Best of Freshman Writing
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Last updateded July 2, 2012.
PSU – York
A genetically inherited autoimmune disorder, celiac disease is a “digestive disorder characterized by a toxic reaction to gluten, the protein found in certain grains” (Hasselback 3). Being hereditary and chronic, it is not an allergy to food. The only avoidance to pain and damage to the small intestines is to refrain from products containing gluten. Ingested gluten destroys the lining of the small intestine. Damage of the villi, the small, finger-like protrusions lining the intestines, prevents absorption of essential nutrients from food. The person affected with celiac disease then becomes malnourished.
Many people have numerous symptoms of celiac disease, but it is an under-diagnosed disease. Many doctors are not familiar with the disease, which makes proper diagnosis difficult. Some people think that doctors do not research and diagnose the disease because there are no prescriptions they can profit from. No medication to cure this disease exists. Due to the lack of awareness, in general, of the many ways that it can manifest itself, celiac disease takes an average of ten to twelve years to diagnose in most patients. Blood test screening is a process used to determine if gluten antibodies are present, “although an endoscopic biopsy of the small intestine is necessary before a formal diagnosis can be made” (Shepard ix).
People with celiac disease have other symptoms, such as severe tiredness, thyroid disease, bruising easily, hair loss, muscle cramps and joint pain, depression, mouth ulcers, seizures and tingling or numbness in the hands or feet, among others. These symptoms could easily be mistaken for other disorders, which further complicate the diagnosis.
Gluten is found in wheat, rye, barley and oats. These are the ingredients that must be avoided when cooking this special diet. Gluten is actually the “glue” that holds food together, making most gluten-free foods a crumbly mess. There are various flours that can be used as substitutes, such as xanthan gum, guar gum, black bean, brown rice, tapioca, amaranth, millet and potato. When cooking, you need to start with foods that do not contain gluten; therefore, all products used must be thoroughly checked and researched. Xanthan gum and guar gum are especially good substitutes that are used in baking. They add binding to products and moisture or chewy textures. Celiac patients need to avoid many starch products: cereal, bread, pasta bagels, baked goods (cookies, cakes, brownies), crackers, malt (which includes beer), pizza, pretzels and soy sauce, among many others.
Some products that are safe to be used are butter that does not contain natural flavoring and bacon that is not smoked. Light sour cream should not be used, since it probably has thickeners added. Brown sugar should be purchased without caramel coloring.
The availability of gluten-free products is becoming more abundant. Thousands more people are being diagnosed with celiac disease, resulting in the creation of more companies to produce better tasting products. The costs, however, are still very high in comparison to other foods. Originally, I could only find needed products in health food stores, but supermarkets, like Giant, Wegmans and Weis Markets, have since offered quite a selection of products.
The preparation for cooking gluten-free foods requires a totally clean work area, free from contaminants. One crumb of gluten could make a celiac severely ill. Plastic and wood can trap gluten if it is scratched or worn. Always use separate utensils for cooking. Teflon can trap gluten. Use pans lined with ceramic. All products that are gluten-free should be labeled as such, so as not to be mixed with damaging products. Paper products should be used instead of dish towels that could be contaminated.
Other family members may have difficulty keeping all areas clean and free of crumbs. A good example is a silverware drawer. Often, small crumbs of food can be found in the silverware drawer. This can be hazardous to those with celiac disease. My kitchen consists of two of everything: toasters, cutting boards, cooking utensils, pots and pans, measuring tools and anything else used to prepare food. My own toaster must be used because I cannot come into contact with any crumbs containing gluten.
Eating out at a restaurant is a tricky experience. Many servers do not know or understand the specifics of a gluten free diet. Last summer my husband and I went to a seafood restaurant at the beach. I ordered a seafood platter and asked for it to be free of gluten. When the server delivered the meal, there was a stuffed crab cake right in the middle of my meal. The crab cake was breaded, and contained gluten. I had to send the whole meal back and replace it with a new one. Because of this, I normally try to stick to restaurants that I know have a specific gluten free menu. Some examples are Chili’s, Smokey Bones, Outback Steakhouse and Logan’s Steakhouse. The servers are very aware of how to properly order a safe meal.
Some people avoid gluten, simply because they want to lose weight. It is a very popular diet for the stars in Hollywood right now. I think it is very interesting that someone would actually choose to be on this diet, not out of necessity. I agree that it works to lose weight, since I lost about ten pounds my first year after diagnosis. It is not, however, a diet I would chose if it did not affect my quality of living. The popularity does, however, force manufacturers to make more gluten-free options available.
The cost of gluten free products is much higher than other foods. For example, Oreo cookies cost about $3.49 per package. I discovered gluten free cookies that taste very similar to Oreo cookies made by Kinnikinnick Foods called Kinnitoos, and they cost about $5.49 per package. Another example is granola bars. A regular granola bar costs about $.50, but a gluten free granola bar costs about $1.25.
There are also psychological issues that affect those afflicted with this disease. Patients can have feelings of desolation and depression, feel like a freak because they are different from everyone else. It is difficult to go out to parties and events and relax like others, because they cannot choose foods from buffets or other areas that could have been cross-contaminated.
Initially, saying goodbye to cookies, cakes, pies and pasta trying. Adjusting to a gluten-free diet feels overwhelming at the onset, but after much practice and careful preparation, the diet can become a natural occurrence, without much thought. Those afflicted with celiac disease can begin healing and be on the road to a healthier, happier life.
Hasselback, Elisabeth. Deliciously Gluten-Free. New York: Ballantine Books , 2012. Print.
Korn, Danna and Connie Sarros. Gluten-Free Cooking for Dummies. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Publishing, 2008. Print.
Shepard, Jules E.D. Nearly Normal Cooking for Gluten-Free Eating. North Charleston, SC: Book Surge Publishing, Inc., 2006. Print.
Lisa Morrison's essay appears here with her express written permission and cannot be reproduced in any manner or fashion without her express written permission.