For Your Health
The Woes of Wheat
If your stomach’s rumbling after that slice of pizza, you could be suffering from celiac disease
My friend Claudia and I were sitting at lunch at a Montana dude ranch. She took just one spoonful of the savory chickpea soup before saying, “Oh, this was a mistake.” Claudia is exquisitely sensitive to gluten, and despite reassurances from a waitress, it appeared that the soup was not wheat-free. When questioned, one of the cooks admitted that yes, it had been thickened with wheat flour. That tiny amount was enough to set Claudia’s belly off kilter. The culprit is gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, rye and to a smaller extent, in oats.
For me, that lunch was a dramatic introduction to the perils of celiac disease, an autoimmune condition in which gluten in the diet causes the body to attack its own GI tract, damaging the lining of the small intestine. The Celiac Sprue Association, a nonprofit dedicated to furthering awareness of the condition and funding research, estimates that more than two million people in the U.S. suffer from celiac disease that is undiagnosed, which can cause an array of symptoms from the inconvenient (bloating, abdominal discomfort) to the devastating (anemia, muscle cramps, osteoporosis, neuropathy). It’s a problem sizable enough to have caught the attention of General Mills, which is introducing a line of new gluten-free products including Chex cereal and mixes to bake brownies, cookies and cake. According to the Wall Street Journal, they will sell for about $2 more than regular versions.
The cure for celiac disease – avoid gluten – couldn’t be simpler to state and more difficult to follow. Once you remove gluten from the diet, the small intestine begins to repair itself. Complete healing can take up to three years, according to the Mayo Clinic, and you may need vitamin and mineral supplements to replace the nutrients your body has not been able to absorb.
With growing awareness of celiac disease comes a rising tide of prepared foods, mostly in the health food aisle. You can buy quinoa pasta, buckwheat cereal and amaranth bread, but be prepared: they’re different from what you’re used to. I like the taste of quinoa pasta in a cold veggie salad, but when I put it in soup, it crumbles. Google “gluten-free recipes” and you’ll find a host of tips and techniques for cooking with flours made from this alternate grain and making the switch with the minimum sacrifice of taste and texture. When shopping, look for foods that have not been produced in the same plant with gluten-laden grains as cross contamination can occur.