For over 350,000 Aussies, this isn’t the case. That’s almost the population of Geelong! For these Australians, a gluten free diet is a medical prescription they have to abide by for the management of their coeliac disease.
Coeliac Disease Awareness week from 13th – 20th March is aiming to raise awareness about the condition and the need for it to be treated seriously. For people with coeliac disease, too often their dietary needs are brushed over when they order food at cafes, restaurants and pubs. Too often are their medical needs not taken seriously by the public because of the perception that GF is the latest weight loss fad diet. As humans, we eat out for social connection, celebration, communication and pleasure. Unfortunately, people with coeliac disease find it challenging to do thus. Another issue is that often the symptoms of coeliac disease are silence, or hard to notice and get medical treatment for. So let’s break it down so that we can better understand the disease and how we can make life a little easier for those affected.
What is Coeliac Disease?
Coeliac disease is an allergic reaction when gluten is consumed into the body. It causes inflammation and damage to the digestive system, making it harder for the body to digest nutrients from the food we eat. It happens when there is a genetic mutation in our DNA, which makes it a hereditary condition, and common for more than one family member to be affected.
What is Gluten?
Gluten is a protein complex found in some grains. It consists of two protein chains: Glutenin and Gliadin. This protein is the structural support of the grain, it helps it to keep the shape. When we grind a grain to make flour, this isn’t enough to break down the gluten structure, so it’s still present. It helps give grain products like bread and pasta their shape and structure as well. Have you even made dough or pasta? The spring back effect you feel is the gluten, and when you stretch it out, that’s the gluten acting as glue to hold it together as well!
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of coeliac disease are broad and diverse, and sometimes go unnoticed. They may include bloating, pain in the stomach, diarrhoea, constipation, nausea, vomiting, flatulence, headaches & fatigue. If untreated, symptoms may worsen and include iron deficiency, anaemia, other vitamin and mineral deficiencies, unintentional weight loss, irritability, bone weakness, infertility or skin rashes.
How is it diagnosed?
Coeliac disease must be tested and diagnosed when you are consuming gluten containing foods regularly. So if you begin a gluten free diet, it may be hard to receive a diagnosis. The first step is to speak with a GP about gene and blood testing. Gene testing can confirm if the genetic mutation is present, and blood tests can asses how much inflammation the body is experiencing. Then a gastroscopy is important. This involves a doctor sending a tube with a camera down the throat to get a better idea of what is happening inside the stomach and upper digestive tract. The doctor will take several biopsies while there, and take these off to the lab for assessment.
How is it treated?
Treatment for coeliac disease includes a lifelong strict gluten free diet. Simple, right? Not really. The strict part of the diet is the most important, because as little as 1/100th of a slice of bread can cause damage to the digestive system.
A gluten free diet includes avoiding foods with Barley, Rye, & Wheat. This includes food such as bread, pasta, cakes, & biscuits. Other foods which are a little more tricky to understand and avoid are things like gluten containing muesli bars, soups, marinades, sauces, desserts, gnocchi, stocks, gravy, processed meat, vegemite, milo and other flavouring.
It is important to speak with a dietitian when you are newly diagnosed to fully understand how to make the most of your new gluten free diet. This includes ensuring that you have the most variety in your diet, making sure you are on top of lifelong medical check ups, and to discuss strategies to avoid pesky cross-contamination.
But, if I need to avoid all these yummy foods, how do I eat out?
It can be really tricky to eat a varied and social eating routine with a gluten free diet. But don’t fear! It can be done! Knowing which restaurants stock a range of naturally gluten free foods is a start. Think Thai, Mexican, Vietnamese, Indian. Call or look at the menu ahead of time so that you can ensure that there are options available to you. Another good idea is to find restaurants which have good knowledge of the condition and so the kitchen AND waitstaff understand the requirements for a gluten free diet.
Most importantly, advocate for yourself and your health! Make sure that restaurants know that your requirements are for a medical condition, you are not making a fuss for a fad weight loss diet.
In the first year after your diagnosis you’ll start to develop a list of your favourite restaurants with the right attitude and right food to cater for your needs. To get you started, here’s a few restaurants and cafes in Geelong which cater well for coeliac disease:
- The Shell Club, Corio
- Daniels Donuts, Portarlington
- Brunenzo’s, Moolap
- Parma Bar, Geelong West
- Bobo’s fish and chips, Highton
- Sir Charles Hotham Hotel, Geelong
- Gluten Free 4 U, Geelong West
- Brian’s Gourmet Meats, Online
- Recess Bar & Eats, Geelong
- Mexican Grafiti, Geelong
- Wah Wah Gee, Geelong
- Il Matto, Torquay
- Pakington Pantry, Newtown
- Gluten Free by Isaac, online and various locations
Do I need a gluten free diet?
The gluten free diet is a trend weight loss diet at the moment. Unless you have a gastrointestinal reason to reduce gluten in your diet, you may be doing your body more harm than good. The gluten free diet typically has less fibre and potential less vitamin B group than a gluten containing diet. Fibre is so important to keep the gut healthy and Vitamin B is pivotal to help with energy production and healthy muscles. It’s important not to limit these two important dietary components in an attempt to lose weight.
But does something ring a bell? Do you think your digestive tract is a little sensitive to gluten? The Coeliac Australia website (link to https://www.coeliac.org.au/assess/) has an online self assessment screen. This is a great place to get started.