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Celiac disease - what can I eat?

A diagnosis of celiac disease can make you feel like you have to radically change your diet, and maybe even your lifestyle. And hearing your doctor rattle off the long list of foods to avoid - including staples like bread, cereal, and pasta - can make you feel like sticking to a gluten-free diet is downright impossible. But don't give up just yet. There are plenty of foods that you still can eat, and there are many alternatives for those that you can't.

Foods you cannot eat

Gluten is a protein from the grain of a variety of common cereal grains. The grains that people with celiac disease must avoid are wheat (which includes spelt and kamut), barley, rye, and titricale. Unfortunately, these are found in most breads, cereals, pastas, cakes, cookies, and pastries. There are many other common items that contain gluten that you should be aware of. These include beer, bulgur, couscous, durum, enriched flour, white flour, graham flour, malt vinegar, and semolina.

Foods to be cautious about

It's important to be aware that many foods may be thickened, stabilized, or seasoned with gluten products. For example, cheese spreads, baked beans, and cream soups may be thickened with wheat flour or wheat starch. Also, processed and luncheon meats can contain fillers or seasonings made from wheat. Other processed foods to question include French fries, rice mixes, gravy, and sauces. There are many other foods that may be unexpected sources of gluten. If you are ever unsure, ask your doctor or dietitian.

Foods you can eat

The good news is that you can still get your intake of grains from a variety of different grain products. These include brown rice, buckwheat, corn, cornmeal, millet, quinoa, and wild rice. There are many substitutes for wheat flour, including potato starch, arrowroot starch, brown rice flour, cornmeal, tapioca starch, soy flour, white rice flour, and whole bean flour. All of these items will provide you with some fibre.

If you're worried about your fibre intake, rest assured that you can also get plenty of it from nuts, seeds, beans, fruits, and vegetables - all of which you can eat without worry. More and more food manufacturers are now developing gluten-free alternatives for their products. Try the organic aisle of your local grocery store, as organic manufactures normally have a greater selection of gluten-free foods. Be sure to read the ingredient list carefully.

What about oats?

Whether or not people with celiac disease are allowed to eat oats has been a controversial issue. Health Canada has concluded that most people with celiac disease can eat moderate amounts of pure oats, as long as they are not contaminated with grains that contain gluten, such as wheat, barley, and rye.

The Canadian Celiac Association (CCA) points to studies showing that 50 g to 70 g of dried rolled oats that are pure and uncontaminated with gluten is safe for adults with celiac disease. The CCA also cautions, however, that the studies included a small number of people. Overall, it should be safe for most people with celiac disease to eat pure, uncontaminated oats in moderate amounts. Be sure to check with your doctor about how to safely introduce oats to your diet.

If at any point you're not sure what you can or cannot eat, talk to your doctor. Your doctor may also suggest you see a dietitian, who can help you develop a gluten-free meal plan to meet your nutrition needs. For more detailed information about a gluten-free diet, visit the CCA website.

Lisa Tourountzas


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