disease, blood tests can be performed to detect if an individual has certain antibodies indicating celiac disease may be present. Additionally, a biopsy of the small intestine, stool tests x-rays of the abdomen, and a bone density test may also be performed if celiac disease is suspected.

The treatment for celiac disease is excluding all foods containing gluten. In doing so symptoms should improve within a few days, and the intestines should heal within six months. Staying on this regimen is for life, as eating gluten containing products will start the damage all over again. In addition to the products previously mentioned, gluten is added to many foods. Some of these foods include:
• Emulsifiers
• Stabilizers
• Malt/malt flavoring
• Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein
• Wheat Based products
• Modified Food starch
• Hydrolyzed Plant Protein

There are also many food manufacturers’ that make gluten free products. In 2008, over 800 gluten free products came to market. They are considerably more expensive than their gluten containing counterparts, however. Many local bakeries and restaurants cater to those with gluten sensitivity. Products to substitute for gluten in recipes include potato, rice, corn, soy. Millet and quinoa can substitute for whole wheat couscous and pasta in many recipes. Fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, seafood, poultry, and pork products that are not processed are all foods to be included in a gluten free diet.

Sometimes those with celiac disease may have sensitivity to dairy products (cow’s milk). Usually, after switching to a gluten free diet, the intestines recover and dairy products may again be tolerated. It is important to work with your healthcare provider, such as a Registered Dietitian throughout the process of adjusting your food intakes. A Registered Dietitian can be found at www.eatright.org and click on find a nutrition professional for your geographical area. For support, go to www.celiac.org , or call 877-CSA-4CSA. Also, for some great recipe ideas, check out www.csaceliacs.org/recipes.php
Check out the recipe below:
Cheese Bake
2 cups cooked rice
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup shredded carrots
¼ cup chopped onion
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese (reserve ½ cup cheese for topping)*
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. oregano
½ tsp. pepper
Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Place mixture in a baking dish. Top with cheese. Bake at 350 F for 1 hour. Makes 6 servings.
Per serving: 200 Calories, 9 gm PRO, 19 gm CHO, 10 gm FAT, 30 mg Chol, 2 gm Fiber, 400 mg Sodium, 193 mg Potassium.
*Soy based cheese may be substituted for those with lactose intolerance.

Author's Bio: 

Susan M. Piergeorge, MS, RD is a Registered Dietitian. Her background includes nutritional counseling, health promotion, culinary experience and writing. She is the author of the upcoming book Boomer Be Well. Her blog is www.boomerbewell.com