Senior Shyler Peters started eating a gluten-free diet when she was diagnosed with Celiac disease at age 19 after years of stomach aches and fatigue.
“I’ve noticed a huge difference in how I look and feel. I lost about 20 pounds when I corrected my diet…my stomach doesn’t hurt anymore, and I have more energy,” Peters said.
What used to be a little known disease that took years to diagnose, Celiac disease, as well as wheat allergies, is now more prevalent than ever, and health awareness is spreading fast, resulting in more people turning to a gluten-free diet.
About one in 130 people in the United States have Celiac disease, according to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, and most will never know it. As the most common genetic disease, it can develop at any age and is prevalent in the U.S. and the U.K., according The Gluten-Free Girl website (glutenfreegirl.blogspot.com). However, many people go undiagnosed because there are a wide range of symptoms and varying degrees of effects.
Celiac disease is a digestive condition triggered by eating the protein gluten, which is found in any food containing wheat, barley or rye, like bread, pasta, cookies, processed foods and many others. For those with Celiac disease, an immune reaction causes damage to the small intestine, which also causes an inability to absorb certain nutrients, according to the Mayo Clinic.
“Gluten sensitivity is definitely a hot issue right now, as it should be. Celiac disease did not receive a whole lot of attention in the past,” SMU dietician Claire Florsheim said.
According to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, it is estimated that in the recent past, it took an average of six to 10 years to be correctly diagnosed with Celiac disease and that 95 percent of people with Celiac disease went undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.
“However, people are being diagnosed more quickly now, which is great because that means they can get to feeling better that much sooner,” Florsheim said.
According to The Gluten-Free Girl website, “The conditions and symptoms from gluten sensitivity…are vastly due to the host of problems resulting from the inflammation, toxins and lack of absorption of nutrients.”
Dr. Albert Varner, a San Francisco based specialist in digestive disorders, said, “Celiac disease patients should strictly avoid gluten and wheat and should see a dietician for advice…[but] other than that, they don’t need to do anything, since the damaged [area] of celiac disease patients will heal itself if wheat is avoided.”
However, he also said, “It’s harder [to avoid gluten] than it sounds, especially if the patient eats out in restaurants.”
But even restaurants are catching on, and there are many alternatives for those with Celiac disease or wheat intolerance.
Grocery stores, like Whole Foods and Central Market, have large gluten-free sections with an assortment of pastas, breads and baked goods that give many options to those who cannot handle the gluten. Grocery stores, restaurants and bakeries are catching on too and expanding their menus to include gluten-free choices.
“We were actually asked in the beginning to make some gluten-free cookies and cakes, so now we’ve made them readily available to those who can’t have gluten,” said Valentino Gaiz, manager of Crème da la Cookie bakery.
As well as making gluten-free options available, some restaurants that have opened are almost completely free of gluten and wheat items. Kozy Kitchen boasts a variety of gluten free entrees and desserts which gives people with Celiac disease a place to dine without the fear of not finding anything to eat.
Even SMU has made changes to their dining options.
“There has been a growing demand for gluten-free options over the last couple of years. At first, RFoC (Real Food on Campus) worked one-on-one with students requesting gluten-free meals but decided this semester to open a gluten-free station featuring gluten-free entrees and desserts,” Florsheim said.
SMU has made these changes, as well as adding gluten-free items to other dining areas around campus.
Florsheim would recommend a gluten-free diet even to those who do not have a gluten or wheat intolerance.
“Eating gluten-free can be very healthy, since it eliminates a lot of the processed foods that you should be avoiding anyway. If you replace these foods with more fruits, veggies and lean sources of protein…this would be a very healthy meal pattern,” she said.
Peters said, “It is always good to cut out preservatives and foods [that] are not nutritious. Anyone can benefit from eating more natural foods!”