Celiac disease is estimated to affect one out of 141 of Americans, or just under 1 percent of the population. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics encourages Americans to learn about celiac disease - it can affect your health or someone you love.
What is celiac disease? It is a hereditary, autoimmune disease caused by intolerance to the food protein, gluten - which is found in wheat, barley and rye. When people with celiac disease eat gluten-containing foods, the lining of the small intestine is damaged and eventually destroyed, preventing nutrients from being absorbed adequately. Untreated, celiac disease can lead to nutritional deficiencies, including anemia and osteoporosis, as well as other conditions, including other autoimmune diseases, intestinal cancers, infertility, delayed growth in children and failure to thrive in infants.
"While the only treatment for celiac disease is a gluten-free diet, the good news is, once the diet is started, the road to recover begins, and people with celiac disease can lead long, healthy lives," says registered dietitian nutritionist and Academy spokesperson Rachel Begun. "Managing celiac disease is not just about eliminating gluten from your diet. It also entails ensuring you get all the vitamins and nutrients your body needs, such as iron, calcium, fiber and B-vitamins like thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and folate."
An accurate diagnosis for celiac disease is a vital part of restoring health. Symptoms of celiac disease include bloating, gas or abdominal pain, chronic diarrhea or constipation, fatigue, itchy skin rash, tingling in hands and feet, delayed growth or fractured or thin bones. Some people are asymptomatic, meaning they do not experience any of these symptoms. If you or a loved one experience any of these conditions, it may be an indication of celiac disease.
"Do not diagnose yourself. If you have any symptoms, talk with your health care provider and get tested," Begun says. "It's important to keep eating a normal gluten-containing diet while being tested to ensure an accurate diagnosis. If you are diagnosed with celiac disease, a registered dietitian nutritionist will help you understand which foods are safe to eat and ensure you are getting the important nutrients your body needs."
Many healthy foods are naturally gluten-free, such as fruits, vegetables, lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, beans, legumes, soy, nuts, as well as the grains amaranth, buckwheat, corn, rice, teff and quinoa. Plus, there are a number of gluten-free flours made from almond meal, chickpeas and garbanzo beans, brown rice, coconut, potato, sorghum, tapioca and white rice.
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics