May is Celiac Disease Awareness Month - and we’re doing our part with a quick piece covering everything you need to know about celiac disease and eating gluten-free diet.
You may be wondering: why is an awareness month important for celiac disease? Well, experts estimate that celiac disease affects as many as 2 million people in the United States alone. Furthermore, there is still no cure for celiac disease, so those with the condition must often make permanent lifestyle changes.
Read on to learn more about celiac disease, gluten-free dieting, and the best gluten-free foods and swaps.
What is Celiac Disease?
Celiac disease is a chronic autoimmune and digestive disease that damages the small intestine, and can interfere with the absorption of nutrients from food. The disease and its symptoms are triggered when eating foods that contain gluten (common culprits are bread, pasta, cookies, and cakes).
Celiac disease can cause serious long-lasting digestive problems, and serious complications can also arise if the body can’t absorb the nutrients it needs. This can eventually lead to celiac disease affecting the body beyond just the small intestine.
The most common symptoms of celiac disease include abdominal pain and tiredness. However, celiac should always be diagnosed by a doctor, because the symptoms are often similar to gluten sensitivity or intolerance, which is a different condition (affecting up to 6% of Americans). Those with gluten sensitivity or intolerance may feel sick after eating gluten, but the gluten doesn’t damage their small intestine like it does for individuals with celiac disease.
Is There a Cure for Celiac Disease?
Currently, there is no known cure for celiac disease. Doctors treat celiac disease by helping people follow a gluten-free diet.
What is a Gluten-Free Diet, and How Does It Help With Celiac?
Gluten triggers the symptoms of celiac disease, so a gluten-free diet, as the name implies, excludes foods that contain gluten. Gluten is a type of protein found in wheat, barley, and rye, so one hallmark of the gluten-free diet is excluding bread, pasta, and other grain-based foods. As we’ll see below, though, there are plenty of easy swaps for these foods.
While a gluten-free diet isn’t a cure, people with celiac disease who stick to a gluten-free diet find that their symptoms are greatly improved. Many people also find that following a gluten-free diet can even heal damage in the small intestine and prevent further damage from occurring. It’s not uncommon for those with celiac to see their symptoms improve within days to weeks of switching to a gluten-free diet.
The Best Gluten-Free Food Swaps and Ideas
The good news for gluten-free eaters is that there are plenty of simple swaps you can make so that you can stil enjoy your favorite foods. The most obvious is simply opting for gluten-free alternatives of your favorite foods. For example, there is no shortage of gluten-free pasta, bread, pizza, etc.
However, we would encourage you to use the switch to a gluten-free diet as an opportunity to enjoy more whole foods in your diet.
Here are just a few examples and ideas of whole food-based, gluten-free swaps you can make for popular foods:
Lentil, Brown Rice, or Vegetable Pasta for Traditional Pasta - Traditional pasta can be swapped out for pasta made from lentils, brown rice, or vegetables. Popular vegetable options include zucchini noodles (or “zoodles”) or spaghetti squash pasta. Brown rice pasta is another easy swap that is easy to find in all major grocery stores.
Coconut Aminos for Soy Sauce - We all love the extra dash of flavor that soy sauce provides. However, soy sauce is usually made with wheat, soybeans, salt and water, which means most soy sauces contain gluten. Braggs Liquid Aminos is a popular gluten-free alternative. Another easy swap would be Coconut Aminos, made from fermented coconut palm sap.
Lettuce or Swiss Chard for Burger Buns or Taco Shells - You can get a lot of mileage out of a simple head of lettuce, especially when it comes to gluten free swaps for sandwiches, burgers, and tacos. Swapping breads, buns, and flour tortillas for vegetables will give you an extra dose of micronutrients and vitamins too. If you want to go the extra mile, opt for swiss chard, which is actually a cruciferous vegetable rich in Vitamin C.
The Best Gluten-Free Cookies. Lastly, we want to remind you that embracing a gluten-free diet doesn’t mean saying goodbye to your favorite foods or sweets! There are amazing and delicious swaps for any food you can imagine.
For example, Maxine’s Heavenly cookies are gluten-free, but are still bursting with natural sweetness and homemade flavor. Check out our full offering of gluten-free cookies here.