An estimated two million Americans – about one in 133 people – have celiac disease, an inherited, autoimmune disorder that tends to run in families. Symptoms are caused by eating foods that contain gluten, and, like many autoimmune conditions, the symptoms can initially be triggered by physical and emotional stress.
People with celiac disease should follow a gluten-free diet for life. Even a small amount of gluten can cause problems and result in damage to the small intestine. The good news is that following a gluten-free diet can greatly improve and even completely resolve symptoms, heal existing intestinal damage, and prevent further problems. Use the following as a guide to a gluten-free diet:
- Avoid all foods containing wheat, oats, barley and rye.
- Read labels carefully. Gluten can turn up in cold cuts, soups, candies and soy sauce. Be aware of ingredients such as starch, modified food starch, hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP), hydrolyzed plant protein (HPP), texturized vegetable protein (TVP), binders, fillers, excipients, extenders, malt and natural flavorings, all of which may indicate the presence of gluten.
- Look for grocers that specialize in gluten-free products – mixes for pancakes, muffins, pizza dough and bread are available. Realize though that these are still foods with a high glycemic index, since they are made from processed flours. Be sure to consume in moderation and instead opt for fish, beans, vegetables or fruits.
- Know where gluten can be hidden in products we use every day, such as stamp and envelope adhesive, medicines and vitamins.
The Celiac Disease Foundation (www.celiac.org) and the Celiac Sprue Association (www.csaceliacs.org) have more information on gluten-free foods.
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