As May continues on, so does Celiac Awareness Month! Today, I will bust a myth for you that following a gluten free diet is healthier for you. Well, unless you have Celiac Disease, in which case, we NEED to follow it and it IS healthier. But for the general public, it isn’t the case, despite what you might read on the internet. The term gluten free seems to have a health halo tied to it. What does that mean? It means that you, the consumer, automatically think that since the food is gluten free it must be healthy, when in fact it isn’t.
Why? For a number of reasons.
1) Gluten free foods are generally low in fibre. In North America, we enrich our wheat flours with folate, iron and other B vitamins. Traditional grains/starches (i.e. breads, pastas, crackers and cereals) are usually made with these enriched flours. Unlike, gluten free products, where they are not. Which means, someone who follows a gluten free way of eating, will need to find other ways to increase their fibre intake. This can be done by adding more fruits, vegetables, nuts/seeds, legumes/pulses and other gluten free whole grains into their diet.
2) Someone diagnosed with Celiac Disease tends to be at higher risk for having anemia/low iron levels. The ways in which we treat anemia/low iron levels is to start following a gluten free diet – so any damage in the intestine can be repaired and to add iron rich foods into the daily diet (a supplement may be required if anemia is diagnosed or levels are too low). When having foods rich in iron, pair with foods rich in vitamin C, as this will help the absorption. Also, try to avoid drinking tea/coffee with iron rich foods as they can interrupt the absorption.
3) Folate deficiency is common in people who follow a gluten free diet. Folate is an important B vitamin that is needed to make DNA/RNA (our building blocks) as well as red blood cells. It is so important that it is one of the major vitamins needed to have a healthy pregnancy. As I said above, folate is one of the vitamins that is added to wheat flours in North America, but not gluten free. This means that if you are a woman of child bearing age, you definitely need to take a supplement daily. If you are not in this category then just boosting your intake of folate rich foods can definitely help! Here are some food sources: green leafy vegetables, pulses/legumes, chicken/beef liver and some nuts/seeds.
Like my brownie here, it is gluten free but it isn’t the healthiest food for me…but once in a while, it’s ok ;)
Continuing on our talk of Celiac Disease Awareness Month, today to review with you the different symptoms besides gut symptoms of Celiac Disease. The Canadian Celiac Association’s theme this year is to educate everyone on this topic; #GoBeyondTheGut
What does this mean? It means that the classic symptoms of Celiac Disease have been solely gut related; i.e. diarrhea, abdominal pain and unintended weight loss due to poor absorption. But Celiac Disease is so much more than just a gut problem. Here are 6 non-typical symptoms of Celiac Disease:
1) Anemia. Anemia is the technical term for low blood levels in the body. In short, a deficiency in either the mineral iron or vitamins folate and/or B12 can lead to anemia. Symptoms of anemia can vary but can include pale skin, fatigue, shortness of breath, dizziness and headaches. In Celiac Disease, the damage to the intestinal lining can lead to poor absorption of nutrients, including iron. It is actually really common to see anemia in Celiac Disease, this is because iron is absorbed in the part of the small intestine called the duodenum. If you suffer from anemia and the cause isn’t known or obvious, ask to be tested for Celiac Disease.
2) Short stature. Children that haven’t grown to the expected height for their weight/age should be tested for Celiac Disease. There are many possible reasons why this may happen, but Celiac Disease should be tested whether they have symptoms or not.
3) Reproductive Problems. As with short stature, there are many possible reasons for having reproductive problems, and one of them is undiagnosed Celiac Disease. We still don’t know the exact link between the two, but there are quite a few possibilities.
4) Bone Issues. As we all know, calcium and vitamin D are important for healthy bones. But with someone who has undiagnosed Celiac Disease, because of the damaged intestinal lining and malabsorption of nutrients, your vitamin D absorption will be lacking. This can lead to weak bones and higher chances of breaking your bones. Did you know that Celiac Disease is one of the causes of osteoporosis? If you have osteoporosis and or multiple bone fractures with no obvious cause, you’d better get tested.
5) Liver Disorders. Celiac disease is an auto-immune disorder, which means that the immune system has turned against the body and has decided to attack the body/organs. Once you develop one autoimmune disorder you are more likely to develop another one, like autoimmune hepatitis. There are a lot of causes for hepatitis, but having Celiac Disease is one of them. If you have elevated liver enzymes and it is unclear of the cause, please get tested for Celiac Disease.
6) Neurological Problems. This is one area that I find very interesting because as I’ve mentioned above, most people tend to think that people with Celiac Disease have git problems, when in fact many people present with neurological problems. Peripheral neuropathy (inflammation of the nerves in the body) is one common problem. There are a variety of symptoms of this but the most common is pins and needles in the arms and legs. Certain nutrients like folate, B12 and vitamin E are important for nerves and when someone has undiagnosed Celiac Disease with damage to the intestinal lining, these nutrients can be low in the body. Migraines and gluten ataxia are two other neurological problems that can be caused by Celiac Disease.
For more information on Celiac Disease check out www. Celiac.ca and talk to your doctor if you’d like to be tested.
I work as a Dietitian and definitely walk the talk. I love to cook and help people get back to being healthy again.