Celiac disease is an auto-immune disorder that damages your small intestines. The disease is triggered by eating foods containing gluten, which is why many turn to a gluten free diet when they have celiac disease.
You may have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance if you feel bloated, get heartburn and take a few extra trips to the bathroom whenever you eat your favorite pasta or grab another slice of pizza.
Celiac disease symptoms
Symptoms of celiac disease are wide ranging, said Kari Mizgalski, registered dietitian at Marshfield Clinic Health System. These symptoms can include, but are not limited to:
- abdominal pain
- foul smelling stool
Additionally, celiac disease may cause irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)-like symptoms including nausea, vomiting, and weight loss or weight gain. Other signs and symptoms can include headaches, thinning bones or bone disease, dental enamel defects, depression, joint pain, mouth sores, tingling and numbness in the hands/feet, poor growth in children, and unexplained infertility or miscarriage.
How to diagnose celiac disease?
To understand if you have a gluten intolerance or have celiac disease, you must undergo testing for celiac disease. Talk to your primary care provider to order an antibody blood test if you notice any symptoms. However, Mizgalski explains a diagnosis cannot be made until a biopsy is done with biopsy of the small intestine by a gastroenterologist.
“It is important to note that you must continue to eat gluten prior to the biopsy to prevent a false negative test,” she said.
Your primary care provider can refer you to a gastroenterologist or you can schedule an appointment with a provider.
Once you are diagnosed with celiac disease, it’s important to meet with a registered dietitian to help educate you on how to can successfully follow a gluten-free diet. A registered dietitian will collect your detailed nutrition history and create a plan that works for you.
“There are many topics to review including shopping, label reading, dining out, medications and preventing cross contamination,” Mizgalski said.
Mizgalski recommends everyone, even those who are not gluten free, to follow the “The Plate Method” for general healthful eating. For someone with celiac disease, they would just need to make sure all grains are gluten free.
“Start by going back to basics – eating fresh produce, dairy, meat and starches like potatoes or rice at meal time to make following the gluten-free diet more simplified,” she said. “Processed food with multiple ingredients are likely to contain gluten. After learning more about label reading and shopping, moving into gluten-free alternatives will be easier.”
Mizgalski said there are several gluten-free grains available including rice, quinoa and pastas made from chickpeas, corn, rice or lentils; along with a variety of gluten-free flours like almond flour, coconut flour, brown rice flour and more. Many companies make baking mixes or all-purpose flour mix that are gluten free.
Gluten-free is not a diet
Aside from celiac disease or a gluten intolerance, Mizgalski said it is not recommended to be on a gluten-free diet.
“Going gluten free and eating mainly processed gluten-free products can cause a decrease or change in the healthy intestinal microbiome,” she said. “If gluten is not a concern, it is recommended to stick to a variety of whole grains.”
However, she mentioned that some families of people with celiac disease may choose to go gluten free to eliminate cross contamination in the home.