For those living with celiac disease, a gluten-free lifestyle is a medical necessity.
When Clarice Schulz, 79, was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2000, she found the answers to her questions about her bloating, stomach aches and other inexplicable symptoms.
Since eliminating gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and triticale, from her diet, Schulz said she feels like a new woman.
“I am much healthier and I have lots of energy,” said Schulz, of Red Deer.
Celiac disease is a permanent intolerance to gluten. Celiacs who eat products with gluten like bread, cereal, pasta and cookies can do serious damage to their small intestine.
Some common symptoms are anemia, chronic diarrhea, weight loss, fatigue, cramps and bloating and irritability. In some cases, celiacs develop a skin disorder called dermatitis herpetiformis.
There’s no cure for celiac disease and the best treatment is to rule out gluten from your diet.
Schulz said in 2000 there was few choices in grocery stores or restaurants for people who could not tolerate gluten.
“We thought we died and gone to heaven with what’s available now,” laughed Schulz.
In the early days, Schulz learned what she could eat through trial and error.
She would bring in her own gluten-free buns or bread to make a sandwich at restaurants which didn’t go over well with the wait staff. Even a small amount of gluten can cause problems for celiacs so they must be mindful of cross contamination when gluten-free food comes in contact with food containing gluten.
These days Schulz is an expert at reading labels, quizzing waiters at restaurants, and calling the 1-800 numbers on items such as personal hygiene products, spices, teas and coffee. Schulz said she has learned to question the ingredients in everything from vitamins, prescriptions to make-up.
Schulz said several restaurants in Red Deer now cater to gluten-free needs.
While she prefers to make her own food, Schulz does eat out occasionally and when she does she hands the waiter a card from the Canadian Celiac Association. The card explains her dietary needs as a celiac so people do not assume they are on a “trendy” diet and not take them seriously.
“It’s a strict gluten-free diet for life,” said Schulz. “If you cheat you know you’re in trouble.” Schulz said she doesn’t miss any kind of food because there is more variety of gluten-free food.
Schulz is a member of the Red Deer Celiac Support Group, a satellite chapter of the Canadian Celiac Association. The support group meets every third Tuesday of the month at the coffee lounge at south Sobeys (5211 22 Street) in Red Deer. The group hosts guest speakers, share information on living gluten-free and provide recipe tips and support. The next meeting is May 15.
For more information on the local support group call 403-341-4351 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For information on the newly formed Stettler Celiac Support Group, call Val Charles at 403-742-5217 or information on celiac disease visit www.celiac.ca.