Going gluten free was not something I decided for myself, but instead it was forced upon me. I knew the dreaded celiac diagnosis was coming when I started developing symptoms in my early twenties, around the same time my sister and relatives started to react to gluten as well. Thankfully we live in a day and age where going Gluten free isn’t a challenge. There is now an abundance of food for celiacs and new gluten free products are continually being made available – you just have to know where to look and what to look for. Gluten free seems to be the newest fad in food after Kale but before I delve into all the amazingly delicious GF food available in NYC I want to share my celiac story with you and answer some questions I am regularly asked about celiac disease and gluten. There are many misconceptions about celiac disease. I get asked constantly; “so you can’t eat carbs?” normally paired with a smug “yeah right” smile or roll of the eyes. Yes I can eat carbs!!! I love carbs!!
What is Celiac disease?
Celiac disease is a genetic autoimmune disorder where the small intestines become damaged after being exposed to gluten. The more exposed – the more damaged. The only way to treat celiac disease at this point is to live by a strict gluten free diet.
What is Gluten?
Gluten is a protein that acts as a glue, holding food together. It is found in many grains including, wheat, barley and Rye. Yep, that’s all the good stuff: beer, pizza, pasta, cake and bread- just to name a few.
What happens when you eat Gluten?
Lets just say, it ain’t pretty…. If I eat something that contains gluten or has been contaminated (once my boyfriend cooked spaghetti and stirred my GF spaghetti with the same fork he used to stir his wheat pasta), the repercussions are painful. My sister once compared the cramps to Freddy Krueger’s fingernails tearing your stomach lining apart. On top of that, hours are spent in the bathroom and I break out in an acne rash that lasts a couple of days. Yay, good times… When I was going through my denial phase it got so severe that I vomited blood, which was the scare I needed to go Gluten Free.
You must’ve lost so much weight going gluten free?
Um no….. Quite the opposite actually. I used to be a lot thinner and was able to eat anything I wanted. The small intestine is coated with small hairlike particles called villi, they work to absorb nutrients from food. When someone who is celiac damages their small intestines it flattens out these villi and their ability to absorb nutrients deteriorates. So although I was thinner, I was malnourished. Also if you look at the nutritional information on a lot of GF products, quite often they contain more fat and sugar than the regular version.
How common is Celiac disease?
1% of the population has celiac disease. Although that sounds small that is still 1 in every 100. Through experience, I get weary when someone tells me they are celiac as well. I’ve met people who have claimed to suffer from celiac disease – only to then down a beer and dip their food in soy sauce without any repercussions. Having said this, I realise that not all celiacs respond as violently as I do to gluten and some may still have gluten and just deal with whatever side effects follow. If you are celiac, I do advise you to stick to a 100% gluten free diet, as the long term damage can be extremely harmful (cancer in the small intestines and bowl have been linked to celiac disease).
Celiac or not, going gluten free is easier than ever and I’m looking forward to sharing some great New York City restaurants, products and a few recipes of my own.