In the UK, it is now estimated that every 1 in 100 people suffer from coeliac (pronounced see-liac) disease. But did you know that coeliac is an autoimmune condition caused by the body’s reaction to gluten? And by removing gluten from the diet of a person with coeliac disease for life, it is possible to reduce or even eliminate the symptoms of the condition. In this article, we will take a closer look at how gluten-free food can transform the health of those with coeliac disease.
What is coeliac disease?
Coeliac disease is an autoimmune condition that results in serious damage to the lining of the intestines when a sufferer consumes gluten. The symptoms of coeliac disease include abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhoea, and fatigue. If the condition is not managed in the long term, it can lead to nutritional deficiencies, osteoporosis, small bowel cancer, and even fertility problems.
According to Coeliac UK, coeliac disease is often passed on genetically within families, and there is a one in 10 chance of a close relative developing the disease.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for the condition, however, there is an effective treatment; a strict gluten-free diet.
What is gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and other grains. While most people can tolerate gluten without any problems, others may have a sensitivity or allergy. Common sources of gluten include bread, pasta, cereals, cakes, biscuits, sausages, gravies, sauces, stock cubes, and soy sauce.
Are gluten-free diets effective with coeliac disease?
Yes, switching to a gluten-free diet is highly effective in allowing the damaged gut to heal. According to the NHS, by adopting a gluten-free diet, “Your symptoms should improve considerably within weeks of starting a gluten-free diet. However, it may take up to 2 years for your digestive system to heal completely”.
Are gluten-free diets suitable for everyone?
Gluten-free diets have become increasingly popular among people with coeliac disease but also those who do not have the condition and who believe that avoiding gluten is a healthier choice. For this reason, if you are considering a gluten-free diet, it is important to understand the nutritional implications of eliminating gluten-containing foods from your diet. Many gluten-containing grains, such as wheat, are important sources of fibre, vitamins, and minerals, including iron and folate. If you eliminate these grains from your diet without replacing them with nutrient-rich alternatives, you may be at risk of nutrient deficiencies.
Fortunately, there are many gluten-free alternatives to wheat and other gluten-containing grains, including rice, corn, quinoa, and buckwheat. These grains are all excellent sources of complex carbohydrates, fibre, and other important nutrients and can be used in a variety of recipes. However, it is important to read labels carefully when purchasing gluten-free products, as many contain added sugars, salt, and other unhealthy ingredients. Many other food items are naturally gluten-free, including meat, fish, fruit and vegetables, rice, and potatoes.
A gluten-free diet may be a necessary choice for individuals with coeliac disease, but it is not a healthier choice for everyone. While there are many gluten-free alternatives to wheat and other gluten-containing grains, it is important to read labels carefully and choose nutrient-rich alternatives. And above all else, do not assume that you have coeliac disease or that you will benefit from a gluten-free diet. If you are considering a gluten-free diet, it is important to speak with your GP, who can carry out a proper assessment of your health needs before you proceed.
You can read more about Coeliac disease at Coeliac UK.
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