Someone important in your life has adopted a gluten-free diet either because they’ve been diagnosed with Celiac Disease (an autoimmune disorder where the consumption of gluten causes inflammation in the lower intestine), they have a gluten sensitivity (consuming gluten causes a variety of gastrointestinal and other symptoms), or they are giving the diet a try to see if it helps with overall vitality. Whatever their reason, here is what you need to know to support them.
What is gluten, and what foods contain it?
Gluten is a protein found in grains including wheat, barley, rye, spelt, and oats. Common foods that contain gluten include pasta, pizza, cookies, crackers, and bread. It also shows up in many hidden sources including soy sauce, salad dressings, sauces, artificial colors, soup stocks and more.
What foods are gluten-free?
A person with Celiac Disease or gluten sensitivity can safely eat meat, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, fruits, milk and dairy products like cheese, vegetables, and gluten-free grains like rice, quinoa, corn, millet and amaranth. Provided they don’t have other food allergies.
What happens if my friend/family member eats gluten or is accidentally exposed?
Symptoms can range person to person, but here are some symptoms and related conditions:
- Chronic diarrhea or constipation
- Weight loss or gain
- Floating, foul smelling stools
- Muscle cramps
- Joint/bone pain
Gluten consumption has been linked to osteoporosis, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), anemia, cancer, fatigue, canker sores, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, thyroid disorders, autoimmune diseases, anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, dementia, migraines, epilepsy, and neuropathy (nerve damage).
How can I help support my family member/friend?
Avoid Cross Contamination
Cross contamination happens when gluten-free food comes into contact with gluten. This can happen on shared surfaces (crumbs on cutting boards, crumbs in toaster ovens), from shared cooking utensils (a knife with wheat bread crumbs is dipped into a gluten-free mustard), or airborne contamination (making whole wheat bread and the flour flies through the air and lands on a batch of gluten-free cookies).
Please know that even ONE CRUMB is enough to make someone with Celiac Disease sick. Please be mindful of how food is prepared, cooked, and stored in your home. Cleaning all surfaces, dishes, utensils, and anything that could come into contact with gluten and contaminate gluten-free foods should be cleaned with soap and water between uses.
If your friend or family member is coming over for a party or a holiday celebration it is important to remember all the possible modes for cross contamination. It is always well received if all meals (especially if it’s a potluck) have ingredient lists with them. You can even keep the food labels from foods used to prepare so that your loved one can take a look, too. Make sure to provide gluten-free options for your family member or friend. For example, if you are making lasagna – not only are there amazing gluten-free lasagna noodles on the market, but you could make a gluten-free pasta and save some sauce for them. Communicating with them before the event is also helpful so everyone knows what to expect and how to best make yummy food happen without leaving anyone out!
When shopping for food for your friend or family member(s), try your best to only buy packaged foods that are labeled gluten-free. A good guideline to use is that if the food doesn’t say gluten-free on the packaging then assume it is not! The guilty until proven innocent rule applies here!
Eating gluten-free can feel socially isolating at times. Remember to include your loved one in shared eating experiences and let them know that you support them. It will mean the world to them to not feel judged, singled out or left out!