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Celiac Disease

Renovate Your Gluten-free Diet: Celebrating the Foods You Can Eat

600-01827641The basket is half-full: Eating well and gluten-free is about celebrating the foods you CAN have. Photo: Masterfile

You have celiac disease and, yes, that diagnosis comes with what may seem like an endless list of foods and drinks to avoid so your small intestine can repair and any gastrointestinal and other symptoms will disappear. And, yes, it’s also true that many gluten-free foods are not as nutritious as their enriched gluten-based counterparts. Oh, and let’s not forget that gluten-free foods are often pricier than their gluten-containing equivalents.

But wait, because here’s the good news. When Allergic Living set out in search of powerhouse gluten-free diet options that can and should be eaten for optimum health, the door flew open to a vast and wonderful range of delicious, affordable choices. The experts say that incorporating these foods into a daily diet doesn’t mean endless hours in the kitchen, or forking out huge sums on specialty groceries. All that’s needed is an open mind and some simple strategies.

And here’s another positive. For those with celiac disease, the advice from dietitians is primarily the same message being delivered to the entire population: ditch the carbohydrate-focused diet of empty calorie, pre-packaged, grain-based convenience foods in favor of fresh, whole foods that carry a serious nutritional punch. There are many ways this strategy can be tailored to the gluten-free regime.

“I advise patients to think positively about their approach to the gluten-free diet,” says Rachel Begun, a registered dietitian-nutritionist and expert in gluten-related disorders and food allergies from Boulder, Colorado. “For starters, being diagnosed with celiac disease is a good thing, because being diagnosed and starting a gluten-free diet is the start of their journey back to health.”

What’s Wrong With Gluten-Free Diets?

When someone with celiac disease eats gluten-containing foods, the immune system goes into defensive mode, inflaming the lining of the small intestine. With continued exposure, over time the immune system will damage and flatten the villi, the tiny hair-like projections that are vital to absorbing vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. As the Mayo Clinic notes, this can lead to deficiencies in iron, calcium, folate, zinc, vitamin B12, and vitamins D and K, especially before a celiac diagnosis and the adoption of a strict gluten-free diet.

Replacing those nutrients can be a problem, say dietitians, since many consumers’ gluten-free diets mimic today’s conventional American diet by being too dependent on prepared, carbohydrate-dense foods with an emphasis on breads, cereals, pastas, crackers, muffins, cakes, white rice and other simple grains that do not carry a significant vitamin, mineral or fiber punch.

There is an added negative twist with the gluten-free versions of these foods. In North America, “enriched white flour” must have added iron, folic acid and B vitamins, including riboflavin, niacin and thiamine. Pastas and cereals are also enriched with some nutrients, but gluten-free versions don’t fall under the same legislation. While some manufacturers have started enriching gluten-free packaged foods with vitamins and fiber, these aren’t always easy to find.

Next: No ‘miracle’ foods exist 

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