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Going Gluten-Free

Having an autoimmune disease that makes your body unable to digest certain common foods is not anyone's idea of a good time. But as I note in this week's "Eat, Drink and Be Healthy" column, being diagnosed with celiac disease often comes as a relief to people who have suffered symptoms ranging from skin rash to persistent diarrhea and nausea, sometimes for years, before learning their cause. People with celiac disease are unable to tolerate gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. When they ingest gluten, their bodies mount an attack on the protein that damages the small intestine and makes it hard for their bodies to absorb foods' nutrients.

The solution to celiac disease sounds simple: Stop eating food that contains gluten and the disease -- and its symptoms -- disappear.

But stop for a moment and think what that means. No pizza. No beer. No birthday cake. No hot dog at the ballpark. No. No. No.

Luckily for the 1 in 133 Americans who have been diagnosed with celiac disease, the past decade has seen enormous growth in the availability, labeling and marketing of gluten-free foods. Whereas gluten-free was once the province of a handful of small-scale companies scattered around the country, as the number of people with celiac disease has risen dramatically, providing gluten-free food has become big business, attracting major players such as Betty Crocker, General Mills and Wal-Mart. But as this article notes, buying gluten-free products can be very expensive.

Some celiacs go about trying to replace gluten-containing foods with near likenesses that don't contain gluten, finding pizza crusts, bread, pasta and beer made without the stuff, often finding them to be poor substitutes. Others take another tack, relying on food groups that are naturally devoid of gluten. Meat, poultry and fish, dairy products, fruits and vegetables, nuts and legumes are all safe bets, and whole, healthful diets can be built around these foods.

Of course, whichever course they choose, celiacs must be on constant guard when eating at restaurants or even at friends' homes. Gluten shows up in all kinds of unexpected places, from marinades and salad dressings to gravy and soy sauce. And if your dinner plate accidentally gets dusted with a stray bit of flour, you may be back to square one, sentenced to suffering several days' worth of symptoms.

I know several people with celiac disease, and they all seem pretty happy and able to manage their diets. But I still think it seems like really hard work. I'd like to hear from readers who have celiac disease: Do you find it hard to keep gluten out of your diet? Any tricks or tips you care to share?

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  September 1, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Chronic Conditions , Nutrition and Fitness  
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Perfect timing -- I'm going to be baking for my cast for opening night of our show this week and we've got a gluten free woman in the cast.

Can I make rice krispie treats?

Other thoughts on what I can make to get her the same little sugar rush everyone else is going to get before the show? I could google recipes, but I'd rather having something tried and true.

Posted by: capecodner424 | September 1, 2009 8:32 AM | Report abuse

I was diagnosed as celiac two years ago and just had my first cupcake in two years thanks to Betty Crocker. Of course, as pointed out in the story, almost all gluten-free food is more expensive than the ordinary stuff but an occasional treat is a real psychological boost for those of us with the disease. As far as rice krispie treats go, mentioned above, I don't think they are truly gluten-free since they may be manufactured on equipment that also process products containing wheat. It's a daily learning experience but the payoff is having my health back.

Posted by: agorey | September 1, 2009 8:50 AM | Report abuse

I've been gluten free since I was diagnosed by endoscopy in 1998. It takes work to make sure that our food is gf, but it's a lot easier now that all foods containing wheat have to be clearly labeled. So we just need to look out for barley and oats (rye is almost never "hidden" in foods). Rice Krispies contain barley malt and are not gluten free. There are gf versions of Rice Krispies avaialable in the health food section, but they're a LOT more expensive. I'd recommend merrengue cookies or fruit salad instead.

Posted by: plurie | September 1, 2009 9:21 AM | Report abuse

There are a bunch of good websites out there that review restaurants, but here's one dedicated to restaurants in the DC area:

Posted by: dmetcalf1 | September 1, 2009 9:24 AM | Report abuse

thanks for the tips! Our lead actress thanks you, even if she doesn't know it yet!

Posted by: capecodner424 | September 1, 2009 9:55 AM | Report abuse

Celiac disease is a perfect topic for your "Eat, Drink and Be Healthy" column, for as you noted, those with celiac disease can be healthy, simply by eating the right things.
There are so many great foods that are naturally gluten free, but when you really want a pizza, soft pretzel, chocolate chip cookies, your grandma's cinnamon buns ... it's still possible to have them deliciously gluten free! No one eating gluten free should ever think they have to go without, just because gluten-free foods have historically gotten such a bad reputation.
Things have really changed in the past couple years, with new products allowing us to make foods that are indistinguishable from their gluten-containing counterparts.
Many restaurants are finally catching on and offering such options, but home cooking is still the safest and most economical way to enjoy such foods on a regular basis.
Gluten free is the beginning, not the end, of a health journey for many of us. We can all be thankful that it's now a tasty one too!

~jules shepard

Posted by: justjules | September 1, 2009 10:05 AM | Report abuse

If you have just learned that ingesting gluten is the cause of your maladies, you should be relieved and joyous. General Mills is rolling out a large gluten-free product line in 2010. For now, RiceChex and CornChex are available, both are safe.
Anheuser Busch offers gluten free beer, "Red Bridge" which is OK, but I prefer another, "Bard's Tale." By the way, all wines and distilled spirits are gluten free. Everyone should read the recent Scientific American article, "Celiac Disease Insights: Clues to Solving Autoimmunity", July 27, 2009, which is an outstanding study.

Posted by: NoGluten4Me | September 1, 2009 11:13 AM | Report abuse

Eating out is tricky, but as the numbers of those discovering gluten intolerance continue to rise, the food and restaurant industries are becoming aware of their economic purchasing power. Don't be shy in announcing that you have issues with flour and gluten after being seated and the restaurant, first thing, offers bread or rolls. Restaurant gluten "traps" to avoid include obvious items like breads, pasta and pizza and all fried foods dredged in flour. Not so obvious are things like sauces and gravies thickened with flour instead of corn starch; croutons in salads, bread hidden in the bottom of French onion soup; flour tortillas instead of corn tortillas; soy sauce, which is loaded with wheat and is used in a variety of ways including salad dressings.(Gluten free soy sauce is available - bring your own when ordering your sushi). After navigating the dessert menu, stick to fresh fruit or sorbet. Many eateries are starting to have gluten free menus available, e.g., the "Outback" chain.

Posted by: NoGluten4Me | September 1, 2009 12:40 PM | Report abuse

I was really happy to see the article in the Post today as I am a PT who treats many patients suffering from celiac and other autoimmune problems. It is misleading, however, to say that all symptoms and issues disappear when gluten is removed from the diet. For many patients we see, the gluten intolerance is a diagnosis that is late in coming and by the time the patient has finally gotten the information, often times there is much damage to the GI tract and other associated tissues. It is important for people to know that there are ways to help the tissues to heal. There are a number of medical foods that have been created by functional medicine MDs that can help. Additionally, our PT practice specializes in a manual approach to bring down inflammation and help the GI, ortho, and neuro tissues to heal in order for the person to regain lost function. It often takes a combination of the gluten free diet, natural biochemical intervention and manual therapy to reverse the ortho and neuro problems.
It has gotten to the point where all neuro and autoimmune patients we treat we take off of gluten. The results of doing so are staggering, with 9 times out of 10 the patient reporting immediate change in symptoms.
Again, thank you for the article.

Posted by: lisaklein1 | September 1, 2009 12:44 PM | Report abuse

Excellent article. I was diagnosed, albeit unofficially, by my general physician about about 5 years ago when I was living in Richmond. I've adjusted quite well and actually look at the whole thing as sort of a blessing in disguise. This allergy basically forces you to eat healthy and the results show, for me at least. With a very healthy diet and physically active lifestyle, I'm convinced that's the reason everyone at my 20th high school reunion was asking what was my secret to still looking the same as I did in high school.

Is it a challenge eating out? Definitely! Is it expensive adhering to such a healthy diet? It can be costly. Would you like to go back to your diet prior to diagnosis? Absolutely not! I think that sums it up.

Posted by: uvaarch93 | September 1, 2009 12:59 PM | Report abuse

At the age of 59 I was diagnosed with not full fledged, but sensitivity- yeah right- you don't want to be with me if I eat wheat/gluten. But it has actually been easy for me. I read labels, and am more careful. I don't buy baked goods that are gluten free 'cause they cost so much more, so I just enjoy other things. My friends and family have been great. My daughter was married this past spring. She was diagnosed a few months before me. For her wedding "cake" we had a tower of french macaroons and they were delish and gorgeous- and no wheat or gluten so that she could enjoy them! I look at this an an opportunity. I do miss GOOD bread, but the rest- cookies, cakes, pies, you can keep. And chocolate makes up for it!

Posted by: Sukir | September 1, 2009 3:24 PM | Report abuse

As the article says, some celiacs struggle to find GF substitutes for cookies, pizza, etc, and others just rely on foods that are naturally gluten-free. I've taken the latter approach, and I recommend it highly -- after almost 50 years on a gluten free diet.

Foods made for people on special diets are generally very expensive or not very appetizing (or both) compared with foods for regular folks. Fruits, vegetables, dairy products, meats, nuts, rice, corn, etc. are all naturally gluten-free and delicious. Many cultures around the world have built their cuisines around those foods. I recommend exploring the wealth of those cuisines, rather than going broke trying to find the perfect GF version of something that was designed to be made with gluten.

Posted by: mary_applegate | September 1, 2009 3:58 PM | Report abuse

I have been on a gluten free diet since 2006. When making a pie crust I use soy flour, finely chopped pecans, Splenda brown sugar, some butter, and water to make it. Bake it in a 350 degree oven until done, cool it and fill it with any kind of filling that you enjoy. Makes a great dessert for that once in a while treat.

Posted by: keelycook | September 1, 2009 7:46 PM | Report abuse

capecodner424 - you can make gluten free rice crispy treats as long as you use rice cereal made without barley malt. Try the Giant on Route 7 in Falls Church. The store has a great gluten free section with several safe cereal brands.

Living gluten free in D.C. can have its challenges, but this is a city full of restaurants that are sensitive to the needs of gluties across the region. Argia's in Falls Church has introduced gluten free pasta to its menu and Wildfire Restaurant in Tyson's has a spectacular gluten free menu as well as a staff trained in food allergies/sensitivities. These are just two of the restaurants going above and beyond for those of us with gluten sensitivities. Good luck to everyone out there trying to live the gluten free good life in D.C.!

Thank you to Jennifer for shining a spotlight on what its like for gluten free eaters living in the area.


Posted by: bld177 | September 1, 2009 10:03 PM | Report abuse

A good support group is essential for living gluten free.

It is also helpful to focus on what you can have- never on what you cannot, if you want something gluten free that is not readily available- find it online or make it- there is a wealth of information out there. Check out web sites for your favorite products and restaurants- find out what is safe and what is not.

I am just greatful once diagnosed and going gluten free, people with celiac disease can get our health and lives back. The life style change is 100 percent worth it.

Posted by: Runnner1000 | September 2, 2009 11:20 AM | Report abuse

There are so many resources for people with celiac disease on the internet, which helps make things easier. Twitter, blogs, and yahoo groups are great places to find gluten free info. Symptoms of celiac disease vary greatly and many people with celiac disease have no digestive problems. Fatigue, joint pain, and insomnia are just a few examples of the many possible symptoms. Thanks for helping to increase awareness about celiac disease! 97% of people with celiac don't know they have it, so more media coverage is needed!

Posted by: MarylandCeliac | September 2, 2009 4:49 PM | Report abuse

My young niece Meaghan was diagnosed with celiac disease several years ago and it's been a struggle, especially at school. Although there are rules to give notice before birthday or other treats are brought into the classroom, parents ignore the rules and endanger and frustrate the kids with allergies, celiac, and diabetes. Every medication has to be checked for gluten, and she had to stop handling her dog's food. The reward for her summer reading program was a party, with no accommodations for kids with food issues. The local supermarket has been known to stock foods containing gluten in their gluten-free section, despite my cousin's protests. And $8 for 6 gluten-free cookies is not unusual, it's very expensive. It's good to see more information and products available to help those who deal with gluten restrictions.

Posted by: bealtaine1 | September 4, 2009 2:59 PM | Report abuse

Another great resource is a website called ( ) which has reviews of restaurants, hotels/resorts, grocery stores, and cruises where people on gluten-free diets can safely eat. You can select a geographic region anywhere around the world and pull up all the reviews for that area. It's a good starting point when you're planning a meal out or a trip. Getting the first-hand feedback from others is helpful. And there's also a list of chain restaurants that have gluten-free menus ( ). It's so great that more and more restaurants are offering gluten-free menus. When you eat at these restaurants you don't have to worry so much about educating/explaining to the server, manager, chef. Most of the staff is pretty well trained (at least the kitchen staff, that is...), so you can rest easy knowing cross contamination won't be an issue.

Posted by: gfmom | September 4, 2009 10:14 PM | Report abuse

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