What is Coeliac Disease?
Coeliac (pronounced see-lee-ak) disease is an intolerance to the protein gluten that is found in some foods. For those individuals with coeliac disease, the consumption of gluten causes an abnormal reaction from the immune system, resulting in harmful affects on the small bowel.
The small bowel is lined with many individual, finger like structures called villi. Villi have the important purpose of increasing surface area for optimal nutrient absorption. When gluten is ingested over time, villi get flattened and inflamed which results in poor absorption of nutrients and often unpleasant symptoms. If a diet excluding gluten is not followed, serious health complications may arise in the long term such as osteoporosis, decreased fertility and an increased risk of bowel cancer.
What is gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and oats- including all products derived from these ingredients. Life long exclusion of gluten from the diet is necessary for those people with coeliac disease. If the consumption of gluten is ceased, the small bowel gradually repairs any previous damage caused to villi.
How to follow a gluten free diet
Common foods that gluten is found in include bread, pasta, cereal, biscuits and pastries. To exclude gluten from your diet:
- Familiarise yourself with food labels. Look for items that state they are ‘gluten free’ on their label. Any food that contains this statement must be free of gluten. Avoid products that state they ‘may contain traces of gluten’ as they may have been contaminated with gluten at some point during processing.
- Read the product ingredient list to ensure no wheat, rye, barley or oats have been used or ingredients derived from these grains.
- There are brands that make exclusively gluten free products or that have a range of gluten free products available. A few include Freedom Foods, Basco and Orgran. Gluten free breads, cereals, pastas and additional items can be found in the ‘health food’ section of the supermarket.
- Select foods that you know do not naturally contain gluten. These include fruits, vegetables, meat, dairy, nuts, rice and corn. More extensive lists can be found from Coeliac Australia.
- Any product labelled with the ‘crossed grain logo’ has been determined free from gluten by Coeliac Australia.
- If sharing cooking utensils and equipment with individuals who are not coeliac, ensure they are washed thoroughly first to avoid cross contamination with the gluten protein. For example, a chopping board, bread knife or toaster used for regular bread could contaminate gluten free bread.
- Be conscious of your choices when eating out. Choose items off the menu that state they are gluten free or enquire with staff if you are unsure. Some unsuspecting foods may contain gluten such as sauces and gravies. Calling the restaurant first to check for gluten free options is a good idea.
How is coeliac disease diagnosed?
Diagnosis is important to commence dietary management, however many cases go undiagnosed due to no presenting symptoms or vague symptoms mimicking other conditions. A small bowel biopsy is the only way of obtaining a definite diagnosis. Discuss your options with your G.P if you experience symptoms of coeliac disease or have a relative who is coeliac.
- Stomach cramps
- Diarrhoea, constipation, flatulence
- Weight loss
- Nausea/ vomiting
- Delayed growth or puberty in children
Where to get more information and help?
Coeliac Australia is a very useful site for individuals with coeliac disease or those caring for someone with coeliac disease. It provides practical information, resources and support. Becoming a member will entitle you to discounts on selected gluten free products from Coles. They also provide an ingredient list booklet to familiarise yourself with gluten containing ingredients and how to read food labels correctly. Available here.
Dietetic services at ENT Wellbeing Diet and Nutrition are available to provide you guidance and discuss tailored advice and tips. Please call us to make an appointment with Belinda today on 1300 123 368.