What is Celiac?

When I met my husband, I was absolutely lost when it came to figuring out what Celiac Disease was, from how to spell it, to what signs to look for if he was “contaminated”, to how to explain it to others. It’s a daunting diagnosis and luckily he’d been diagnosed for eight years so mostly he just laughed at my curious worry.

But intstead of laughing here, I will help you navigate the crazy waters of Celiac information. Whether you yourself have been diagnosed, or a loved one, here you can find (what I believe to be) the most important information.

What Is It?

Celiac Disease is an autoimmune disorder that causes your small intestine to treat gluten as if it’s toxic. This leads to damaged villi (little receptors) and malabsorption (poor or no absorption) of nutrients. This leads to all sorts of nasty symptoms such as:

  • Diarrhea (Ew)
  • Bloating
  • Fatigue
  • Weight Loss
  • Acid Reflux
  • Anemia
  • Headaches
  • Joint Pain

Celiac is mostly a genetic thing, and tends to run in families. But it can be triggered by drastic events, such as pregnancy, birth, surgery, or viral infection. So if you think you might have it, get tested!

Here’s a handy infograph for you from UPMC Health Beat

celiac-disease-infographic1

 

Getting Tested…

Important Note: If you think you have Celiac, do NOT go on a gluten-free diet immediately. Talk to a doctor first and get tested. A gluten-free diet will change your blood work and lead to a “false negative” when looking for Celiac reactions.

Something you can do before diagnostics is to fill out a “Symptom Checklist” which several websites have available. The one linked is my favorite from the Celiac Disease Foundation. They really know their stuff. If you fill out that checklist, they send you a printable version you can take to your doctor. It’s really nifty.

Your doctor will do a few blood tests and likely a small intestine biopsy (my husband refuses to speak of this) to confirm.

Treatment includes… You guessed it! Go gluten free. Your intestine can heal and symptoms will alleviate. You just need to cut out gluten. Phew. That’s easy.

…HA.

How do I not kill my loved one?

If you AREN’T the recently diagnosed person, this will be your main question. I’m here to reassure you: it isn’t as scary as it seems. Questions I’ve gotten (and answers I’ve given) as the “married to someone with Celiac” include:

“Can you eat gluten?”

Yes! I don’t have Celiac. I am perfectly capable of eating all the gluten ever. I just don’t because it would mean cleaning crumbs, brushing teeth, and generally a lot of dishwashing all the time.

“Brushing teeth?”

Yes. If I eat gluten and then my husband wants to kiss me, unfortunately there is a risk of contamination. Gotta brush my teeth!

“How do you eat out?”

We don’t very often. But when we do we have a list of restaurants we like and know they can manage gluten-free food. Usually I am the one to ask and declare our “dietary needs” because he doesn’t like being rude. If you tell the waiter or server that it’s an allergy, that is restaurant code for “please don’t kill me”. They always respect that.

One of our best experiences was at a small breakfast diner in Chicago where the host asked us if there was someone eating gluten-free at our table before seating us. They had pumpkin bread at his seat at the table and a special menu ready for him. It made us feel like welcome guests, not a dietary inconvenience. I wish more restaurants got that.

“So I bet you spend a TON of time cooking then?”

Nope! I’m in graduate school. There’s no way I’d spend all my time cooking. I have papers to write, a blog to keep up, and students to teach. I also have several time-consuming hobbies, like sewing, knitting, crochet, and videogames. I like to make food as simple as possible to keep my time free.

Tip: It’s all about what ingredients you have on hand. If there’s no gluten in your kitchen to begin with, you can’t contaminate anything you cook. Feel free to experiment away!

If you’re not the main food-provider for this loved one, I recommend starting from a clean kitchen and avoiding using:

  • Stoneware
  • Wooden spoons
  • Extremely aged bakeware
  • Non-stick pans with scratches in them

All of those items will retain gluten, even if you think you’ve scrubbed them well. A good stainless steel pot or adding tin foil to the baking sheet are good tricks.

“Does gluten free taste different?”

Yep! But I find if I make it myself, instead of pre-made things, it always tastes better. Cookies taste better when I can monitor their baking for instance. They won’t ever be exactly the same, but I can get them pretty darn close with some fun science (Which is what this site is for).

Final Thoughts

Celiac isn’t a plague or a nightmare. Getting diagnosed will solve more problems than it creates. Once you know what your body is doing you know how to take care of it. Make sure you’re informed and aware, and you’ll do a great job feeding your friends and family. I’ll be putting “Celiac Tips” in recipes for you if you’re a little lost and afraid of contamination, so just feel free to follow along with my instructions and you should be just fine!