I have been living with Coeliac’s disease for nearly seven years now. That is seven years of no gluten, seven years of reading every food label for traces of gluten and seven years of healing my gut. To say it has been easy would be like saying getting a hole in one at golf when you’ve never swung a golf club before is easy. It takes lots of practice swinging the club, testing what angles works and what doesn’t, and a little bit of lost patience along the way. But FINALLY one day when you get that hole in one all that hard work is worth it and if your like me you do a little celebratory dance because gut health deserves to be celebrated!
why is gut health so important in coeliac’s disease?
Gut health is paramount for not only our digestive health but also our immune health and mental health. As discussed in my previous post on Coeliac’s disease (check it out here), the symptoms of Coeliac’s disease can be widespread or can even by asymptomatic for some. But what is standard across the board for people with Coeliac’s disease is the importance of actually sticking to a strict gluten free diet and ensuring the environment around you is helping you stick to it too.
It’s no mystery that the prevalence of gluten free food in cafes and restaurants has increased ten-fold in the past five years since the introduction of the ‘paleo diet’. While us Coeliac’s thank the health conscious world for making our lives much more enjoyable because now we can pretty much go to eat anywhere and know there will at least be a couple of GF options, the importance of the product actually being 100% gluten free can sometimes get lost. But if a restaurant advertises a product as gluten free it’s defiantly gluten free yeah? Not exactly… depending on the environment the food has been prepared in (this goes for your home environment too) will affect whether the food has been exposed to gluten or not. I am talking about cross-contamination… which is enough to cause a reaction in a person with Coeliac’s disease.
Cross contamination can be caused by:
- Sharing butter and spread containers with people using standard wheat products can cause gluten containing crumbs to be left in the condiment
- Using the same chopping boards, knives and other cooking utensils that have been exposed to gluten without thoroughly washing in between
- Using the same strainer for normal pasta as gluten free pasta- strain the gluten free pasta first
- Sharing the same toaster, sandwich makers and grills with standard wheat bread
- Putting gluten free products in a deep fryer with oil that has been used for gluten containing products (Eg. Fish battered in flour, crumbed calamari)
- Sitting gluten free products next to gluten containing products in the fridge without proper separation (Eg. When a café has a gluten free cake sitting next to a gluten containing cake in the fridge)
Think that all of these things are a little over the top? Let me put it in perspective for you… consuming as little as 50mg (that is equivalent to 1/100th of a slice of standard wheat bread) can cause small intestine damage in a person with Coeliac’s disease. Going back to our analogy before, it is practically equivalent to being on the green ready to putt the ball into the hole and someone comes along and whacks the ball 200m in the other direction. Now your ball is stuck in the rough and you have to weed your way through the bushes in order to get back to where you started. Or in terms of Coeliac’s you have to weed out the bad guys (Eg. Gluten and bad bacteria) and start your gut protocol again. How annoying right?
will being exposed to gluten once ruin all my hard work?
Whilst one accidental exposure to gluten is not necessarily going to wreck havoc on all the hard work you’ve been doing to get back your gut health again, repeated exposure to small amounts of gluten adds up and that’s when real damage can be seen. Ongoing exposure to gluten places you at a higher risk of developing more serious health consequences such as bowel cancer, osteoporosis and other autoimmune conditions. The best way to check up on how well your gut healing is going is to get an endoscopy and colonoscopy done every couple of years. This enables a closer look at whether your microvilli are healthy and able to absorb all those good nutrients your putting in your body. Additionally, keeping an eye on your symptoms such as bloating, stool formation and stool frequency can also help you determine your gut health!
The intention of this post is not to discourage people with Coeliac’s disease from enjoy eating out in public or at a friends’ house. The aim is to simply to remind you, your family and your friends that eating a strict gluten free diet isn’t always as simple as eating a gluten free product. It is important to be aware of your environment so that you are not only getting the best out of food, but your also helping your gut get the best of you!
PS. Follow the #nocrumbsplease movement for more information and to help spread the word that crumbs are not okay for people with Coeliac’s disease.