Celiac Disease

Celiac Disease

by: Michelle Campe

Celiac Disease, a widely misdiagnosed and misunderstood condition, is becoming one of the most prevalent diseases in the world. Studies now show that approximately 1 in every 133 Americans suffers from celiac disease, but only 10 percent of those who are living with the disease know they have it.  Other conditions once diagnosed as irritable bowel syndrome, and chronic diarrhea, are now being re-diagnosed as the result of gluten ingestion.   Celiac disease is related to many other symptoms and autoimmune diseases, including diabetes, thyroid disease, rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren’s syndrome and Addison’s disease.

People who have celiac disease cannot tolerate gluten, a protein in wheat, rye, and barley.  Gluten is found mainly in foods but may also be found in everyday products such as medicines, vitamins, and lip balms.  When people with celiac disease eat foods or use products containing gluten, their immune system responds by damaging or destroying villi—the tiny, fingerlike protrusions lining the small intestine.  Villi normally allow nutrients from food to be absorbed through the walls of the small intestine into the bloodstream.  Without healthy villi, a person becomes malnourished, no matter how much food they eat.   Not only is celiac disease a disease of malabsorption—meaning nutrients are not absorbed properly—it is also an abnormal immune reaction to gluten.  Celiac disease is genetic, meaning it runs in families.  Surgery, pregnancy, childbirth, viral infection or severe emotional stress can sometimes trigger the disease to become active for the first time.

The symptoms of celiac disease vary from person to person.  Digestive symptoms are more common in infants and young children and may include abdominal bloating and pain, chronic diarrhea, vomiting, constipation, pale, foul-smelling, or fatty stool and weight loss.  Adults on the other hand are less likely to have digestive symptoms and instead may shows signs of anemia, fatigue, joint pain, arthritis, osteoporosis, depression, tingling numbness in the hands and feet, infertility, canker sores, and itchy skin rash called dermatitis herpetiformis.  Lastly, there are those people who show no symptoms but can still develop complications of the disease over time.

Diagnosis of celiac disease begins with a blood test.  People with the disease have higher than normal levels of certain autoantibodies-proteins that react against the body’s own cells or tissues—in their blood.  If blood tests and symptoms suggest celiac disease, a biopsy of the small intestine is performed to confirm the diagnosis.

What do people do who are diagnosed with celiac disease?   The only treatment is a gluten-free diet.  To stay well, people with celiac disease must avoid gluten for the rest of their lives.  Eating even a small amount of gluten can damage the small intestine.  It’s tricky.  There are hidden sources of gluten in additives such as modified food starch, preservatives, and stabilizers made with wheat.  And because many corn and rice products are produced in factories that also manufacture wheat products, they can be contaminated with wheat gluten.  For most people, following a gluten-free diet will stop symptoms, heal existing intestinal damage and prevent further damage.   Yet, with all the hidden gluten in our processed food world, what’s the safest way to follow a safe gluten-free diet?

When first diagnosed, most people, especially parents with a wheat intolerant child, become overwhelmed and confused about what to prepare at meal time.  Although pre-packaged gluten-free food has come a long way, like most conventional pre-packaged food items, there are likely additives or ingredients you don’t need or want.  The beauty of the gluten-free diet is that most raw whole foods are gluten free.  So where do we start?

So far, we know a gluten-free diet means not eating foods that contain wheat, rye and barley.  The foods and products made from these grains should also be avoided.  In other words, a person with celiac disease should not eat most grain, pasta, cereal and many processed foods.  So what’s left on your plate?  Many wonderful alternatives!  You can use potato, rice, soy, amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat, nut, or bean flour instead of wheat flour.  Purchasing gluten-free bread, pasta and other products from the Co-op or other stores that carry organic foods or ordering products from special food companies are always options.  And, gluten-free products are increasingly available from mainstream stores as well.  Plain meat, fish, rice, fruits and vegetables are also a welcome invitation to the gluten free dinner plate.  Better yet, to get an idea of how wonderful a gluten free diet can be, come and join us at the Co-op on Saturday, May 8th.   In recognition of the month of May being Celiac Awareness Month, our deli hot bar will be serving an exclusive gluten free menu.  We will be featuring one of my favorite gluten free soups, Peanut Cabbage Quinoa.  The recipe is listed below along with two others from my list of favorites. Buckwheat Pancakes that are full of protein make a perfect breakfast.   And for those of us with a sweet tooth, the Peppermint Pattie recipe will leave your mouth feeling cool and fresh.

In 1977, my mother was 54 years old and diagnosed with Sjorgren’s syndrome-an autoimmune disease in which the glands that produce tears and saliva are destroyed.  At the time, celiac disease was not as pronounced among the medical community as it is today.  Looking back on her life, I am sure she had celiac disease that was either not diagnosed or mis-diagnosed.   Today, there is hope through research.  The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease conducts and supports research on celiac disease.  Researchers are studying new options of diagnosing celiac disease.  They are also studying a combination of enzymes—proteins that aid chemical reactions in the body—that detoxify gluten before it enters the small intestine.  Lastly, and what I feel is the most promising, scientists are developing educational materials for standardized medical training to raise awareness among health care providers.  The hope is that increased understanding and awareness will lead to earlier diagnosis and treatment of celiac disease.  This is good news.

Gluten-Free Peanut Cabbage Quinoa Soup

2 tablespoons of olive oil or ghee (clarified butter)
1 medium diced onion, about 1 cup
4 large cloves of minced garlic
4 cups of vegetable broth or stock
2 cups of pure water
3 cups of chopped and diced savoy cabbage
1 1/2 cups of peeled and diced carrots
2 cups of cooked quinoa (or brown rice works as well…basically whatever you have available)
1 tablespoon of ginger (fresh is best- grated)
1 tablespoon of wheat-free tamari sauce
dash of cayenne pepper and paprika
Juice from 1 fresh lime
3 tablespoon of a raw creamy organic peanut butter
1 teaspoon of cracked pepper or however much to your taste


Sauté the diced onions on the bottom of a 5 quart pot and let them soften just a bit.  Pour in the broth, water and minced garlic. Give that a minute to cook and then dump in the cabbage, carrots, and let cook for a few more minutes.  Add the rest of the ingredients. Let the peanut butter melt into the broth.  It will not be as clear as before. Make sure you don’t have any chunks of peanut butter floating around and that it has melted completely into the broth.  Once you add the already cooked quinoa that should be your last step. It is already cooked, so it just needs to get warmed. Cook for about 15-20 minutes so that the flavors can meld and the cabbage and carrots have time to get soft and cooked.