If you have celiac disease, you probably know that if you pig out on pizza or have an extra-big sub sandwich, bad things can start happening in your gut! You may get stomach cramps or your stomach can pooch out – you might even get a bad case of diarrhea! Yuck!

So why is this happening? And what kind of diet should you follow if you have celiac disease? Let’s find out!

A Little Bit about Celiac Disease

Celiac disease is what we call an autoimmune disorder. This means that your body is basically attacking itself! In the case of celiac disease, when you eat a food with gluten in it, your body mounts a response to the gluten. This response causes inflammation (and pain!). It can also lead to damage in your intestines. Your intestines contain thousands of tiny, finger-like projections called villi. It is these villi that suck up the nutrients in the foods you eat. If they are damaged, this can make it harder for your body to get vitamins and minerals, for example, and this can cause a lot of health problems later on.

The only way to stop having these tummy problems when you eat is to follow a gluten-free diet.

What’s Allowed on a Gluten-Free Diet?

Want to hear some good news? There are actually TONS of things you can eat when you are on a gluten-free diet! This diet includes:

  • Eggs and dairy products
  • Fresh meats
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Beans
  • Seeds and nuts (if you aren’t allergic!)
  • Gluten free grains like corn, rice, and gluten-free oats.

Nowadays, lots of people are going gluten-free. It is easier than ever to go to the store and buy gluten free bread, pizza crust, cake mix, pancake mix – pretty much anything you can think of. This means that your diet doesn’t have to look or feel weird just because you are giving up the gluten! You can have pretty much what other kids are having, just a gluten-free version of it.

What’s Not Allowed on a Gluten-Free Diet?

Okay, here’s the bad news. There are also TONS of things you should not eat if you are trying to avoid gluten. Since gluten is found in wheat, barley and rye, thins to avoid include:

  • Regular bread, cookies, cakes and other baked goods
  • Regular pizza crusts and wheat tortillas
  • Stuffing or dressing made from regular bread
  • Regular hamburger or hot dog buns

Watch for Hidden Gluten!

Unfortunately, it is easy to accidently get off your gluten free diet if you eat a food with hidden gluten in it! Things to watch out for include:

  • Prepackaged/canned soups
  • Sausage
  • Deli or lunch meats
  • Imitation seafood (like imitation crab meat)
  • Prepackaged vegetables in a sauce
  • Malt syrup or malt extract or flavoring (which is made from barley)
  • Rye bread
  • Seasoned rice dishes
  • Seasoned snacks
  • Some TV dinners
  • Gravies or sauces
  • Salad dressings
  • Salad croutons
  • Breaded, fried food (like fried chicken or fried fish)

If your mom and dad buy any processed food – that is, any food out of a can, box or other package – they will have to read the label carefully to make sure that they truly are getting a gluten free product.

Also, beware! Wheat is not always labeled as “wheat” on the box! Products with other forms of wheat, such as graham, semolina, farina, triticale, durum or einkorn also need to be avoided. Also, “wheat-free” does not mean “gluten free”! A wheat-free product can still contain gluten from barley or rye.

A Gluten Free Day

So what does a gluten free day look like? Here are some examples for gluten-free meals throughout the day.

  • Breakfast: baked oatmeal with fruits and nuts scrambled eggs with spinach and mushrooms and a fresh fruit salad with gluten free toast
  • Lunch: Potato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich with gluten free bread, an individual veggie supreme pizza with gluten free crust,
  • After-School Snack: Fresh vegetables with a yogurt-ranch dip, hummus with gluten-free chips, slices of apples and pears with a peanut butter dip.
  • Dinner: Chicken enchiladas with made with corn tortillas, gluten free pasta with spaghetti sauce and meatballs, beef and veggie stir-fry over rice.

Cafeterias and Restaurants

This can make it hard to eat in the school cafeteria, for instance, since so many foods there have wheat. Many kids with celiac disease just bring a packed lunch from home so they can be sure that they are not getting any gluten accidently. Some schools, however, have gluten free alternatives for kids with celiac disease.

This can also make eating out a challenge. Going to a fast food restaurant is REALLY hard since everything is put on a bun or rolled up in the wrap! When you do go to a restaurant, look the menu over carefully and have your mom or dad ask about what is in a certain dish if you are not sure. You might also want to ask your mom and dad to look for gluten-free restaurants if you live in a bigger city.

Diet Supplements

Even if you are following all the rules for a gluten free diet, sometimes your body just has a hard time getting nutrients from the foods that you eat! In this case, your doctor will talk to your parents about which supplements will help you feel your best. A supplement is like a medication, but you get it at a regular grocery store or health food store. Doctors will often suggest that you supplement your diet with things like iron (so you don’t get a condition called anemia) or Vitamin D, calcium and magnesium (to keep your bones healthy and strong).

So now you’ve got the low-down on a gluten free diet. It can seem like a lot to take in, but once you have the basic rules down pat, you will find that it is fairly easy to manage your celiac disease through diet — and keep that pain and bloating at bay!