Gluten = Evil

If you’ve been diagnosed with Celiac Disease, there’s no reason to fear; you’ll survive and feel stronger and sometimes better (much better). Times have changed and people, like your average Joe and doctor, are more informed than they were 5 or 10 years ago. There is more awareness and availability in grocery shopping, finding products (staples and final packages), and eating out. I believe part of this is because it’s become so common. It seems like everyone knows someone who is intolerant to wheat, gluten, or both.

Back in 2001 I was diagnosed with wheat intolerance. It was quite the learning curve and my homeopath was slightly helpful in providing me with information on what I couldn’t have. Unfortunately, he didn’t help me with what I could have nor provide any guidance. Maybe it was because he was unable to provide it. Back then it was hard to find products without any wheat or shops that carried those products. And even when I found them, they were quite expensive or I didn’t know what to do with them, or worse, they tasted horrible.

As I mentioned, times have changed. Not only am I now gluten intolerant, but the variety of products available is amazing. Also, assistance can be found in stores selling them and on the web. I met a Chapters employee in their cookbook section whose friend is celiac and she was full of surprising information. Literature is widely available from your library or web so you can educate yourself. But in saying all this, you are the best judge. Learn as much as you can from reputable sources (The Canadian Celiac Association is a good start) and go from there. Unfortunately there are people who think they know something and they are misinformed or don’t have their facts straight. I recently met a man at a store selling GF products who told me that celiac disease was wheat intolerance. I had hoped he was having an off day and really knew it was gluten. If you’ve got a great doctor, take advantage of that and ask questions so you can be better informed.

What is Celiac Disease?
Celiac disease is not actually a disease or an allergy; it’s an autoimmune disorder in which the absorptive surface of the small intestine is damaged by a substance called gluten. This results in an inability of the body to absorb nutrients: protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, which are necessary for good health. Even small amounts of gluten in foods can have an effect and cause health problems.

According to The Canadian Celiac Association, it is estimated that 1 in 133 people in Canada are affected by CD. Common symptoms are anemia, chronic diarrhea, weight loss, fatigue, cramps and bloating, irritability. Because CD is a chronic disorder, the only treatment is the lifelong adherence to a gluten-free diet. When gluten is removed from the diet, the small intestine starts to heal and overall health improves. It is unknown whether or not CD is hereditary; some studies show that it is genetic while others show it isn’t. If a family member has CD, you can play it safe and get yourself tested.

How do I get tested?
You can try removing gluten from your diet for a week or so. If you feel better, speak to your doctor. The reason I mention this is because if you feel better, you can tell your doctor so and in turn, you’re helping them help you (but feel free to go straight to your doctor – it’s your body!).

Visit your doctor. They should be able to give you more information and make recommendations. They may send you for some non-invasive tests, refer you to an allergist, naturopath, homeopath or nutritionist.

If you don’t have any luck with your doctor, you can find a homeopath or naturopath who will speak with you and see if testing is needed. To find one, ask your friends or family, or look through the yellow pages. Homeopaths and naturopaths are different so you may need to choose which is right for you. Also, in my opinion, it is important that you have a homeopath or naturopath you feel comfortable with and you can talk to. Unlike your family doctor, they are not covered by OHIP. So if you’re paying for this extra service, you want someone who cares about your well-being and will listen to you.

What foods do I need to avoid?
You’d be surprised. There are the obvious: everything that contains wheat, enriched flour, rye, barley, etc. Unfortunately, gluten can also be found in products you’d least expect it, like soy sauce, soup, meat and yogurt. At first, the list can be daunting, but it’s actually do-able once you get the hang of it. You’ll be reading labels for the rest of your life, and after a while it becomes second nature. Companies may change ingredients from time to time, so even if a food is deemed safe, you should continue to check the labels. The CCA website contains useful information regarding good and taboo food.

Foods Allowed
Foods to Avoid
Use Caution
Acceptability of Other Foods

As crazy as it sounds, those with CD need to be concerned about cross contamination. This happens when a gluten free product loses its GF status because it comes in contact with something that is not gluten free. This concern may also depend on your sensitivity. Some may not have problems with eating fries from the same deep fryer as breaded chicken fingers or fish, while others will.

In my opinion there’s something about gluten free that seems to jack up the price. Shop around. If that pack of GF chocolate chip cookies is $7, only you can decide if you want to spend the money on it. Shopping for GF can get pricey so choose your products wisely. If you like to cook and bake, then you may prefer to make the items from scratch. Finding recipes on the web or cookbooks in bookstores is getting easier – again, don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t turn out, find another recipe. Continually shop around and check out products and their prices. I know one store that sells Bob’s Redmill Sorghum Flour for around $6/bag, while another sells it for just over $3.

What now?
Take a deep breath. You’ll survive. Take things slowly.

After all of the above, speaking with your health practitioner and learning about what you can have and can’t have, get a bin or a bag and go through your cupboards. Take everything out and look at the ingredients. Only put back items you can have. Throwing out what you can’t have may seem like a waste, and in a sense it is; you’re throwing out food. If any of your evil foods haven’t been opened, drop them off at your grocery store in the food bank bin.

Replace what you need to and slowly. Don’t go out and buy every GF item you can find; you may not use it or like it. Choose some essential ingredients and locate where to pick them up. These days most large grocery store chains have GF products in a GF or health food section (Metro, Loblaws, and Supercentre are the main ones here in Ottawa). Many smaller health food stores carry GF products, some carrying only a few products while others devote half their stock or more to GF (centrally Rainbow Foods, Herb and Spice, and the Natural Pantry are good places to go). The Ottawa chapter of the CCA has a list of suppliers in the area. Products may also be found when you least expect it. Some pasta shops are now carrying GF pasta in recognizing the need and demand for it. Many stores will also order products upon request, which not only benefits you, but the store as well.

Keep your eyes peeled when you’re out and about. You never know when you may come across something you may like or could use (this past winter I discovered GF grains in bulk at Bulk Barn). It also never hurts to ask. Sometimes you may get a complete blank look (or misinformation) from the clerk, but often you can get lucky and discover a new place or product.

Lastly, don’t feel disheartened. It can be frustrating as you see some favourite foods disappear, but there are many happy moments when you find something you like.
*Don’t forget to save all your receipts in a safe place. GF products can be claimed on your income taxes. Check out the Revenue Canada website for up-to-date information

Helpful Places to Visit
Canadian Celiac Association
Ottawa chapter of the CCA
Foods Allowed
Foods to Avoid
Use Caution
Acceptability of Other Foods
Gluten Free Suppliers