Tip #1: Get advice from a dietitian.
There is no cure for celiac disease (CD), but there is an effective treatment: strict adherence to a gluten-free (GF) diet. “Everyone with CD should see a registered dietitian (RD) with expertise in the gluten-free lifestyle to help them successfully navigate this style of eating,” says Shelley Case, an RD and member of the Canadian Celiac Association’s Professional Advisory Council. “Ideally, it’s best to see an RD as soon as possible after diagnosis to get you started, again at six months to check in on your diet, and then at a year to make sure you’ve mastered your GF plan.” Here are 14 healthy foods straight from a dietitian’s fridge.
Tip #2: Take the time to read labels carefully.
“Gluten containing ingredients are in so many foods, from processed meats to soups and salad dressings,” says Case. “It’s easy for people to get tripped up.” She recommends reading the labels on all foods you buy — even if you don’t think it will contain gluten.
Thankfully in Canada, as long as you know where to look, you can find out if there is even a trace amount of gluten in any packaged food. Food labelling regulations demand that the top 11 priority allergens, including gluten sources, be listed. When you’re scanning a box, bag, carton or can for gluten, check the “Warnings” section for the phrases “Contains” or “May contain” as well as the ingredients list.
Tip #3: Ask your server lots of questions.
Having CD doesn’t mean you can’t eat out, but you do have to be very careful. More and more restaurants are offering GF menu items, but they’re not always safe for someone with CD, due to potential cross-contamination in the kitchen or dishes containing hidden traces of gluten. Make sure to tell your server that you have CD and then ask some specific questions about your order, such as:
- “How do you thicken sauces and dressings?”
- “Will you use spices or prepared seasonings made from wheat in my meal?”
- “Are deep-fried foods cooked in oil that has been used to fry other menu items that are traditionally breaded or battered?”
Tip #4: Make a celiac safe zone in your kitchen.
“Unless you’re living in an exclusively GF household, you do need to have your own area and keep things separate in the kitchen,” says Dr. Zelin. To avoid cross-contamination you’ll need your own cutting board, colanders and toaster that are used exclusively for GF foods. In some homes it works well to keep all of the GF kitchen tools in one cupboard.
Think being gluten-free means denying yourself all delicacies? We’ve got 8 dessert recipes to satisfy your sweet tooth.
Tip #5: Embrace your diagnosis.
Even if you’ve adjusted your diet slightly, eliminating most but maybe not all gluten, and are feeling well, you’re not doing enough. It’s critical to switch to a strict GF diet, says Dr. Zelin. “If you don’t have any symptoms, but are still eating some gluten, you could still be setting off an autoimmune cascade within your body that could be doing some hidden damage,” she says. Your body’s autoimmune response could result in a malabsorption of nutrients, putting you at risk of anemia and other conditions. “You could also be putting yourself at higher risk of other autoimmune diseases, like thyroid disease,” she says.
Tip #6: Monitor your bone health.
CD is widely recognized as a common cause of osteoporosis. As the disease progresses (if left unmanaged by a strict GF diet), the body’s ability to absorb nutrients, especially calcium and vitamin D, which are key for bone health, is reduced. In one Canadian survey of people with CD, 27 percent of respondents had been diagnosed with significant bone loss.
Tip #7: Read up on celiac disease.
Case’s highly respected and bestselling tome on the topic, Gluten Free The Definitive Resource Guide, will answer all of your questions — including ones you haven’t thought to ask.
Tip #8: Find out for sure if you have celiac disease before you go gluten-free.
The first step in diagnosis is a blood test that screens for the IgA-tissue transglutaminase antibody, but patients must be on a regular diet, consuming gluten, for accurate results. The second step, for a definitive diagnosis, is an intestinal biopsy. If you go GF before you’re tested, there could be a false negative result. “It’s so important to get a diagnosis,” says Dr. Zelin. Without it you can’t properly treat your disease. “And there are advantages like a tax break on the GF diet, which can be very expensive, but that’s only with a diagnosis,” she says.