This week is ‘Coeliac Awareness Week’ in NZ. Approximately 1 in 70 New Zealanders have coeliac disease, and up to 80% of those are unaware they have the condition! Increasing awareness is important for both diagnosis and increasing our knowledge on what a gluten free diet is. Someone close to me personally has coeliac disease – she recently had dinner at a friend’s house where the family was served up a delicious salmon fettuccine dish, and she instead received 3 gluten-free sausages and some chopped lettuce on the side! In this situation, some gluten free pasta cooked separately could have saved the day. This blog is dedicated to learning what coeliac disease is, and how to eat gluten free.
What is coeliac disease?
Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disease that causes damage to the intestinal wall. The cells lining the small intestine become inflamed and damaged, which causes the villi (little finger-like projections that absorb nutrients from food) to flatten. When the villi on the intestines flatten, they are unable to absorb nutrients as efficiently as they usually would. This can lead to serious vitamin and mineral deficiencies; for example iron or vitamin B12 deficiency. Coeliac disease is manageable by strictly avoiding all traces of the plant protein ‘Gluten’ from your diet.
Who gets coeliac disease?
It is hereditary (meaning it can run in families), but environmental factors can also play a role. The type of environmental factors and to what degree is not yet definitive in research. Coeliac disease can be diagnosed at any age, and is a life-long disease. For information on testing for coeliac disease, please check out the Coeliac New Zealand website for more information here, or discuss with your GP. Please note, if you are getting tested for coeliac disease, you must continue to include gluten in your diet, otherwise the test results can be unreliable – ask your GP if you have more questions.
How to go ‘Gluten Free’
Gluten is a plant protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and oats, and needs to be strictly avoided to prevent damage to the intestinal wall for those with coeliac disease.
Some common foods that contain gluten (unless you are choosing gluten-free varieties) are:
- Breads, buns, rolls, bagels and wraps
- Crackers, biscuits, slices, cakes
- Breakfast cereals
- Some processed meat such as sausages and ham
There is an abundance of gluten free foods to choose from nowadays – within supermarkets, online, and at some bakeries. When choosing gluten free foods, follow these steps:
- Check for a ‘Gluten Free’ label or the ‘Crossed Grain Logo’. Any food labelled as such must contain ‘no detectable gluten’ as per our NZ food labelling laws.
- Read the ingredient label of foods to see if it contains gluten, wheat, rye, barley, or oats.
- Avoid products that state ‘may contain traces of gluten’.
Consider cross contamination in your house – foods on the bench, in the toaster, mixing foods when cooking, and using the cooking utensils like sieves and pots – make sure these items are properly cleaned and dried.
Over on our recipes blog I have uploaded a gluten free spaghetti bolognese recipe – check it out HERE for some easy ways include someone with coeliac disease at the dinner table.