People with celiac disease have to stick to a gluten-free diet to avoid damaging their small intestines, but knowing what to and not to eat is not the easiest thing.
Celiac disease is a self-attacking immune condition in which a person’s small intestines get damaged when he eats gluten-rich foods. The disease affects many people globally, and the only solution to it is sticking to a gluten-free diet, also called the celiac disease diet. What is this diet, and what are its benefits? What are some of the foods to eat and avoid? This article answers these questions in a seven-minute reading.
Understanding the celiac disease diet
The first step in sticking to the celiac disease diet is understanding what it is. When a person suffers from celiac disease, eating foods rich in gluten, a form of protein in wheat, rye, and barley, triggers an autoimmune reaction in the intestine and causes damage to the lining. What’s worse is that this happens at the slightest taste of gluten-rich foods, with or without symptoms. The celiac disease diet is a strict nutrition plan that eliminates gluten by not eating foods rich in this protein and those prepared by such foods/grains as the primary ingredient. Sticking to the celiac disease diet is critical because continued eating of gluten-rich food may lead to malnutrition, sudden weight loss, intestinal leaking, and diarrhea.
Advantages of sticking to the celiac disease diet
If you are diagnosed with celiac disease, eliminating gluten-rich foods from your diet may not be the easiest thing. However, you can rest assured of the following benefits;
Improved quality of life
Common celiac disease symptoms include headaches, diarrhea, weakness, fatigue, abdominal pain, and incomplete digestion. These symptoms make one uncomfortable and work against the quality of life. However, keeping off gluten-rich foods helps reduce these symptoms, ultimately boosting one’s quality of life, and studies have confirmed this in more than 90% of celiac disease patients. Diarrhea may be the first symptom to be resolved, say in only two days of sticking to a gluten-free diet, but bloating, abdominal pain, and indigestion may take a month. However, after one year of the gluten-free diet, all the symptoms will have disappeared.
Improved intestinal health
Among celiac disease patients, gluten targets small intestines and induces self-attack on them. However, eliminating gluten from one’s diet means that the small intestines will not be damaged anymore, and the already damaged lining will start recuperating. Of course, such a process takes long, but with time, the intestinal lining fully recovers. The healing process is faster in children, as demonstrated by a study that showed that more than 95% of celiac disease children recovered in a span of two years. Adults take longer, and the same study showed that only 35% had recovered within two years, but the number shot to between 65% and 90% after five years and beyond. The earlier you start the gluten-free diet, the better. Besides, it is critical to stick to the diet since the smallest portion of gluten-rich food may interfere with the already-healing gut.
Reduced miscarriage rates and boosted fertility
Studies have established that women with celiac disease pose high miscarriage rates, many of whom are infertile. Although further research is needed to explain the observation, fingers point to the autoimmune reaction characteristic of celiac disease. Therefore, sticking to a gluten-free diet may boot fertility rates and reduce miscarriage cases.
Improved nutrient absorption and reduced nutritional deficiencies
Since celiac disease affects the small intestines, food absorption is interfered with, leading to nutritional deficiency. One method of diagnosing celiac disease is unexplained iron deficiency, although calcium, vitamins A, D, E, and K, zinc, manganese, folate, niacin, riboflavin, and other deficiencies are also common among celiac disease patients. Dietary supplements may be an option to correct the problem, but the effect will not be felt as long as the small intestines are still damaged and cannot absorb nutrients. However, studies have proved that eliminating gluten and gluten-rich foods from one’s diet corrects iron anemia and other deficiencies with six to twelve months.
Reduced cancer risk
Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a type of cancer affecting the lymphatic system, and its risk is three times high in celiac disease patients. Preliminary studies have shown that early diagnosis of celiac disease and s strict gluten-free diet reduces the risk, although there is a need for further studies to substantiate the claims.
Reduced risk of osteoporosis and increased bone density
Celiac disease causes inflammation in the gut and other body parts and reduces the absorption of vitamins E and D, phosphorus, and calcium. Since all these minerals and vitamins are needed for strong bones, celiac disease patients suffer bone mass loss and reduced bone density, ultimately increasing their risk for osteoporosis. Studies show that eliminating gluten from one’s diet increases nutrient absorption, reduces the risk of osteoporosis, and boosts bone mass building.
What to eat for the celiac disease diet
Eliminating gluten from one’s diet does not mean the end of the road because there are many other healthy gluten-free foods to enjoy. They include vegetables and fruits, animal proteins, herbs and spices, seeds and nuts, legumes, fats and oils, gluten-free cereals, and pseudocereals like amaranth, quinoa, and buckwheat. One can also try gluten-free specialty products, including bread, pasta, crackers, and flour.
What to avoid
If you were diagnosed with celiac disease, you need to avoid anything with gluten, including farina, durum, triplicate, wheat, spelt, rye, barley, graham, emmer, einkorn, semolina, and farro. Besides, you need to keep off foods made with any of the listed foods, whether beverages, snacks, baked products, pasta, and breakfast cereals. You equally need to avoid oats because they are often processed in the same equipment as wheat, besides foods from restaurants that handle gluten-rich foods because of the increased gluten contamination risk. In addition, some foods contain hidden gluten, including brown syrup, chips, some meat substitutes, meat, soup, marinades, and salad dressings, and need to be avoided. Although they may naturally lack gluten, handling practices or the ingredients used to manufacture them may add gluten to them.
Celiac disease diet is a gluten-free diet that, when followed, improves one’s quality of life, reduces infertility rate, boosts nutrient absorption, and reduces cancer and osteoporosis risks. Rye, spelt, barley, and wheat are gluten-rich grains, and a person diagnosed with celiac disease diet needs to avoid them or anything prepared using them. Still, there are many healthy foods to enjoy, including nuts, legumes, fruits and vegetables, seeds, and gluten-free cereals.