Right about now most of you are wondering who are the Celiacs? Some strange political group? A fancy new club? Well, there are an estimated three million Celiacs in the United States alone and half of them don’t even know it! They go about their lives, dealing with Celiac issues, all the while they are oblivious to what is going on in their own bodies.
Celiac Disease is an auto immune disease that causes a person to react to gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. (Okay sometimes oats too-especially in the USA, but that’s controversial so I won’t go there.) If you have Celiac Disease and eat wheat, rye or barley your immune system goes haywire and the villi in your intestines is destroyed. Flattened! Squashed! (FYI- Villi are the little hair-like fibers in your intestine that move the food along and grab up all your vitamins and good things to feed you and make you healthy.) Now, without these little villi just try to absorb those nutrients!
Symptoms are mostly digestive include bloating, the big D, fatigue, nausea, vomiting and some not so subtle symptoms like anemia, bone pain, headaches, and a wonderful little rash called dermatitis herpetiformis. From “failure to thrive” in infants to any problem associated with vitamin deficiencies Celiac Disease can present it self in many ways. So, how do you diagnose something that hides under so many hats? Celiac disease was once thought to be extremely rare but the times they are a changin’. It starts with a blood test and is confirmed with a biopsy (so they can see those squashed and flattened villi).
When diagnosed Celiac Disease is like this giant monster living in your house. It sits on your shoulder where ever you go and hangs around your neck like a ball and chain. Gone from your life are the cookies, cakes, breads, cereals and pasta you love. No more beer! You go to parties and have to refuse just about everything on the menu because wheat is the cheapest filler known to man. It’s in most of the gravies, soups and sauces (thickened with flour-and yes, four is made from wheat too). Clean out your cupboards and get ready for a change of lifestyle.
Then we learn of cross contamination. Yeesh! Enough already! So, the chef is in the kitchen making your lunch. Cheese burger, no roll please and you think you’re doing good. But the chef is busy and he takes the spatula—YOUR SPATUAL—and leans over and flips a piece of French toast, then he flips your burger. POOF! You’ve been contaminated! Tiny flecks of gluten from the toast have found their way onto your burger and your plate and will work their way into your gut, throw your immune system into chaos and hammer down your villi. All from one careless flip of the spatula. So, beware when you belly up to the buffet because you have to wonder if the people before you moved the spoon from the croutons (wheat) into the olives. Oh, the joy of Celiac!
Now relax. Push the panic aside and know there is hope. It takes time to tame this Celiac beast, but it is possible. You do your research, check out the Celiac organizations for more information and you learn it’s not so bad. Most health food stores now carry every kind of gluten free food you could imagine. Even your mainstream grocers are starting to stock the stuff. So you’ll buy one of the gluten free pastas turn the first few pots in to glue (cooking was never one of my better talents!) and learn to manage this life. Experiment, find the brands you like and maybe even learn to bake a few of your favorites. You either eat before you go to the party or bring a little gluten free dish with you. If you do find food you can eat just serve yourself first so those cross contaminators don’t get you! Day by day it gets easier, you know at a glance what you can and can’t eat and you stock your home with good food again. The beast shrinks in size and now fits in your pocket. He’s still there, but can’t scare you anymore.
Then comes the payoff: you FEEL GOOD! The nausea that’s followed you from sun up to sun down is gone, bloated tummy, aching joints and headaches GONE! The beast has given you back your health.
And I found the best tasting bread up at Whole Foods so I’m going to take some cold cuts, cheese, mayo and chopped up olives and make the best Dagwood you ever saw! Life goes on, it gets better. (There are about four or five kinds of gluten free beer on the market, too.)
-Jeanne -Gluten free since 2003
Local Celiac support group: http://www.geocities.com/seashoreceliacs/