I have a confession to make: for a long time I didn’t take coeliac disease seriously. Back in 2007, when I worked in a fine dining French restaurant, gluten-free was just becoming a thing. To chefs and waiters it was an annoyance, right up there with being allergic to garlic (which is in EVERYTHING) or being vegan (no disrespect, vegans).
Today gluten-free is mainstream and I bet everyone knows someone who avoids the gluten grains (wheat, barley and rye). Though we’re all much more aware of gluten intolerance, many of us really don’t fully understand it. This week is Coeliac Awareness Week in Ireland, and May is Celiac Disease Awareness Month in the United States, and it’s time for you to get savvy about celiacs, whether you get the squirts from eating gluten or not.
The Coeliac Disease Awareness campaigns have really opened my eyes about gluten intolerance, and I’ve learned a few facts that are going to change the way you think about your gluten intolerant friends forever. If you suspect you may be intolerant to gluten, this could be the push you need to get serious about it today.
5 Facts Everyone Should Know About Coeliac Disease
1. It’s not an allergy; it’s an autoimmune disorder.
If you have coeliac disease and you eat gluten, your immune system responds by attacking the small intestine. Damage to the lining of the small intestine means nutrients don’t get absorbed properly.
2. It’s Hereditary
Yup, there’s a gene for that.
According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, if you have a first degree relative with the disease (parent, child, sibling) your chances are 1 in 10 for developing coeliac disease. About 1 in 100 people globally suffer from coeliac disease, many undiagnosed.
3. Coeliac Disease is Serious
Really? Yes Really.
If your coeliac disease is left untreated, you could develop other conditions:
- Immune disorders like type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis
- Skin rashes
- Infertility and miscarriage
- Epilepsy and migraines
- Gallbladder problems
- Lactose intolerance
- Vitamin and mineral deficiencies
- Intestinal cancers
4. You Can’t Have No Gluten—Ever
The only treatment for coeliac disease is adhering to a strict gluten-free diet for life. The Coeliac Society of Ireland says, “Even a single grain of gluten can cause harm and cause diarrhoea and other symptoms which can last for several days.” Eating gluten incites your immune system to attack, which can lead to the long-term health conditions mentioned above.
5. Coeliac Disease is not the same as Gluten Sensitivity
Coeliac disease is diagnosed by testing for antibodies in your blood and taking a biopsy of your small intestine. If you’re gluten sensitive, the tests will all be negative, though you suffer from similar symptoms after eating gluten, including:
- Abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhoea, constipation
- Bone or joint pain
- Depression, difficulty concentrating
Gluten sensitivity does not result in damage to the small intestine that is associated with coeliac disease.
As far as I know, I don’t have any issues with gluten, but now I do have a whole lotta respect for coeliacs. If you’re coeliac you must be vigilant about your diet because slipping up isn’t just the inconvenience of spending an afternoon on the toilet—it’s seriously damaging your body and putting you at risk for cancer and other diseases. We all need to be aware of this because chances are; we all have someone with coeliac disease in our lives.
The good news is that gluten-free cooking is all the rage right now. There’s no shortage of delicious inspiration to be found on blogs or cookbooks and scoffed down in bakeries.
Take Action Right Now:
Visit these resources to learn more about coeliac disease and eating gluten-free:
Middle Eastern Salad
Adding a few Middle Eastern staples to your pantry is a great way to bring new, exciting flavours into your cooking. Pomegranate molasses and tahini have become widely available and can be used in a multitude of ways. Here tahini (ground sesame seed) is the base for a creamy salad dressing, but it’s most notably used in hummus. Pomegranate molasses is simply pomegranate juice that’s been cooked down to syrup. It makes a delicious glaze for meat or poultry. For a vegetarian version of this salad substitute cooked green lentils or chickpeas for the lamb, giving the legumes a quick sauté́ to warm them through.
- ½ pound/250g ground lamb
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon crushed Aleppo pepper flakes (or crushed red pepper flakes)
- ¼ teaspoon sea salt
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon pomegranate molasses
- 1 fennel bulb
- ½ a lime
- 3 ounces/80g mixed salad greens
- ¼ cup/25g shelled pistachios
- A handful of fresh mint leaves
- Tahini-Lime Dressing
Heat a large skillet on high. Once the skillet is hot, add olive oil, lamb, garlic, Aleppo and sea salt. Cook the lamb on high heat for 15-20 minutes, until liquid evaporates and the lamb begins to caramelize, turning deep golden brown and slightly crisp. Transfer the lamb to a bowl and stir in pomegranate molasses. Set aside while you prepare the salad.
Prepare the fennel by chopping off the base and stem end. Slice the bulb in half lengthwise and cut out the hard core in the centre of each half. Thinly shave the fennel, either with a mandolin slicer, a knife or a food processor. Toss the shaved fennel in lime juice to soften it and preserve the white colour.
Divide the salad greens and shaved fennel over two plates and top with a mound of the lamb. Sprinkle over pistachios and mint leaves. Drizzle with Tahini-Lime Dressing and serve.