Managing Coeliac Disease

gluten free managing coeliac disease

Managing coeliac disease can be a challenge but it can be done and more importantly it must be done if you (or the person with this condition) is to enjoy having a good quality of life!

Read below for more tips from dietitian Lisa Cochrane (BSc. Grad Dip Diet.MPH).

There’s also a case study from my niece Christie Sym, who is a professional athlete and has been diagnosed with coeliac disease. Find out her strategies for a healthy ‘pain-free’ life and find out some of her favourite gluten free foods.

Tips for managing coeliac disease from Lisa Cochrane

  1.  Many gluten free foods like dairy foods and most fruits have a low GI. However many gluten free cereals have a high GI or their GI have not been measured. This often makes it difficult to select a low GI food at each meal. It’s great to know that rice vermicelli, gluten free corn tortillas, basmati and doongara rice are all lower GI gluten free cereals.
  2. It is possible to modify recipes to make them gluten free. If a recipe contains gluten flours or grains you can substitute these with a gluten free cereal or grain. For example one cup of plain wheat flour can be substituted with 1 cup of commercial gluten free plain flour or ½ cup of soy flour and ½ cup of potato flour.
  3. Many gluten free cereals are low in fibre. You can increase your fibre by including more fruit and vegetables into your eating plan. Dried fruit, nuts and legumes are also an excellent source of fibre.  These can often be added to your gluten free breakfast cereal or included in biscuit and cake recipes.
  4. It is still possible to eat out and purchase takeaway cakes and biscuits when you are on a gluten free eating plan.
  5. There is no day off from coeliac disease. Birthday parties provide a huge challenge for children. When your child has coeliac disease it is important that all gluten containing foods are avoided such as biscuits and gluten containing birthday cake. You may like to provide a gluten free cake, or slice of gluten free cake for your child and remember that the occasional gluten free chocolate or lolly is fine.
  6. Whether you have coeliac disease or not, the healthiest snack choice is fresh fruit.  There are many different ways you can prepare fruit. This includes frozen fruit, fruit platters, small quantities of dried fruit and fruit smoothies.
  7. If you are getting tired of gluten free bread why not vary your lunch with gluten free dry biscuits, corn chips or rice cakes and toppings such as cold meat, eggs and salad or rice or potato salad. If you have a microwave handy leftover risotto or gluten free pasta makes a great lunch.

Case study: Christie Sym

My gorgeous niece Christie was kind enough to let me interview her about her journey from pre-diagnosis through to her approach to managing Coeliac disease.

She was let down by the medical profession from an early age right through until her teens, suffering symptoms that went undiagnosed. Christie’s dream of being an international athlete seemed impossible, until she was successfully diagnosed. Christie says “I hope people can relate to my symptoms and challenges, and possibly think if I can handle it as an elite athlete that they too can learn to live with it.”

Christie Sym Ironman Texas
Christie at the Ironman Texas on May 19, 2012  (Photo used by permission from Larry Rosa)


Annette:     Tell me about your symptoms?

Christie:     My symptoms began at an early age, and went undiagnosed by many medical professionals. At the age of 4 or 5 I remember seeing multiple paediatric doctors about my weak and brittle nails, which we were told were a result of stress. I had dental cavities very young, I’m sure I was still in primary school, and remember the dentist telling mum to get me a fluoride mouth wash. Looking back, neither worrying nor fluoride were the problem, and these were early signs that the disease was already taking its toll on my body.

Throughout my teens I had terrible digestive symptoms, including diarrhea, stomach cramps, and incredible amounts of gas, to be honest pretty foul smelling at that. These were by far the most debilitating symptoms, and as a very active athlete caused a lot of pain and discomfort during and post exercise. It would not be unusual to find me curled up in the foetal position on the floor following a run. Not great considering I began competing at a national level and was training 2-3 times a day. On top of this my immune system was extremely fragile, and I seemed to be sick more often than not.


Annette:     What changed once you were diagnosed and knew not to have gluten in your diet?

Christie:     I quit gluten cold turkey the moment I left the doctor’s office. Within a week I felt like a new person, and continued to feel better every week over the following months. It was amazing, the digestive complaints disappeared, my hair and nails started growing at what seemed like an incredible rate, and I was no longer curling up on the floor after my runs.


Annette:     What is the hardest part for you about following a gluten free diet?

Christie:     The biggest challenge I face is when competing overseas, especially when there’s a language barrier. There have been a number of times that I’ve been eating canned peaches and creamed rice for dinner the night before a race! The other challenge is social gatherings like BBQ’s, especially when it comes to cross contamination. Most people don’t understand that you can’t just pick the croutons out of a salad, or cook my meat on the same BBQ as other gluten containing foods.


Annette:     How strict do you need to be?

Christie:     Zero tolerance, not even a bread crumb. I even have to be careful using other people’s toasters!


Annette:     What do you do when you go out to a restaurant or café?

Christie:     My friends and family are very understanding, and we try to pick restaurants that cater to gluten free. I still make sure I express how important it is that my food is 100% gluten free, and if I’m unsure I’ll go without. It’s a pain, but worth it – the consequences of slipping up cause me too much pain.


Annette:     What products do you recommend that you like such as bread, biscuits, cereals?

Christie:     In my opinion Naturis make by far the best gluten free bread, I love the fruit toast and rice loaf. I’ve grown to love quinoa porridge which you can buy at health stores and some supermarkets. Brands that I also find have great gluten free products are Food for Health, Brookfarm and Carmen’s. They each have various products such as muesli that will have your friends trying to swap bowls with you! Some other brands that cater for gluten free are Orgran and Freedom. (See below for website links)


Annette:     Now that you are aware of what you should and shouldn’t eat how has this improved your life?

Christie:     Being diagnosed and eating strictly gluten free has changed my life in ways I can’t begin to explain. I can now train and compete at a professional level without pain during or after, but most importantly I’m so much healthier! I look healthier, feel healthier, and am a much more confident person. I even started traveling overseas to compete which is something I had previously been too scared to do, as I was sick all the time.


Annette:     What 3 tips could you share with us for those who suffer this disease?
1.     Be strict, 100% of the time. Treat gluten like someone with a nut allergy would nuts.
2.     Look at being diagnosed as a positive step towards a better life.
3.     Don’t let coeliac disease impact on your social life. Most restaurants and cafes cater to gluten free needs, and don’t be scared to ask questions and express concern if you’re not confident they understand your needs.

Christie has been able to realise her dreams of becoming an international athlete, competing professionally in long course triathlon and Ironman World Championships; something that may not have been possible if it weren’t for the Coeliac disease diagnosis.

Website links for gluten free products

You might also like to read my blog – Changing to a gluten free diet