Life by trial and error, courtesy of celiac disease

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August 28, 2014 1:42 PM

These are just a small sample of the gluten-free products available today on local grocery store shelves. Although they have come a long way in recent years, they still have a long way to go to satisfy customers. - Tom Pierson Photo

Living with celiac disease and not knowing it really is a pain in the butt. Once a doctor gives you the diagnosis that you do indeed have celiac disease, it is still is a pain in the butt, but there are many things you can do to ease the pain and live a normal life. Normal that is, except for becoming extremely label conscious.

There is a support group in Lloydminster for people with celiac disease. They get together regularly and exchange recipes and new product sightings. A few members of the group met up with the Source Aug. 20 to get the word out that dietitian Debbie Pietsch will be speaking at St. John’s Anglican Church Hall Sept. 18. Her area of specialty includes the diseases of the gastrointestinal tract.

For those unfamiliar with celiac disease, the first question asked is, “What is celiac disease?”

The simple answer is an intolerance in the body for gluten, an ingredient found in most food products and even dish soap and shampoo. Gluten is found in oats, rye and barley, to name but a few common food items. Failure to digest gluten causes internal gastrointestinal damage among other problems.

The basic symptoms can vary, consisting of diarrhea and weight loss. The Mayo Clinic website suggests 20 per cent experience constipation and 10 per cent are obese. The digestive system is where most of the trouble occurs.

If you think you have this disease, see a doctor for a screening before switching yourself to a gluten-free diet. For one thing, the doctor will provide professional help to guide you through the process, and provide the proper support if you are diagnosed positive.

By changing to a gluten free diet on your own before screening, there are several risks involved. You may have something else called irritable bowel syndrome. Several of the symptoms overlap and sometimes one mimics the other. By going gluten free, you may not be getting enough fibre, and other side effects can occur.

If you are diagnosed with a confirmed case of celiac disease, you will go on a rapid learning curve to get yourself under control. And while you are at it, you will get your health under control.

Don’t despair because there is a lot of help out there, from your family doctor to the Lloydminster and Area Celiac Support Group. Your life will change for the better, and a lot more time will be spent studying ingredients’ information on product labelling.

Using gluten-free recipes are not the only way to ensure gluten stays out of your diet. You can use family favourite recipes, just make sure the ingredients are without gluten. Trial and error will get you to the products that provide you with the best taste.

The local support group is looking forward to Pietsch’s visit. They expect to get a full house, because this disease really affects a complete household, even if only one person in the family is a sufferer.

Pietsch is getting ready to visit Lloydminster for a special informative evening with the topic being healthier eating while maintaining a glutenfree diet.

“That’s been a challenge for newly diagnosed people, to wade through some of the products that are on the shelf that maybe aren’t so nutritious, and making sure that people are still getting all their nutrient requirements,” she said.

When it comes to trying new gluten-free products, it is trial and error to get the right combination of ingredients, texture and taste. It is common for people to refer to glutenfree items as being akin to eating cardboard.

While that sentiment may still hold true, there have been so many advancements, even in the last few years, that you don’t have to give up taste to satisfy your gluten-free requirements.

There will be some suggestions on how to include healthier food into your daily menus. Pietsch will talk a bit about adapting recipes and choosing healthier flours in your cooking. Mainly, she said she will concentrate on how make sure you are getting enough fibre in your diet.

“That is one of the big areas of concern with celiac,” she said.

One topic up for discussion will be making sure you have a well balanced diet with proper nutrient values. What goes with that, of course, is how to make a healthier long-term diet, which is something everyone faces.

There are lots of gluten free products available on grocery store shelves these days. Finding the ones that have the quality and taste you want is the challenge. Speaking with others with celiac can be helpful in this regard.

Pietsch says she doesn’t want to talk about cardboard.

“I want to tell everyone how to look for foods that are more nutritious and provide something for your body other than fat and sugar and carbohydrates,” she said.

The celiac support group members are adamant about keeping to their diets because any lapse will cause pain and suffering. Crystal Penny, Cheryl Day and Brenda Rieland know all too well the problems created by lack of diligence, incorrect information, or worse, cross contamination.

Believe it or not it only takes one toast crumb to cause a reaction in a celiac sufferer. The answer, two toasters, one for the special gluten free products, and one for the regular gluten products. The same diligence is required to do dishes, or to wash your hair because it takes so little to activate the symptoms, you need to constantly be aware of what is and what is not gluten free.

If you take in the guest speaker and speak with other people with celiac disease, they will help guide you through the trial and error minefield of living gluten free.

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