Skip to main content

Why Gluten Hurts: The Truth About Celiac Disease

Why gluten hurts. The truth about celiac disease, and how to live gluten by Karina Allrich, Gluten-Free Goddess.

Living Without Our Daily Bread

by Karina Allrich


Since the birth of agriculture- when our ancestors began to cultivate and harvest grains- human beings have cherished bread. It was a minor miracle, this almost magical transformation of grain into dough. Bread became the staff of life, a daily source of nourishment, symbolic of spiritual renewal.

But what if bread was suddenly poison? What if wheat was toxic, and every bite of a toasted bagel, slice of pizza or forkful of penne inflicted damage to your body?

This scenario is a daily reality for those carrying the gene of an autoimmune disorder known as celiac disease.

Little did I know as I wrote my second cookbook, happily creating recipes for lemon infused pasta primavera and olive-rosemary focaccia, that a hidden twist in my own eclectic heritage would soon disrupt my life. After years of subtle symptoms, an acute phase produced a twenty pound weight loss, joint pain, skin rash, and malabsorption. By December, 2001, I knew I had celiac disease.




The Brief Lowdown:

According to the Mayo Clinic, the autoimmune disease known as celiac (also known as celiac sprue or gluten sensitive enteropathy) is on the rise, and more common than previously believed, affecting up to 1 in 100 Americans.

Celiac disease tends to run in families that share other autoimmune diseases (Type 1 Diabetes, Ankylosing Spondylitis, Hashimoto's Thyroid Disease, RA, and more). Genetic markers for celiac include HLA DQ 2, and HLA DQ 8.

Triggered by the proteins found in wheat, spelt, barley and rye, celiac disease causes the body to attack and blunt the villi, those hairy little nutrient grabbers that line the small intestine. Eventually, those intolerant to gluten become malnourished, unable to digest foods and absorb fats, vitamins, minerals, and nourishment.

New evidence suggests that an even broader spectrum of gluten intolerance- dubbed non-celiac gluten sensitivity- may affect an ever widening swath of the U.S. population. Those wrestling with stubborn weight gain rather than weight loss, pre-diabetes, allergies, migraines, and thyroid issues might do well to ask a medical professional about the deepening evidence of gluten sensitivity.

Once known as ‘wasting disease’ or ‘failure to thrive’ in infants and children, adult onset celiac is frequently misdiagnosed, most often mistaken for lactose intolerance, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), anorexia, and colitis.

What to look for:

Unexplained anemia, osteoporosis, blistery skin rashes, migraines, neuropathy, or vitamin B deficiencies are often the tip-off to this disease known as The Great Masquerader. Left to its own destructive bent, undiagnosed celiac disease can lead to severe nutritional deficiencies, brain lesions, ataxia, and non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Prolonged exposure to gluten may also trigger additional autoimmune diseases (as mentioned above, AI’s like company).

The cure? 

A gluten-free diet for life.

That’s the good news. 

As soon as gluten is removed from the diet, the body begins to heal. In children, this healing process can be dramatic, often within six months. In adults, the healing takes time. According to the Celiac Sprue Association, celiacs may require up to a year to heal, sometimes two, depending on the severity of the damage.


cherries by karina allrich


BECOMING GLUTEN-FREE


After the initial shock and adjustment to the daily reality of gluten-free living, the newly hatched celiac’s ongoing challenge lies in searching hidden gluten in ingredients and recognizing its myriad sources. English muffins, beer, and frosted donuts are obvious no-no’s. But gluten may hide in such unlikely places as soy sauce, veggie burgers and herbal tea. It is a common additive in broth, bouillon, spice blends, and prepared soups. It may also lurk in vitamins, medications and wheat germ laden lip balm.

Those of us with celiac disease must become vigilant, reading every label like a true detective.

Kitchens must be scoured for sticky gluten residue lingering on cutting boards and non-stick cookware (there's a reason gluten is used in drywall compound and wallpaper paste).

Toasters full of crumbs, well loved dough boards, and old wooden spoons can become a source of gluten contamination. Old baking sheets and even kitchen sponges can hide invisible gluten.

Sharing butter or grape jelly with greasy crumbs from your teenager’s toasted bagel is suddenly scary (we kept two jars of Vegenaise, jam, almond butter, etc in our refrigerator- mine sported Mom’s GF on the lids). When we kept a mixed kitchen, we had a designated gluten cupboard for non-GF breakfast cereals, snacks and sandwich bread. The rest of the pantry was labeled The Gluten-Free Zone.

It took a good 12 weeks for me to truly eradicate every trace of gluten from my diet. Overcoming each setback from unintended exposure took all the determination I could muster.

How much gluten is safe for a celiac? Zero was the answer given by the Celiac Sprue Association of America back when I was first diagnosed. I continue to agree.

Even a speck of gluten the size of a crumb is enough to trigger the body’s immune system to attack itself.

Which means eating out is very, very risky- a topic worthy of its own post.



WHEAT ALTERNATIVES


There is, indeed, life after rice cakes- the first food often turned to by newly minted celiacs. Naturally gluten-free alternatives to wheat such as quinoa, polenta, rice, Thai rice noodles and Mexican white corn tortillas have become favorite staples in our pantry. Potatoes are thankfully gluten-free.  Rice, corn, and quinoa pastas offer alternatives to standard semolina spaghetti, macaroni and cous cous (cous cous is a pasta- and not gluten-free).

Local markets often carry a variety of gluten-free flours, from classic alternatives such as potato starch and brown rice flour to lovely new choices in baking such as almond flour, hazelnut flour, sorghum flour, coconut flour, teff and millet flour, and flaxseed meal.

Boxed GF mixes make gluten-free baking a breeze for the beginner, and are increasingly available in most grocery stores. Being the intuitive cook that I am, however, I ended up experimenting, sifting together my own mixtures of gluten-free flours (I prefer a more whole grain, flavorful blend than most commercial mixes offer; most GF mixes feature cheap white rice flour and starches, or occasionally, bean flour- which is difficult to digest).

Baking with gluten-free flours is an art that requires an open, 'beginner’s mind' and a sense of humor.

I made many a brick door stop back in the old days, and winged more than my share of inedible hockey pucks into the trash bin. Gluten-free flours do not behave in the same manner as wheat flour, and the old rules do not apply. For instance, gluten-free bread dough and pizza dough are not kneaded. Dough is simply beaten like muffin batter and scooped into a pan. I’m still not used to it.

As the champions say, however, practice, practice, practice.

I am happy to report that deliciousness does ensue. We celiacs do not suffer a bland life. Take a gander at my Dark Chocolate Brownies, Gluten-Free Pizza Crust, Gluten-Free Whole Grain Rustic Olive Bread, and Chocolate Chip Cookies, if you don’t believe me.

Browse more favorite gluten-free recipes here.


An earlier version of this article appeared in the Cape Cod Times Food Section, June 12, 2002. Author Karri Allrich retains the rights to this article ©2013-2016. All rights reserved in all media.

All images & content are copyright protected, all rights reserved. Please do not use our images or content without prior permission. Thank you. 



TRENDING

Gluten-Free Goddess Raspberry Jam Bars

Sweet and simple raspberry jam bars. Let's be honest. I am here today to tempt you. To coax you. To seduce you with a gluten-free dessert worthy of every single luscious calorie. In full transparency, I am admitting up front these are not fat-free. Or sugar-free. These aren't diet food. They're not proper for breakfast (unless you serve them with Champagne). And you won't be able to sigh ever-so-wistfully at parties and mention, off hand, how hard it is to eat gluten-free at family gatherings and parties. Because, Darling Reader, you'll score zero sympathy points once people sink their teeth into the luscious raspberry jam filling nestled between buttery toasted coconut-almond crunch topping and tender hazelnut cookie crust. Nope. In fact, these decadent raspberry coconut-almond bars should come with a warning:   Be careful who you share these with. Because they are sure to fall madly in love with you. Seriously. Karina xox

Gluten-Free Baking Tips + Substitutions

Need wheat-free gluten-free baking tips? Help is Here. Here's what works- and what doesn't- in quirky Gluten-Free Baking and Substitution Land. From Karina, Gluten-Free Goddess®. Baking Substitutions for Wheat-Free, Gluten-Free and More Notes on GF Flours: Gluten-free non-wheat flours generally fall into three basic weights- light starch, all-purpose medium, or heavier whole grain. A blend of medium and heavy flours with some starch mixed in to lighten, tenderize, and help bind the batter or dough works best, and tastes best (too much starch can result in a gummy texture). Light, starchy GF flours include sweet rice flour, white rice flour, and the ubiquitous gluten-free starches- tapioca starch, cornstarch, potato starch (NOT potato flour, which is whole different animal) and arrowroot starch. Medium flours are akin to 'all purpose flour'- these include sorghum flour, certified gluten-free oat flour, and superfine brown rice flour. If you cannot find sorg

Gluten-Free Goddess Blueberry Muffins- No Xanthan Gum

Baking Without Xanthan Gum, I Am. When I first set foot on this lonely gluten-free road (it was 2001, remember, pre-gluten-free boon; there was nary a gluten-free bagel or wheat-free blueberry muffin in sight), I wrestled with converting my beloved tried and true wheat flour recipes, gamely baking and tossing too many gluten-free hockey pucks and brick loaves to count. Until I discovered xanthan gum- the weirdo secret ingredient that gave gluten-free batter and dough a hint of that elusive stretchy tenderness that gluten once gifted. Xanthan gum was a find. And it has been a nifty little problem solver for many years. Until it wasn't. After a decade or so of cooking, baking, and eating strictly gluten-free I began to feel- shall we say- less than wonderful after eating something with xanthan gum (or guar gum, or locust bean gum, or carrageenan). Ingredients my grandmother never heard of. Ingredients I never used to eat. Or bake with. I had a gluten-free shakabuk

Gluten-Free Goddess Brownies- The Best

Why bake a gluten-free brownie from scratch and not a mix? While baking mixes are perfectly acceptable in a pinch, and no doubt a boon to busy cooks on a gluten-free diet (well, honestly, who isn't busy, preoccupied, overwhelmed, and anxious these days, I ask you?), your taste buds will tell you why. In a heart beat, Darling. A dark chocolate brownie made from scratch is deeply delicious and decadent. Impressive, even. Company worthy. Dare I say, date night worthy. I'm not kidding. This brownie recipe is swoon inducing. (You know what they say about chocolate.)  But here's the best part. Throwing this recipe together takes only a few minutes longer than opening up a box of mix. In fact, you can whip up these luscious gooey babies in a mere ten minutes. In less time than it takes you to scan your daily dose of cute animals IG feed.  Seriously.  So what is more rewarding? Watching baby donkeys frolic on Instagram or stirring together this rich, tender, dark chocolat

Gluten-Free Lasagna In a Casserole Style Slow Cooker

Slow Cooker Lasagna As it Should Be. Delicious! And perfect for old fashioned family comfort food. It's been a long time since I flirted with a new kitchen appliance. Truthfully? I barely have room for the few gems I still have, after all these moves. Though I've got more room these days, post apartment living. We're finally in a house. And the days of a kitchen without an oven are in the rearview mirror.  You remember those rental days, right?  In Rental World they don't always give you a full size, actual oven. They might just give you a four burner cooktop. And a rickety microwave.  So what's a gluten-free lasagna craving girl gonna do? Make a mug of chai.  Cruise Amazon.  Because this. A  Crock-Pot Casserole Manual Slow Cooker .   Brilliant. My first lasagna in this new Crock Pot Casserole Slow Cooker Please note: This is NOT a sponsored post.  I assembled this classic family style lasagna at noon today-

Gluten-Free Goddess Bread Recipe - dairy-free and rice-free, too

One Delicious Loaf... Man shall not live by bread alone, so the famous saying goes. In other words, we need ideas to feed us, too. We need awareness. Conscious action. An expression and celebration of the spirit. And yet (here's the sticky part, folks) almost every spiritual tradition includes the bread we shall not solely live by, whether it be a hand-torn loaf, a paper thin wafer, a piece of matzoh, a curve of naan, or a sprinkle of cornmeal. Breaking bread and sharing grain is a cherished and beloved symbol for community, celebration and tribal nourishment. From Holy Communion to the Super Bowl gatherings around an elevating principle or a family milestone (from birth to marriage to funerals) include the simple but connecting gesture of sharing food. Because cooking makes us human. And eating illustrates our kinship with the entire animal kingdom. Humans are animals, after all, interlinked and cousined by astonishingly similar DNA and subatomic particles from the

Gluten-Free Goddess Zucchini Breakfast Cake

Zucchini Cake! Yep. What's for breakfast, you ask? Cereal? Yogurt? #Boring Instead, let's eat cake.  A tasty breakfast cake inspired by those lovely  maple sweetened almond zucchini mini-muffins . Remember those? I sure do.  They've become one of our favorite grab-and-go gluten-free treats. I tuck a bag of them- fresh out of the freezer- into my (bulging) purse/backpack/tote whenever we venture far afield. Because, well. You never know. And even if we are still stuck at home, isolating ourselves week after week like champs... today I remembered those zucchini muffins and thought--- hmmmmm.  What. If. We. Make. Zucchini. Cake. For breakfast!? Because. #notboring Karina xox Gluten-Free Goddess Zucchini Breakfast Cake Recipe By Karina Allrich May 2012. Sweetened only with a half cup pure maple syrup, this cake is not overly sweet. Which makes it perfect for breakfast or a mid-afternoon snack. Almond meal, sorghum flour and quinoa flakes add protein and nutritio