Coping with Coeliac Disease
I am sure many of you have heard of the term ‘gluten-free food’ and perhaps some of you have even chosen to adopt this manner of eating. Choosing a gluten free diet can provide a host of benefits to your body and health, but for a small section of the population, gluten free living is essential.
For those with coeliac disease, gluten containing foods (including all wheat, rye and barley products) are a notorious toxin which causes the body’s own antibodies to attack the small intestine, resulting in the flattening of nutrient-absorbing villi. The long-term effects of coeliac disease, if left untreated, can be severe and damaging and maintaining a strict gluten-free diet at all times is also a challenge.
If you are a sufferer of this autoimmune disease, or have been newly diagnosed, you are probably looking for ways to manage the lifestyle changes it requires and tips on being a positive minded coeliac! The idea of never indulging in your favourite late-night fast food or chocolate gâteaux can be rather sobering, but when you know how, living as a coeliac can still bring you foodie delight!
- Learn how to adapt recipes:
If you are an avid baker or have a sweet-tooth, having coeliac disease may seem like an end-of-the-world burden to carry. However, missing out on your best sweet-treats is not necessary as all you need are the gluten free ingredient alternatives: instead of wheat flour, use nutrient-rich buckwheat flour, coconut flour or brown rice flour. In fact, there are myriad flour bases suitable for cakes, bread and pancakes, all with exactly the same flavour and often with extra vitamins and fibre. Cooking and baking sans gluten is actually simple as pie and luckily, supermarkets have increasingly diverse stock to accommodate coeliacs, so you have all the substitutes at your fingertips.
- Buy your own kitchen utensils:
Yes, this may seem frustrating and superfluous, but cross-contamination is a serious risk for coeliacs. For the sake of the good health of your hard-working digestive system, buy separate chopping boards, frying pan and a toaster. The latter is particularly important, as you do not want regular breadcrumbs finding their way onto your morning toast. The saying ‘a little bit won’t hurt’ does NOT apply in this circumstance, as even the smallest gluten particles can trigger a reaction in the body and hinder recovery. Therefore, strict kitchen hygiene is needed to help your body detox from the poisonous effects of gluten and your food should always be prepared separately.
- Get familiar with labels:
When food shopping you will need to be more particular and reading labels is a necessary fact of coeliac life. Staying on the gluten free waggon is far easier if you have a fully stocked pantry of coeliac friendly goodies. There is usually a dedicated gluten-free section in larger supermarkets, so head there for the basics and branch out: any gluten-containing ingredients will be labelled in bold (wheat, malt, barley etc), but watch for the ‘may contain gluten’ labels which are tacked onto the bottom of products. Any products that ‘may contain’ or were packed in a gluten-handling environment should still be on your blacklist. Coeliac friendly labels are your new best friend and like any good friend, will support your recovery back to optimal gut health.
- Plan ahead when going out:
The most testing time to have coeliac disease is when you are out and about. Eating out at restaurants, friends’ houses or after a long night of partying can be trying, especially when people are unfamiliar with your condition. Patience is key, and instead of going hungry, do research ahead of any outside events: look up menus online, call ahead to restaurants to ask for gluten-free adaptations if necessary and get accustomed to explaining your situation to friends. Fortunately, many restaurants – both high street and gourmet – will cater for your every need, but always be prepared to ask for personal food alterations.
A diagnosis of coeliac disease does not have to signal a life of restriction and difficulty. With an open mind and a few changes to your daily cooking regime, a gluten-free lifestyle can be both satisfying and fun. After diagnosis perhaps you will find a new love of cookery or become m
ore experimental with food! But even if this is not the case, with a positive mind-set and willingness to adapt that little extra bit, coping with being a coeliac is significantly less challenging than it first appears!