What you need to know about coeliac disease
While going gluten free is a popular dietary choice for some looking to lose some weight or feel less bloated and heavy after dinner, for others it’s a necessary solution for a serious medical condition. Whether you already have coeliac disease, think you might have it, or know someone who does, here’s the key questions and answers you need to know:
What is coeliac disease?
It’s an autoimmune disease, not an allergy or intolerance, that flares up as a result of eating gluten. Studies suggest 1 in every 100 people have it; but it’s also believed many others – up to half a million – have not yet been diagnosed. Anyone can develop it, at any age – even if you’ve previously been eating gluten-containing products with no problems.
What is gluten?
It is a mix of two proteins found in cereal grains wheat, barley and rye – it’s what makes dough all stretchy and helps your cakes stick together. However, it’s not in all types of grains; gluten free varieties include corn, buckwheat, quinoa, millet and teff, to name but a few.
What happens to coeliacs if they eat gluten-containing products?
Each time a coeliac eats gluten it causes the body’s immune system to attack itself; in turn, this damages the lining of the gut and stops it from absorbing key nutrients. Other reactions and symptoms can range from mild to severe depending on the seriousness of the person’s allergy. An individual might experience headaches, diarrhoea, constipation and bloating, to extreme stomach cramps, mouth ulcers, anaemia, weight loss and constant fatigue. If these sound familiar to you, then visit your GP to discuss your symptoms and get tested for coeliac disease.
Is there a cure?
Currently, no. While research into a vaccination is underway, at the moment all a coeliac can do is adopt a life-long diet avoiding foods containing gluten.
What food is gluten in?
You’d be surprised just how many everyday foods it is contained in. Of course, there’s the obvious flour-based ones, such as pizza, pasta, bread, crackers and cakes. However, flour is used to thicken many items that you might not even think about, such as soups, sauces (from soy and gravy to béchamel) and beer. Fortunately, recent EU laws mean that allergen ingredients now have to be displayed on food packaging – so it’s easy to spot if something contains gluten or wheat.
Does this mean coeliacs are stuck eating nothing but salad?
Definitely not! In the last few years, the gluten free market has gone from strength-to-strength (and estimated to be worth £561 million in the UK alone by 2017), with more and more manufacturers getting in on the act. Not only is the amount and variety of gluten free foods available increasing, but the quality is, too – for example, in the last five years the bread on offer has gone from Styrofoam-esque to (mostly) delicious and edible. Many supermarkets have free-from sections, and restaurants now offer many of their dishes gluten free, too. Keep a look out for a post later on this week highlighting some of our favourite gluten free items available to buy in Holland & Barrett.
Surely it doesn’t matter if a coeliac eats a tiny bit of gluten?
Unfortunately, it really does – so if you have a coeliac friend coming over for dinner, don’t think it’ll be ok to top that fish dish with a ‘just a few breadcrumbs’. A flare-up of a person’s symptoms as a result can last from a few hours to days, and make sure that if you’re cooking, you’re careful of cross-contamination, too – for example, use different chopping boards and cooking pans. It may seem arduous but it’ll be very much appreciated by the coeliac!
For more information on coeliac disease, visit coeliac.org.uk.