This past holiday season was, for our family, gluten-free because my daughter, Leandra is gluten sensitive. Although she has not had a firm diagnosis of celiac disease, she feels much better if she avoids different sources of gluten.
What is Celiac?
Celiac dis-ease is a medical condition 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.
It is estimated that 1 in 133 persons in Canada are affected by celiac disease. Many more are sufferers that remain undiagnosed.
What is gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, triticale and, barley. It is the gluten in the flour that helps bread and other baked goods bind and prevents crumbling. This feature has made gluten widely used in the production of many processed and packaged foods.
What are the symptoms of Celiac?
The symptoms of this allergy (for that is exactly what it is) include any of the following;
anemia, chronic diarrhea, weight loss, fatigue, cramps and bloating, and irritability.
The diagnosis is made on the basis of blood tests, though Leandra’s results were not conclusive, they did indicate a gluten sensitivity.
If you have celiac, you must follow a gluten free diet as this is the best way to both avoid experiencing the very uncomfortable and painful reactions and to protect your system from long term damage. Although there is no cure for celiac dis-ease, acupuncture can be of great relief as it can reduce intestinal inflammation and strengthen the body’s immune system.The patients I treat for symptoms related to celiac benefit from a reduction or elimination in abdominal pain, bloating and fatigue. They sleep better and feel calmer. Please read my blog here for an explanation of how acupuncturists understand and treat celiac.
Naturally, I advise patients who have not yet had a diagnosis to get tested and to eliminate gluten in all its forms.
I had no idea just how tricky this task could be until my own home became a gluten free zone.
Although we were aware of Leandra’s condition last Christmas, I was honestly not prepared for the changes necessary in order to meet with her dietary requirements. The devil is in the details as they say, and the turkey stuffing, gravy and desserts I made all contained gluten - even the apple berry crisp, and when Leandra came home for Christmas break that year, she was forced to pass on every single one of them.
That one meal made me realize that going gluten free involved a lot more than just holding back the bread! I had a lot to learn. And learn I did. This year, I was determined that things would be much, much different.
Resources That Saved Us
First, I armed myself with a book I now recommend to all my patients and friends. It is Paul Pitchford’s classic, “Healing With Whole Foods”. This book has become my bible to better health using food as medicine. His opening chapter explains for instance, why we should ALL be eliminating wheat, in the form it is currently available, from our diet - gluten sensitive or not! His point is that wheat flour, in all its processed forms is devoid of most of the nutrients that is naturally found in the wheat bud.
He also states that wheat is a common allergen but that practically NO ONE reacts to wheat sprouts. So sprouting is next on my list of new ways to prepare healthy food, and shall certainly be the subject of a blog in the near future.
Another indispensable resource has been www. westonaprice.org- a website devoted to healthy eating based on the research of the diets of traditional populations by Dr Weston A Price. This foundation encourages the use of fermented foods and suggests that sourdough bread may possibly be tolerated by most celiac sufferers - although they caution that the subject still needs further testing.
So I have begun concocting gluten free recipes from scratch. And rethinking even the most basic dinner menus and shopping lists. I have to admit, I find grocery shopping much more of an adventure these days-a treasure hunt of sorts with prizes so rare and elusive that I actually rejoice upon finding them. Xantham powder, sorghum flour, almond flour - these once unheard of ingredients now form the basis of what I call 'alternative' baking.
Gluten free themed blogs are all the rage, it seems, and a blogger named Karina, has become my ‘go to’ source for amazing gluten and dairy free recipes. Yes, Leandra is lactose intolerant as well-another condition common to gluten sensitive folks. Karina turns out daily recipes here. I think she makes a fantastic contribution. My first ever attempt at her flour-less chocolate cake turned out to be a hit!
This Christmas, our whole family enjoyed a totally gluten free dinner, complete with all the trimmings and unctuous desserts. Leandra and I got to spend quality time together in the kitchen trying out new recipes. It really was a lot of fun.
Here are a few tips I thought would be useful if you or someone you care for needs to go gluten-free:
- Not all gluten free products are good for you! In fact, most commercially available products are laden with sugar and made with harmful trans fats.
- Read labels and check for common gluten sources as wheat, spelt, rye, oats and barley, (including beer) and triticale.
- Hidden sources of gluten are soup mixes, salad dressings, sauces, prepared meats, salad dressings, as well as lipstick, certain vitamins, medications, stamps and envelopes you have to lick, and even Play-Doh.)
- Going gluten free has become something of a weight-loss fad. Great care must be taken to regain certain nutrients that are lost in the absence of grains that contain gluten. Get informed and get educated.
Please use the above mentioned resources in your journey to better intestinal health. Begin with a visit to www.celiac.com for a complete list of foods that contain gluten, as well as often surprising and hidden sources of gluten. And read further on how acupuncture can help with Celiac and gluten sensitivity here.