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Approximately 1 out of every 100 people worldwide have celiac disease which causes the body to attack its own gastrointestinal tract when gluten is ingested (1). When the villi of the intestine are damaged, due to celiac disease, it is harder for nutrients to be absorbed and can lead to many complications (1).
Although the occurrence of celiac disease has not increased, the gluten-free diet has risen in popularity, with a United States study showing the prevalence of celiac disease actually reduced between 2009 and 2014, while those following a gluten-free diet rose from about half a percent to over 1 and a half percent of the population in the same time-frame. For those not dealing with celiac disease, this diet change will likely not produce any health benefits and may in fact reduce intake of fiber from whole grains, B vitamins, and iron. However, this diet trend may have led to an increase in gluten-free items for people with celiac disease and made social gatherings and restaurants more accessible.
If you or someone you know has celiac disease, it’s important to take this diagnosis seriously. Although people with celiac disease may not experience symptoms associated with the disease when they ingest small amounts of gluten, it will still damage the intestinal lining (4). For this reason, it can be harmful to have ANY gluten-containing food or ingredient touch the food of someone who has celiac disease. In fact, celiac disease can lead to other autoimmune conditions, where the body attacks itself, or other long-term health conditions if left untreated (1).
Gluten can be found in many foods due to cross-contamination during processing but is naturally found in wheat, barley, and rye. Gluten is the name given to specific proteins found in these grains and is often important in bakery products, like bread, due to its physical properties (5). Ingredient lists, allergens, and may contain labels are important to understand in order to avoid gluten consumption (3). Guidance from a registered dietitian with celiac disease expertise is an important step when learning about gluten-free options and how you can implement changes into your life (3).
For symptoms associated with celiac disease see https://www.celiac.ca/healthcare-professionals/diagnosis/.
If you’re looking for gluten-free options, for yourself or others, you can search for products certified in Canada to be gluten-free by going to https://www.celiac.ca/living-gluten-free/gf-product-finder/.
Celiac Disease Foundation. (n.d.). What is Celiac Disease? https://celiac.org/about-celiac-disease/what-is-celiac-disease/
Kim H, Patel KG, Orosz E, et al. Time Trends in the Prevalence of Celiac Disease and Gluten-Free Diet in the US Population: Results From the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys 2009-2014. JAMA Intern Med. 2016;176(11):1716–1717. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.5254
Dietitians of Canada. (2018, May 15). Gluten-Free Eating. PEN: Practice-Based Evidence in Nutrition. https://www.celiac.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Gluten-Free-Eating-PEN-EN.pdf
Canadian Celiac Association. (n.d.) Myths and Facts. https://www.celiac.ca/living-gluten-free/myths-facts/
Shewry, P. R., Halford, N. G., Belton, P. S., & Tatham, A. S. (2002). The structure and properties of gluten: an elastic protein from wheat grain. Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences, 357(1418), 133–142. https://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2001.1024