GFG: Let’s start with the basics. What is celiac disease?
Sherry Torkos: Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease triggered by consumption of gluten. In people with celiac disease, consumption of gluten stimulates the immune system to produce antibodies that attack the small intestine and many other body tissues, causing widespread inflammation and damage. This results in digestive problems, impaired nutrient absorption, a variety of physical and emotional symptoms and serious health risks. In most cases, the damage is reversible once gluten is excluded from the diet.
Who is at risk and why?
Celiac disease affects nearly 1% of Canadians. Genetics plays a role in who will develop celiac disease. Studies have shown that the familial occurrence of the disease ranges from 10% to 22%. There are 3 things required for a person to develop celiac disease:
1. Genetic disposition – carrying the genes associated with the disease
2. Trigger – exposure to an environmental, emotional or physical event, such as adolescence, pregnancy, childbirth, infection, surgery, an accident or stressful situation
3. Diet – eating foods that contain gluten, such as wheat, rye and barley or their derivatives
What kinds of food contain gluten?
Gluten is present in many foods, including breads, pasta, cereals, cookies, cakes and pie. These are the obvious sources, but it is also “hidden” and not so obviously found in many sauces, marinades, spices, coatings and thickeners. It is also present as an additive in some drugs and vitamin supplements.
Speaking of vitamins, is it important for people with celiac disease to take vitamins or nutritional supplements?
As a pharmacist I am often asked this question. The answer depends on many factors: state of health, age, lifestyle, diet, use of medications and other factors that can impact nutritional status (such as stress, smoking, drug use).
For many people, nutritional supplements can play an important role in optimizing health. The majority of people with celiac disease suffer for a long time prior to diagnosis. The intestinal damage caused by years of ingesting gluten can be quite significant. Since nutrient absorption occurs through the intestine, undiagnosed celiac disease can result in malnutrition and signs of nutrient deficiency, such as anemia, skin rash, fatigue, poor cognitive function and stunted growth of hair and nails. It may take several months for the intestines to heal on a strict gluten-free diet. Despite even the best efforts to follow the diet strictly, inadvertent ingestion of gluten can occur and this can compromise the health of the intestines and the ability to absorb nutrients. Lastly, the gluten-free diet, while healthy, can be lacking in certain nutrients. Gluten-free flours are typically lower in fibre and not enriched with iron and B vitamins. Nutritional supplements can help facilitate healing of the body, aid digestion and compensate for possible dietary deficiencies.
Click “more” to see what supplements people with celiac disease should consider taking…
For her birthday, we partied like it’s 1999.
OK, we’ll admit, we went overboard this year because we were eager to try out different baked goods from some of the exhibitors who will be at the Gluten Free Garage. The best gluten-free bakers in town are coming to this event! For a list of the who’s who, check out our Exhibitors page.
Now back to the birthday girl.
Franny turned 5 a few days ago. Unlike her big sister, she does not have celiac disease. Though she doesn’t eat gluten at home because our house is a gluten-free zone, she sometimes eats food with gluten when she goes to friends’ houses, when we visit family members and when we eat out. She and I used to have “gluten Tuesdays”—after her music class we would go a bakery and she would get to indulge in a fresh, soft bagel or yummy muffin or flaky croissant. Franny understands that Lily cannot eat gluten but that she can. Oftentimes when she eats something really delicious she’ll look at me and ask: “Mommy, is this gluten?” And it usually is.
When the kids were quite little I was really getting into baking. Both of my grandmothers were incredible bakers and some of my most cherished memories of them involved baking—whether I was licking the bowl after helping my Nana Lil make her famous mandelbread (I dream of that batter!) or sprinkling chocolate chips into my Bubby Fran’s beloved banana cake. I yearned to create memories like that with my children.
But then Lily got diagnosed with celiac disease and my kitchen was turned upside down. There was a big learning curve. Shopping now took me hours: scrutinizing every label and constantly referring to my bible—the pocket-sized Guide to Acceptability of Foods and Food Ingredients for the Gluten-Free Diet (written by registered dietitian Alexandra Anca, who will be on-hand at the Gluten Free Garage!). I had to adapt to cooking gluten free, so baking fell by the wayside.
And then I started to miss it. So I began to learn about gluten-free flours and what and how much to substitute. There were words like xantham gum and guar gum. I got a scale because one of my favourite gluten-free bloggers, the Gluten Free Girl, says it’s best to bake by weight. Baking soda: GF or not? I found it all so daunting that I started to dabble in mixes. And some were OK but I wanted to bake like my grandmothers, from scratch.
I bought a whack of gluten-free cookbooks and found some great gluten-free recipes online and now I have a few home-baked staples that we all love. But at some point, I kind of gave up on my desire to be the mom who bakes birthday cakes from scratch. This was around the same time the kids started going to friends’ birthday parties with cakes adorned with princesses and other Disney characters. They wanted Ariel on their cake! My Little Pony! Luckily my mother-in-law gives the Cake Boss a run for his money, but I couldn’t push my luck. She bakes the cakes for family birthday celebrations; I wasn’t about to ask her to whip them up for kid parties too.
So for three years I did what any mother afraid of gluten-free baking would do: I convinced Franny that she wanted an ice-cream cake in October and I told Lily that cupcakes were way better than cake.
Until Franny turned 5 and asked for a Barbie cake. After wrapping my head around the thought that she’s only 5 and already into Barbie, I thought, why not? I played with Barbie dolls and I turned out OK (my husband might say this is up for debate). I decided to go to Loblaws and get a Barbie cake for Franny and buy Lily a gluten-free cupcake. But then I felt bad for Lily. She’s always the kid at every birthday party who can’t eat the cake the other kids are scarfing down. Why would I exclude her at her own sister’s celebration?
And herein lies the modern-day celiac mama’s dilemma: Where to get a gluten-free cake with Barbie on it?
On a hunch, I called up Goodbye Gluten, our go-to store for one-stop 100% gluten-free shopping. They make delicious baked goods (all free of gluten, nuts and dairy) and their store is super kid-friendly. Whenever we go there, Lily has a field day because she knows that she can have it all. Most importantly, I can trust that there is no risk of cross-contamination when I buy their baked goods and prepared foods. Surely, Goodbye Gluten can make a gluten-free Barbie cake!
And they did. Because that’s what they do: cater to the gluten-free community and to those with food allergies. Franny got to choose the flavour of her cake (vanilla), the colour of the icing and even the hair colour of her Barbie. When we brought it to the table, she was blown away by the sight of her pinkalicious Barbie cake. As she gobbled up the first bites, she turned to me and asked: “Mommy, is this gluten?” She ate her Barbie birthday cake…and Lily got to eat it, too!
Stay tuned for more GF birthday goodies…we’re milking this birthday!