“Isn’t it hard to live without bread?...what do you eat?...I feel so sorry for you!”
These are just a few of the many awkward questions and comments I have been subject to on a regular basis, being 1 in 133 people diagnosed with celiac disease (CD) in Canada. Current research suggests that up to 15% of the North American population may have some form of gluten intolerance. The only way to manage CD is by adhering to a gluten-free diet. Gluten is a protein found in many grains including wheat, barley and rye. As for my responses – they became automatic, often given before the questions were posed: “I was diagnosed as a baby…I’m used to it…there are far worse health problems…it's just like a food allergy.”
Truth told, CD is not just like a food allergy. It is a life-long autoimmune and gastrointestinal disease, often linked to other autoimmune diseases. If left untreated, CD can wreak havoc on many systems of the body, including the musculo-skeletal system, which happened in my case. I have battled osteoporosis, serious vitamin deficiencies, chronic pain and a slew of other health problems - all linked to CD. If undiagnosed or poorly managed, CD can lead to numerous health complications and can even lead to cancer.
Diagnosis for my parents and I (although time consuming) was a huge relief, yet quite a challenge at a time when gluten-free products were a rarity. We had to travel from Toronto to Kingston to source out the only gluten-free bread and baked goods available. My parents could not send me to overnight camp because at that time camps would not accommodate children with food allergies. I was the odd child out at birthday parties and special occasions, gratefully receiving icing from the cake and cheese from the pizza (with lots of odd stares!).
As a child, teen and young adult I managed my gluten-free lifestyle as best as possible with an interesting new gluten-free find here and there. It wasn’t until I had my own children that I began to notice North America enter a ‘food revolution’. Much to my surprise, gluten-free suddenly became glamorous! Perhaps in part due to fear of my children inheriting CD, I began to find an increasing number of restaurants, bakeries and the like offering gluten-free options. And the trend is increasing. Each time I learn about a new gluten-free ‘find’ I continue to get very excited. That little girl inside me still can’t believe she can actually bite into the pizza, crust and all!
Although my children (thankfully) have not inherited CD, I still feel the pain that parents of children with CD experience and I understand the many challenges they face. There isn’t a cure for CD yet, however, there is an abundance of gluten-free options available. This awareness, coupled with the challenges I have faced has led me to develop GlutenFreeFind.com (currently under construction, but launching Fall 2011!) which provides information about everything gluten-free and great in Canada. The goal of the site is to help the child in all of us find the yummy in gluten-free. At least this Mummy has!