The incidence of celiac disease has doubled in recent years. According to the National Institutes of Health, more than 2 million Americans have celiac disease. Individuals who are diagnosed with celiac disease are required to strictly follow a gluten-free diet.
What exactly is celiac disease? It’s an autoimmune disease that leads to an intolerance of certain proteins, collectively called “gluten.” Gluten is found in wheat, barley, and rye. When individuals with celiac disease consume gluten, it triggers an inflammatory response in their bodies that damages the lining of the small intestine and interferes with the digestion and absorption of the nutrients in food. This can cause numerous vitamin, mineral, and other nutrient deficiencies, as well as short-term health problems, such as anemia, abdominal pain, irritability, weight loss, diarrhea, and fatigue. There is also the risk of long-term complications like osteoporosis and intestinal disease.
It can be frustrating to avoid your favorite breads, pastas or cookies that are made with wheat flour, but it is important to have a positive outlook and focus on more whole foods like fruits, vegetables, beans, dairy, eggs, and gluten-free whole grains like brown rice and quinoa. Over time, you may be pleasantly surprised to find a variety of healthy choices available and new foods you may not have otherwise explored.
While a gluten-free diet is absolutely necessary for individuals with celiac disease, there are also individuals who have gluten sensitivity. People with a sensitivity do not have the autoimmune response seen in celiac gisease, however they may still suffer from gastrointestinal discomfort as well as other symptoms. Individuals with gluten sensitivity find relief by limiting the gluten in their diet.
There is also a gluten-free diet trend based on the belief that it’s a healthier lifestyle. However, many gluten-free foods are higher calorie than their gluten-containing equivalents. In addition, following a gluten-free diet may increase your risk of vitamin and mineral deficiencies including vitamin B12, vitamin D, zinc, and folate.
At the UWMC Plaza cafeteria, we now carry gluten-free items including sandwiches, pizza, and clam chowder. We can also substitute a burger bun with a lettuce wrap. And for those of you looking for a sweet treat, we carry Wow gluten-free cookies and brownies and Oskri snacks.
If you suspect you have celiac disease, a gluten-intolerance or sensitivity, or if you are just interested in following a gluten-free diet, it important to be tested by a physician to check for underlying conditions prior to beginning a gluten-free lifestyle. In addition, all individuals following a gluten-free diet should work with a registered dietitian to develop a healthy, well-balanced diet that meets their medical and nutritional needs.
Julia Marnadi, RD, CD is a registered dietitian at UWMC working closely with the bone marrow transplant population. In her spare time she enjoys cooking, trying new recipes, and spending time with her boys, age 13 and 3. She also enjoys running with her friends and has completed three half marathons.
This post was originally published in the RD Blog. You can visit the RD Blog and see its archives if you have a UW Medicine ID.