Gluten-Free, Explained!

Gluten-Free, Explained!

Jul 24th 2012

My summer travels have served as muses for this blog.  Last week’s Top 20 was inspired by my time in Seattle and Vancouver.  The exercise program on-the-go was completely selfish as the kids and I are nomadic for the Sick teddy bear with thermometer in mouth and bandaid on headmonth of July.  Here on our stop in Lake Tahoe, California visiting my mom, another muse poked her head around the corner when my mom told me the news that she has Celiac Disease. This translates to the need for gluten-free foods.

I’ll admit, as the mother of two small children, I comb the grocery aisles often and in the last couple of years, the phrase “Gluten-free” has been appearing on a startling number of food products.  Candidly, I ignored the label as it didn’t seem to relate to my family or just left it as a gestalt understanding that in some way, gluten-free foods had their role.

Lo-an-behold! Enter my mother’s kitchen, and I see the pantry has had an overhaul.  My mom explained to me that her belly was so distended she felt pregnant and that she suffered from an inability to keep food down. In addition, her skin was “like crepe paper” and the integrity of her largest organ was in very bad shape. After talking with her doctor and undergoing lab tests, she was ultimately diagnosed with Celiac Disease.

According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, 1 out of 133 people are inflicted with this autoimmune disease.  It is not, as I had thought, a food allergy that can sometimes be out- grown.  Rather, CD affects the villi (tiny hairs in the small intestine that abosrb nutrients from food). When a person with CD consumes gluten, the common name for the proteins in specific grains, these villi are damaged.  Hence a person with CD can suffer from symptoms like the ones my mom deals with, as well as chronic fatigue syndrome, migraines, weight gain or loss, chronic diarrhea or constipation (or both), bone or joint pain, dental enamel defects, etc.

In order to quell the disease and begin the healing of the villi, a person with CD must avoid all food and medical products made with gluten or that have traces of gluten in them.  A quick but certainly not complete list of foods that contain gluten include: wheat, barley, spelt, oats, pastas, imitation bacon, energy bars, croutons, and imitation seafood to name just a few.  The Celiac Disease Foundation’s website is an authoritative resource for anyone with CD, anyone suspecting they may have CD, or for a caregiver of a person with CD. There are also convenient brochures like this one that explains Celiac Disease, the symptoms associated with it, and how to treat it.

Since being diagnosed with CD and purging her pantry and refrigerator of all things gluten, my mother’s health has improved significantly.  Her neighborhood supermarket, Trader Joe’s, was especially helpful when she needed assistance making the gluten free transition.  Trader Joe’s offers customers a six-paged print-out of all the items in their store that are gluten-free.  I would imagine that other supermarkets are becoming just as vigilant for their customers.

Gluten Free Mama logo

Mom’s skin integrity is improving, and she is finally getting the nutrients from foods that her body needed.  To my surprise, gluten-free, is not just some catch phrase like “fat-free;" indeed, it is a lifesaving label for those with gluten sensitivity.  If you or anyone in your family suspects they have CD, visit your health practitioner and take the necessary tests to find out.  CD is an inherited disease and if someone in your family had or has CD, there is of course a chance that you or your children may have it too.  In addition to your health care provider, the Celiac Disease Foundation is an invaluable resource for answering questions about gluten free foods, lifestyle changes, support groups and more.

Fortunately food and beverage companies are taking heed of the growing number of those diagnosed with CD and transitioning to a gluten-free lifestyle is easier than you may think.

Until next week, stay healthy, get some fresh air, and don’t forget to wear your UVA/UVB sunblock!

Heidi Aspen Rhoades

Social Media Reporter/Fitness Professional