This is a photo of my daughter taken one early Spring morning. She had a desire for “Sour Cream n’ Onion” Kale Chips – her favourite gluten-free, vegan snack – for breakfast!
Our daughter is the reason for us having a gluten-free kitchen.
Our journey towards a gluten-free kitchen has been a rocky one. It has involved an outrageous number of appointments with doctors and specialists, as well as a number of evasive tests. Unfortunately, this is the case for many suffering from Celiac Disease or a Gluten Intolerance.
Celiac Disease is a genetic, autoimmune disorder that, if left untreated, causes damage to the mucosa of the small intestine. As a result, the body has a difficult time absorbing the essential nutrients it requires – iron, calcium, vitamins A, D, E, K, and folate. Without these nutrients, an individual may suffer from headaches and fatigue. Anemia and malnutrition are almost inevitable if this disease goes undetected. Celiac Disease is not something you can “outgrow”. It is a life-long disorder with the treatment being a life-long gluten-free diet.
Gluten is the insoluble protein found in grains such as, wheat, rye, triticale and barley. There are also hidden sources of gluten in processed and packaged foods, cosmetics, and certain drug products. The Canadian Celiac Association states that “particular care should be taken in the selection of soups, luncheon meats and sausages”. A person with Celiac Disease must read the list of ingredients on all labels, each and every time. *Manufacturers have been known to change ingredients at any given time.
According to the Canadian Celiac Association, one in every 133 Canadians have this disease. This number represents the number of Canadians that have been diagnosed. It is believed that the prevalence of this disease is actually much higher.
The problem with Celiac Disease is that not all individuals have symptoms, yet even without symptoms damage will occur to the membrane of the small intestines. Some symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, severe abdominal pain, lethargy, irritability and dermatitis herpetiformis. These symptoms can also vary in extremity from individual to individual.
If Celiac Disease is suspected, a blood test and intestinal biopsy is usually performed. The individual being tested must be sure to follow a diet containing gluten prior to this test. That’s right – they must eat foods laden with gluten for several weeks in order for this test to be successful. This often involves a great deal of pain and frustration for the patient. If the biopsy shows damage to the small intestine, then a Celiac Disease diagnosis is confirmed.
My 9-year-old daughter does not have a confirmed diagnosis of Celiac Disease because she has never had the intestinal biopsy. By the time a decision was made for her to see a Gastroenterologist, I had her following a gluten-free diet and she was feeling a million times better. It did not make sense for my husband and I to put her back on gluten and make her ill for weeks just for a result that we knew would only come back as positive. This was five years ago.
As a toddler and preschooler, our daughter was in pain. My husband and I would often find her crouched in a corner holding her belly. She was irritable, lethargic and had difficulty sleeping. Our daughter would also vomit at the drop of a hat. She more than often experienced chronic diarrhea and her blood work repeatedly showed that she was anemic. Her cognitive development was suffering as well. It was difficult for her to focus on a specific task for even a short period of time.
At the age of 4, she was given a blood test, as preliminary screening, to detect Celiac Disease. My husband and I forked out the $200 and waited patiently for the results. They came back negative. We were told that she absolutely did not have the disease. We were told that she may have difficulty digesting milk and we were told that some kids are “just like that”. However, off of dairy, she was the same.
Over the next few months, she missed many days of nursery school and many out-of-the-house functions. So, I took a deeper look into the cause being food related. I asked for a referral to an Allergist. A skin prick test was done and it showed that she had no allergies. At this point, I was in tears and begged for help. This doctor then referred us to a Gastroenterologist at our local children’s hospital, but still insisted that food was not the issue. The appointment was finally made. We had nearly 9 months to wait.
Not knowing that she must continue to eat gluten foods for a biopsy, I put our daughter on what is known as an Elimination Diet. I was just so desperate to find answers as to what was making her sick. I wish I was aware of the Elimination Diet years ago. It was challenging – for some time, our daughter was off soy, dairy (lactose intolerant is a very common misdiagnosis of gluten intolerance), nuts, eggs, gluten and some fruit all at once! It was during this time that I realized gluten was the enemy.
I then started her on a gluten-free diet. Her symptoms began to diminish.
When she was clearly beginning to feel better, my husband and I decided then that our home would be a gluten-free zone. I understand that this is not recommended by health professionals. However, I have not found a good reason why the rest of my family should not eat gluten-free foods in the home. (Honestly, we are not 100% gluten-free like my 9 year old. We try to make gluten-free choices outside the home, but sometimes it just doesn’t happen).
According to Danna Korn, one of the leading authorities on the gluten-free diet, and author of many books including, “Living Gluten-Free for Dummies”, having the whole family eating gluten-free is expensive, can put a strain on relationships if everyone is “forced” to adhere to the diet, and it’s not reality – the world is filled with gluten.
Processed and prepared gluten-free meals can definitely be expensive. It’s also important to keep in mind that some of these meals may be void of valuable nutrients. Although there are good products on the market, I recommend to others on a gluten-free diet to eat meals rich in a variety of whole foods. This will certainly cut down the expense.
Our kitchen has been gluten-free for over five years now.
A few times over the years, our daughter has accidentally consumed a food containing gluten. The result put her in a great deal of pain. This experience has led her to be extra diligent about her food choices outside the home.
Our daughter will get to see a Gastroenterologist this upcoming January. This past summer, she was diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis, also an autoimmune disease. Her Rheumatologist is recommending this visit. This shocking diagnosis has now led us to a diet void of inflammation triggers. (A future post for uberdish!).
Despite this, our daughter appears to be a happy, healthy child. She is active in many different activities in and out of school.
If you experience any of the symptoms mentioned in this post, please understand that it is not “normal”. No one should ever be in pain after eating or suffer from diarrhea for hours at end. Please discuss your symptoms with a health care professional and please be open to the exploration of food allergies as the culprit.
If you have been recently diagnosed, I understand that a gluten-free diet may be overwhelming. It does get easier. The Celiac Association is a wonderful resource. As well, I hope uberdish provides you with mouth-watering recipes and the encouragement to continue a diet that brings you great health.