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Living with Celiac Disease: 4 Tips for Gluten-Free Eating

May 09, 2016

About 1 percent of the population has Celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that damages the small intestine when a person consumes gluten.

Gluten is a protein typically found in wheat, rye and barley and products that contain these ingredients. However, gluten also can be found in some surprising foods, including store-bought rotisserie chicken, soy sauce and chocolate. Even certain medications may contain small amounts of gluten.

If you have Celiac disease, a gluten-free diet is necessary to manage the disorder and its symptoms. Even though many foods are now labeled gluten-free, these dietary changes can be difficult to navigate. Here are four tips for gluten-free eating:

Read the Label and Stick to All-Natural

This should go without saying, but reading the product label on items in the grocery store is your best bet to avoid foods with gluten. Packaged foods in the supermarket all have information on them that detail whether a product contains certain allergens. Read the label to know whether a particular food works well as part of a gluten-free diet.

An even better idea is to stick to foods that are naturally gluten-free, including fruits, vegetables, fish and eggs. Another tip: avoid buying food imported from other countries because these countries may not have the same strict food regulations as the U.S.

Keep Things Separate

Being gluten-free is a challenge, especially when the rest of your household isn’t on a restrictive diet.

Even a crumb of bread in the toaster is enough to cause illness to someone with Celiac disease.  Problems occur when family members prepare both gluten-containing and gluten-free foods on the same cooking surfaces and preparation areas and use the same kitchen items, such as utensils, colanders, baking sheets and dish towels. 

Take precautions to keep certain foods and kitchen items separate. Don’t use wooden cutting boards or spoons that have been used to prepare foods with gluten. Wood stores bacteria and gluten, so certain kitchen items may have these substances hidden in their nooks or crevices. Instead, use metal or plastic cutlery that doesn’t hold on to gluten or bacteria.

If possible, also buy a separate waffle maker, bread maker or toaster. Breads are the most well known gluten-containing food (and one of the most common household foods), so it’s fairly easy for accidental cross-contamination to occur. Cross contamination happens when one food comes in contact with another food and the proteins mix. Keep these food products separate, or at the very least, use toaster-safe bags to reduce the risk of cross-contamination.

Be Careful When You Eat in Restaurants

Eating at restaurants is challenging because of the risk of cross contamination. Many foods are labeled gluten-free on menus, but they actually may be contaminated with small amounts of gluten. The amounts are sometimes too small to be seen, but even a tiny amount of food protein can cause big problems. One of my patients always checks with waiters, chefs and restaurant managers prior to ordering food so she is well informed about food ingredients and preparation methods. This is a good practice to follow for anyone with Celiac disease.

Use a Color-Coded System

Organization is really important when you eat gluten-free. Keep gluten-free products in a certain cabinet or part of the kitchen to easily distinguish them from gluten-containing foods. Also put color-coded stickers on gluten-free products in your pantry or fridge, so you don’t confuse them with other food items. Buy kitchen accessories, like a colander or mixing bowl, in a separate color so that everyone in your household knows these items only should be used for gluten-free products.

Eating gluten-free is manageable once you have a system or routine in place. Always read food labels when you shop, keep gluten-free items away from foods that have gluten and designate certain kitchen utensils for gluten-free use only. Taking these steps will help you better manage Celiac disease and avoid its symptoms.