Sunday 13 December 2009, 23:24

Celiac disease Diet

How to cope with a gluten-free diet

Celiac disease Diet

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease caused by the ingestion of gluten, a protein contained in some grains (such as wheat, barley and rye), leading to the destruction of intestinal epithelial cells and subsequent villous atrophy and malabsorption of nutrients and vitamins.


Symptoms and signs are extremely varied and depend on age. The clinical presentation in children under two years of age is dramatic: malnutrition, diarrhoea, failure to grow, abdominal distension and pain are the main clinical features. By contrast, when celiac disease presents at a later age, symptoms are often subtle. They may include diarrhoea or constipation, abdominal pain, bloating and excessive gas.


In all cases the only effective treatment for celiac disease is a free-gluten diet, that has to be followed for the rest of the patient’s life. A gluten-free diet means avoiding all foods containing wheat, barley and rye, as well as products made from these grains.


Despite of these restrictions, people affected with celiac disease can feed a complete and varied diet, by using rice, soy, potato, buckwheat or bean flour instead of wheat flour. Gluten-free products (such as gluten-free bread, cereals, pasta, cakes, biscuits and snacks) are increasingly available in supermarkets, grocery stores and other food stores. Obviously people with celiac disease can freely eat foods such as meat, poultry, fish, vegetables, fruits and rice, which are all free from gluten.


Since eating even a small amount of gluten can cause serious damage to the intestinal mucosa (in the presence or not of clinical symptoms), the gluten-free diet must be followed both at home and outside (e.g. restaurants, work and school cafeterias, parties, etc). Eating out of home can be problematic for people with celiac disease; however, with practice, avoiding gluten becomes second nature. When in doubt about a menu item, celiac patients should always ask the waiter which food ingredients it contains, in order to avoid even the minimum intake of gluten.


It is also remarkable that gluten may be present in some medications. Therefore it is important that celiac patients always ask the pharmacist whether prescription or over-the-counter drugs they have to take contain wheat or some other gluten product.


By Chiara De Carli

Category: Nutrition

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