The Malta Independent 21 April 2024, Sunday
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The basics of Coeliac disease and the gluten free diet

Sunday, 18 February 2024, 08:35 Last update: about 3 months ago

Life as a person suffering from Coeliac disease has its challenges, especially the initial phase when getting diagnosed and adjusting to a gluten free diet. Written by James Grima

The month of May is Coeliac Awareness Month where coeliac organisations around the world focus on raising more awareness on this condition and its effects.

So what is Coeliac disease? What are the symptoms? How do you deal with Coeliac disease? The points below provide the basic information on Coeliac disease and the gluten free diet. So let's get started.

 

Coeliac disease and the gluten free diet

Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disease where the body attacks its own tissues due to eating gluten. This damages your small intestine's lining which prevents properly absorbing nutrients from food.

The only treatment for Coeliac disease is a gluten free diet. Gluten is found in wheat, rye and barley. These are commonly found in food items such as wheat flour, bread, pasta, cereals and confectionery foods like cakes and biscuits. Other possible sources of "hidden" gluten are sauces, preservatives and other processed food.

All is not bad though, many naturally gluten free foods such as rice, corn, potatoes, meat, fish, eggs and fruit and vegetables, in their natural form, can be eaten freely. Special gluten free products such as gluten free bread, pasta and others are also available on the market.

 

Getting diagnosed

The symptoms of Coeliac disease may include bloating, anemia, weight loss, fatigue and others. There are also cases where a coeliac is asymptomatic (patient showing no symptoms), typically called a "silent coeliac". These symptoms are common characteristics of other medical conditions, therefore you should always seek medical advice before starting on a gluten free diet.

In order to get diagnosed, you should start off with seeking medical advice from a GP or your family doctor. Specific blood tests help to screen for Coeliac disease. If positive, a gastroscopy is performed which will confirm whether or not the condition is present.

It is important to note you should not start a gluten free diet before the diagnosis is confirmed. Furthermore, food allergy tests cannot medically confirm the presence of Coeliac disease.


Quickfire advice

Seek medical advice: As previously mentioned, if you are suffering from certain symptoms seek medical advice and do not start a gluten free diet until the diagnosis is complete.

Balanced diet: Rather than substituting gluten contained food with gluten free food, try to focus on a balanced diet using naturally gluten free food.

Eating out: It is always important to ask if they cater for coeliacs and take the necessary precautions to eliminate cross contamination as much as possible.

Food labelling: Focus on buying gluten free products that clearly state that they are gluten free. Reading ingredients on products is also important, the common practice in the industry is to list all allergens in bold.

You are not alone: Do not shy away from explaining your condition to family, friends or colleagues. You would be surprised at the level of support you will get.

 

The Coeliac Association

Founded in 1989, Coeliac Association Malta offers ongoing support to improve the quality of life for coeliacs in Malta. Apart from organising activities and talks to our members, we maintain contact with the local authorities, as well as with coeliac societies worldwide. We also form part of the Association of European Coeliac Societies (AOECS) and Coeliac Youth of Europe (CYE).

Joining the association is an opportunity to meet other individuals that experience Coeliac disease on a daily basis.

We have many challenges ahead, this includes improving food handling in the catering industry, raising awareness on Coeliac disease in our educational system and more. If you are up for it, we always welcome external volunteers.

 

Conclusion

Life has its ups and downs, Coeliac disease is one that at times can be both. Getting diagnosed with Coeliac disease and adjusting to a gluten free diet does take time getting used to. Having said that, you do notice the benefits after a while especially if you experienced some of the mentioned symptoms.

Awareness on Coeliac disease and the gluten free diet is improving. As an association we strive to improve this further.

 

James Grima is a member of the Malta Coeliac Association.

The association is a full member of Malta Health Network www.maltahealthnetwork.org 
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