Saturday, September 25, 2010

Tummy troubles

How a little thing called gluten can play havoc on little tummies
Warning: don’t read this if you’re still eating your breakfast...
When I was pregnant I suffered from severe stomach cramps.
Being of stubborn mind, I thought I could do a self-diagnosis without my doctor.
It was either irritable bowel syndrome or gastroenteritis or giardia or Coeliac disease or constipation.
How clever am I to work that out?
I ended up seeing my doctor, but not without first trying a gluten-free diet which is what those with Coeliac disease must do.
And it was not easy.
In fact, I realised that almost everything I ate contained gluten, not just bread and pasta.
There’s gluten in biscuits, soy sauce, stock, barbecue sauce, sausages, crackers, gravy powder, Vegemite, meusli bars, breakfast cereals, pastries, Milo and salad dressings.
And there can be hidden gluten in everything from baked beans, to toothpaste, to lipstick!
I could no longer enjoy a muffin with my morning coffee, or get a takeaway pizza on the weekend.
But instead I frequented the health food shops and health food aisles of the supermarkets to stock up on gluten-free products.
While I don’t have Coeliac disease, my little diet experiment was a huge eye-opener.

Coeliac disease is one of the most under-diagnosed, yet most common chronic diseases and, if left undiagnosed may lead to the possibility of severe consequences such as bowel cancer and osteoporosis.
Coeliac disease affects about one in 100 people in Australia, but astonishingly 75 per cent of people don’t know they have it.
It is an auto-immune disease which means that the body produces antibodies that attack its own tissues.
For people with Coeliac disease, this is triggered by gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and oats.
So by removing the cause of the disease, gluten, it allows abnormalities, particularly in the small bowel lining, to recover.
As long as the gluten-free diet is adhered to, problems arising from Coeliac disease should not return.
Over the past few years there has been much more awareness of gluten in foods, and subsequently, there are now a number of gluten-free recipe books that have been published, as well as an increase in gluten-free food in our supermarkets.
Unfortunately, many children suffer from Coeliac disease or gluten intolerance, so it can be  tough time for parents eliminating certain foods from their child’s diet.
One mum I know said she noticed her daughter’s tummy would swell after eating when she was around 18 months of age.
The general consensus from friends seemed to be that it was a normal toddler tummy from eating too much, but by the time she was two years old, she knew something wasn’t quite right.
Then she had a week of white poos in her nappy, so she was given a referral from her doctor to see a paediatrician
At first they suggested removing dairy from her diet, but that didn’t seem to help, so she was then given blood tests, followed by a gastroscopy and biopsy, to test for Coeliac disease.
The results were positive, and it came as a shock to the family who didn’t expect such a diagnosis.
“At first I was devastated and couldn’t seem to take it in,” she said.
“My baby had Coeliac disease and couldn’t ever eat gluten again. She could never just go out with her friends for pizza or live a normal life.”
The family was then taken on a steep learning curve of what it’s like to eat without gluten.
“It was tricky at times learning how to cook gluten-free, and we’ve had our share of disasters in the kitchen, but we’ve had successes too,” she said.
One of the hardest aspects is that in her house, there are still family members who still love bread.
She says she tries to keep half her kitchen gluten-free, and has colour-coded Tupperware to help sort out the wheat flours from the gluten-free flours.
However, she has to be careful of cross-contamination, making sure benches are wiped down thoroughly and even using two bread bins, and two different pasta strainers.
“When my daughter has eaten gluten by accident, the results seem to become more extreme as her body grows... even a few crumbs will make her vomit,” she said.
But what about birthday parties and other social occasions?
“We almost always need to take her food with us and I worry about her being different to everyone else,” she said.
“However, she has coped well with understanding that she can’t eat the same as other people.”
Eating gluten-free can also put a strain on your grocery budget.
A packet of gluten-free pasta can cost eight times the cost of pasta for a regular family.
So I have great respect for families who must stick to this gluten-free lifestyle for the rest of their lives. It’s certainly not an easy journey, but one that puts their health first.
If you or your children have any symptoms, especially if there is a history of the disease in your family, be sure to visit your doctor for a proper diagnosis.
* The Coeliac Society provides support and information on the disease, gluten-free diets, ingredients, recipes, education and resources for children requiring a gluten-free diet. Visit their website at


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