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Celiac Disease - Choosing A Gluten-free Diet

Dec 23, 2007
If you have recently been diagnosed with celiac disease, navigating the grocery store to find something to eat can seem like an insurmountable task. Not only are wheat, rye, barley and oats barred from your diet but, often, within several months of the diagnosis, it becomes necessary to avoid dairy products as well. Cutting out gluten and dairy simultaneously may seem overwhelming, but if everything is taken in proportion and step-by-step, the task becomes manageable.

Where should you begin?

(The advice found below is only applicable if you do not have any other health problems that need a special diet such as heart disease or diabetes. If you do, please follow closely the advice of your doctor and dietician.) Let us focus on the two problems you now must face--gluten-free and dairy-free. Our advice: Cancel out all other food restrictions. That's it. Don't worry about counting carbohydrates, grams or calories. The single most important thing is to get healthy before worrying about your weight or any other food concerns or self-imposed food restrictions.

Before you panic, let us take a look at and see how many foods out there you are allowed to eat. That's right. I am talking about all those plain foods that are naturally gluten-free--meat, poultry, fish, eggs, fruits and vegetables including potatoes and plain rice. That's a lot of food that you CAN eat. This group can be your main course plus vegetables for most of your meals.

The next step is to find those glutens. Glutens can hide everywhere except in the foods that are naturally gluten-free. There are many foods out there that we think at first glance are gluten-free, but beware, they aren't. This is the part where many people get overwhelmed. The favorite gluten hiding places are inside phrases like "natural flavorings" and "modified food starch". Reading labels isn't enough. Each food must be verified to make sure it's gluten-free. Verifying all the foods you can eat need not be so terrifying. Join a celiac support group. There you will find people who have done most of the homework for you.

Keep a notebook or a file to list all the products that are OK and all those that have been nixed. When it comes to so many details it is best to have a written version and not rely on your memory. Once you have your lists it becomes much easier to go shopping and decide what products to buy. There are several food manufacturers who disclose any and all gluten. All you have to do is read their labels. A partial list of companies includes: Kraft, Con-Agra, Frito-Lay and McCormick.

If it's not on their label, it's not in their food. You will be pleasantly surprised at how many different types of brand-name foods are manufactured by these companies. But reading the label is not a one time thing. You must read the label each and every time you purchase a product. It is important to be aware that product formulations change without any notice. But if gluten has been added, it should have been added to the label as well.

With other manufacturers, it is not as simple but still doable. Most products have phone numbers right on the package that you can call. There are also company websites. Some manufacturers have listed their gluten-free products right on the website while others prefer that you contact them via the phone or email so that they can give you the most up-to-date information. And of course, as we mentioned above, the easiest way to verify the gluten-free status of products is to ask another celiac.

There are several on-line message boards and real-life support groups where you can take advantage of the knowledge and experience of this community and make your entrance into the gluten-free world as easy as possible.
About the Author
Angela Morken is an expert and sufferer of Celiac Disease. She has been living gluten free for over 20 years now. She has a highly regarded guide to living with Celiac Disease at www.celiacreport.com
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