Celiac Disease 101

I recently realized that I regularly discuss Celiac Disease and a gluten-free diet as if they are common knowledge. I talk about it as if everyone already knows everything there is to know. Well, that’s just silly. I don’t even know the half of everything, and I have Celiac Disease. Thus, here I’d like to share a brief and basic overview of Celiac Disease.

First, what is Celiac Disease?
Celiac Disease (often termed Celiac Sprue) is a chronic condition that causes damage to the villi in the small intestine. This damage is caused by an intolerance or reaction to gluten, which is found in wheat, rye, barley, and often times oats. The villi in the small intestine help the body to absorb nutrients. Consequently, damage to the villi prevent the absorption of essential nutrients. Thus, if a person with Celiac Disease continues to eat gluten they will become malnourished no matter how much food they consume.

What causes Celiac Disease?
Celiac Disease can develop at anytime during a person’s life (infancy to adulthood). While there is no consensus on the exact cause of Celiac Disease, it is believed that those with family having Celiac have a greater risk of developing the condition themselves.

What are common symptoms of Celiac Disease?
Symptoms vary person to person. Some affected by Celiac have very obvious symptoms, where as others have less noticeable symptoms. Likewise, some have more symptoms than others. In my family, my brother, baby sister, and I all have Celiac yet none of us react the same.

Symptoms include:
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Itchy skin
  • Headaches
  • Bruising easily
  • Muscle cramps and joint pain
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating
  • Constipation
  • Gas
  • Floating “fatty” or bloody stool
  • Diarrhea
  • Unexplained short height
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Irritability
  • Hair loss

How do you diagnose Celiac Disease?
When diagnosing Celiac Disease it is important to be eating a diet that contains gluten. Testing commonly follows two steps. First, your health care provider will do blood tests to determine whether your blood contains certain antibodies. If those antibodies are present, Celiac Disease is a possibility that needs to further be explored. Again, if the blood test is positive that does not automatically mean you have Celiac Disease. In order to confirm that you have the condition, your health care provider will next perform an endoscopy in order to obtain a sample of tissue from your small intestine.

How do you treat Celiac Disease?
Celiac Disease cannot be cured. Symptoms will discontinue, however, by following a gluten-free diet. Note: it is important not to start a gluten-free diet before being diagnosed. Diagnostic tests only work if you have been eating gluten.

What is a gluten-free diet?
Gluten is found in wheat, rye, barley, and often times oats. When eating a gluten-free diet it is important to avoid foods containing these items. Note: oats can be consumed if they are labeled gluten-free.

Is gluten-free food gross?
Yes and no. First, yes. I’ll be the first to admit that a lot of those special processed gluten-free products are disgusting! Truly nasty even. And when I first got diagnosed, it was only those nasty items that everyone so sweetly found for me. I was grateful for their thoughtfulness. Really. But you couldn’t pay me to eat most of them! So yes if you only buy those products.

And then no, and mostly no. I refuse to eat gross food. Although I thought eating gluten-free was gross for a long time, I have finally realized that there is so much I can eat! Tons! And I’m not talking about special gluten-free products even. What I mean is, there is so much I could eat before getting diagnosed that I still can eat! Fruits, vegetables, meat, rice, many ice creams (that’s important), Snickers, etc.

How can you control Celiac so it doesn’t control you?
The key: focus on the positive. Or more specifically, what you can eat. When I first got diagnosed I was unbelievably overwhelmed. I couldn’t believe how much I could not eat! No bread! No bagels! No brownies! I felt like I’d been sentenced to a lifetime in prison. I confess, I carried this grim outlook with me for a good year or two. Why? Because I was focusing on all the can’ts. I was focusing on everything I couldn’t eat. True, knowing what you can’t eat is important. I would argue, however, that in eating gluten-free it is equally and perhaps even more important to find out what you can eat!

So, let’s say I could push the redo button and start from diagnosis day again, what would I do? First, I’d trash my lengthy “Has Gluten” list. Such a list screams negativity! Instead, I’d write up a “Gluten-Free” list. And on that list, I’d be sure to avoid all the nasty special “gluten-free” products and focus on naturally gluten-free items (as in things you have always eaten and can still eat). I honestly buy so little on the gluten-free aisle at the store!

A few naturally gluten-free items include:
  • Fresh fruits
  • Fresh vegetables
  • Fresh meat (so long as you select gluten-free seasoning/sauces)
  • Rice
  • Potatoes
  • Eggs
  • Nuts
  • Milk (though when newly diagnosed you might be temporarily lactose intolerant)
  • Many cheeses
  • Beans
  • Many yogurts
  • Corn tortillas
  • Most popcorn
  • Rice Chex, Corn Chex, Cinnamon Chex, Honey Nut Chex, Chocolate Chex
  • Swedish fish
  • Chocolate candy kisses
  • Snickers
  • Baby Rays BBQ sauce
  • La Victoria Green Enchilada Sauce
  • La Choy soy sauce
  • McCormick Taco Seasoning
  • Muddy Buddies!
…the list really goes on, and on, and on, and on. (Note: always double check sauces, etc as sometimes products change their recipes)

Then, only after establishing a hefty “Gluten-Free” list, would I research “Has Gluten” items and special gluten-free products (cause there are some good ones). I would at this time also begin a list of items I’d like to figure out how to make gluten-free because the reality is I can make almost anything gluten-free! Really. It’s all about trial and error. Sure it might take a little extra work, but it can be done! That being said, there are a few special gluten-free products worth mentioning. I purchase most of these form Amazon (they have great deals).

Tasty Gluten-Free Products
  • Pamela’s Bread Mix (Most store bought gluten free bread is dry and nasty. This, however, is divine! Even those without Celiac in my family eat this, it’s that good! It can also be used to make breadsticks and pizza crust.)
  • Pamela’s Baking and Pancake Mix (Great waffles! Great pancakes! Great chocolate chip cookies!)
  • Tinkyada Noodles
  • King Arthur Gluten-free Chocolate Cake Mix
  • Betty Crocker Yellow Cake Mix (Betty Crocker’s Chocolate or Devil’s Food Cake is a bit grainy but works great in Homemade Gluten-free Oreos-these are to die for!) 
  • Gluten Free Pantry French Bread and Pizza Crust Mix
And remember, white flour still is still wheat! A great white flour substitute that my amazing mother created is:

9 cups sweet rice flour--(3 lb 6 oz)
9 cups brown rice flour, very finely ground--(3 lbs)
9 cups sorghum flour--(2 lb 14 oz)
9 cups tapioca flour--(2 lb. 11 oz)
3 cups potato starch, NOT flour--(1 lb. 1 oz.)
3 Tbl xanthum
3 Tbl/envelopes gelatin powder (Knox)
2 crushed ascorbic acid tablet (Vitamin C)

Weigh or measure all ingredients. Sift multiple times until well mixed. Store in air tight containers. Mays store at room temperature. Makes almost 40 cups flour. (Before you panic thinking 40 cups! I don't need 40 cups! Scroll down a bit for the 9 cup version.)

**My mother buys ingredients by the pound, so she has determined how much each ingredient weighs so to have sufficient ingredients on hand (she's a genius). Also, when making this much it is easier to weigh the flours than to continuously be scooping and losing count with the larger amounts.

**When cooking very light cookies needing a "white flour blend", use 1 part cornstarch to 7 parts whole grain blend (i.e. 1/4 cup cornstarch plus 1 3/4 cup whole grain to equal 2 cups flour)

And for those of us who don’t need quite as much flour, here’s the reduced measurements:
2 cup sweet rice flour
2 cup brown rice flour
2 cup sorghum flour
2 cup tapioca flour
2/3 cup potato starch
2 teaspoon xanthum
2 tsp gelatin powder
1/2 crushed ascorbic acid tablet

Makes 9 cups flour.

We use this to make almost everything including brownies and chocolate chip cookies (the important things)!

How long does it take to heal?
The amount of time your body takes to heal varies person to person. For some, healing will take a few months. For others who have suffered from the condition undiagnosed for years, healing can take two to three years. Follow up testing is something you may want to discuss with your health provider.

And there you have it. Celiac Disease 101.

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