Coeliac disease is a permanent intolerance to gluten. Gluten is a protein found in Wheat, Kamut, Barley, *Oats, Rye and Spelt grains. If someone with coeliac disease eats food containing gluten, the small bowel becomes damaged and this damage causes reduced absorption of nutrients which can lead to weight loss, anaemia and fatigue. Once coeliac disease is confirmed by blood test and gut biopsy, a gluten free diet must then be started immediately and continued for life.
In the small intestine there are small finger-like structures called villi which absorb the nutrients from food. When the villi are damaged they can no longer absorb nutrients properly.
(*Oats: Pure oats are safe to eat for most coeliacs but should not be eaten by newly diagnosed coeliacs. This is because a minority of coeliacs, approximately 5%, is sensitive to oats and may become unwell after eating them.)
Useful websites for people with coeliac disease include:
Reading food labels: Get to know how to read the ingredients on food labels. Under the new EU regulation 1169/2011, allergens including gluten will be highlighted in the ingredients list from the 13th of December 2014.
Gloves and Serving Utensils: Ensure you speak up in restaurants or at deli counters. Watch the staff prepare the food if possible. Do they change gloves between serving the breaded chicken and the grilled? Do they use the same tongs for multiple types of food?
Gluten free menus: If you already had a favourite restaurant you went to before you got diagnosed, don’t rule it out! Explain to them that you are a loyal customer and ask for them to stock some gluten free flour, breads and pasta. They may already have a number of gluten free recipes available or they could alter your favourite recipes.
Apartment/house sharing: If you are apartment/house sharing it is a good idea to get your own toaster, chopping boards and other kitchen utensils. This is to avoid cross contamination of gluten. Keep them separate to other utensils and explain to your housemates that you have coeliac disease. It is also a good idea to store your food separately and label it gluten free.
At work: Be wary about microwaves that are public use. Often these are cleaned irregularly and are a hot spot for gluten contamination if you’re not careful. Always have gluten free snacks in your drawer and bring in your own lunch if possible. If there is a canteen ensure the staff are aware that you have coeliac disease, so that they can cater for you.