Are you one of the 3 million Americans diagnosed with celiac disease? If so, you may feel lost, wondering how you’ll adjust to life without gluten. At the Rivas Digestive Center in Hollywood, Florida, we understand how difficult living with celiac disease can be.
Triple board-certified gastroenterologist John M. Rivas, MD, provides diagnosis and ongoing support to patients with this autoimmune disorder that causes your immune system to attack your small intestine.
Currently, the only treatment for celiac disease is to adopt a gluten-free diet. But the more you learn about gluten, the more you realize it hides in many unexpected places, making it a challenge to adjust to your new lifestyle.
Our team is here to help. We’ve put together this list of tips for making lifestyle adjustments when you’re diagnosed with celiac disease. Read on to learn more.
1. Learn to love ingredients lists
The most important change you need to make after being diagnosed with celiac disease is the shift to a gluten-free diet. For most people, going gluten-free is a big change, but even small slip-ups can cause lots of distress.
Learn to love ingredients lists. Getting to know what’s in your food can help you stay away from gluten and avoid the unpleasant symptoms that arise when you accidentally ingest this tiny protein.
Key ingredients to avoid include:
- Brewer’s yeast
You also must avoid oats unless they are labeled “gluten-free.”
2. Understand hidden gluten
While many packaged foods list allergens, including gluten, be sure you understand hidden gluten. Keep on the lookout for ingredients like:
- Hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP)
- Modified food starch
- Hydrolyzed plant protein (HPP)
- All forms of malt and malt variations
The source of the protein and starch could be wheat if it’s not identified, so look for the source when you review ingredients. Remember, when it comes to gluten: If in doubt, leave it out.
You’ll also want to ask your pharmacist or Dr. Rivas about different medications since some may contain gluten. While most oral medications are gluten-free, some contain amounts that can trigger a reaction in people with celiac disease.
3. Eat out with care
The good news is that many restaurants are more understanding about celiac disease and gluten-free dining. However, it’s important to exercise caution whenever you’re not preparing your food.
Begin by getting comfortable asking questions about food ingredients, food preparation, and making special requests. A little discomfort while ordering food outweighs the intestinal discomfort and other symptoms you may experience later if you don’t exercise caution. It can be helpful to call ahead and talk about the menu so you don’t catch the server and chef at a busy time.
Pay special attention to how foods are prepared, such as whether French fries are breaded before cooking or fried in the same fryer as breaded food items, like chicken, and the ingredients in condiments. For example, most soy sauces contain wheat as one of the primary ingredients.
4. Reach for gluten-free alternatives
While living gluten-free may mean giving up some favorites, the good news is that in the past decade hundreds of gluten-free alternatives have been developed and brought to market. This means finding gluten-free foods that replace your old favorites is easier than ever.
Most grocery stores now carry many of these alternatives, including gluten-free:
- Pretzels and crackers
- Baked goods and desserts
- Sauces and condiments
It’s also helpful to come up with go-to gluten-free options, like potato chips instead of wheat crackers and apple slices and raisins instead of cookies. Keep a gluten-free snack on you when you’re out so that you have a safe option when caught away from home.
5. Get comfortable with celiac disease
Even though millions of Americans live with celiac disease, Celiacs make up only about 1% of the population. It’s important to understand your disease so you can stay healthy and help educate the people around you so they become your allies.
Dr. Rivas takes time to answer any questions you have and address your concerns. He can also provide you with resources for further education. Expect your friends and family to have questions, and know that whenever you go to a gathering that involves food (which is almost every gathering), celiac disease will probably come up.
Getting comfortable with the ins and outs of celiac disease can help you navigate these challenging situations and make them easier as time passes. Check out resources like Beyond Celiac and the National Celiac Association for answers to frequently asked questions.
Contact the Rivas Digestive Center in Hollywood, Florida, at 954-228-5882 for more information about diagnosing or treating celiac disease, or book an appointment online now.