Chicago Sun-Times article–celiac disease vs. wheat allergy

Today at lunch with a really good friend she casually mentioned, ” Hey there was some article about gluten free in the Sun-Times yesterday.”  I asked, “Was it about allergies or celiac?” she said, “ I have no idea.”  I asked back, ” Do you know if Matthew has celiac or a wheat allergy?” Her response, “Whats the difference?”

Clearly there is a communication breakdown here with my good friend.  My response was, ” Matthew has an anaphylactic allergy to wheat. If Matthew eats a bit of wheat, there will be an immediate life threatening reaction.”  As I know it,  Celiac disease does not cause an immediate life threatening reaction.  It is more of a slow painful reaction to the ingested gluten including amoung other things hideous cramps and other horrible intestinal  issues.  I am not so conversant with symptoms and reactions of Celiac disease so please read on!

Gluten-free is more than just the latest health kick

April 21, 2010

What’s the deal with “gluten-free”?

Gluten is a protein that is extremely harmful to people with the autoimmune intestinal disorder celiac disease, and less harmful but still avoided by people with a gluten intolerance.

Celiac disease is very different from a food allergy. A food allergy leads to the body producing a specific reaction (itching or nasal, gastrointestinal or respiratory symptoms) after eating a certain food. For those with celiac disease, when gluten is ingested, the body experiences an autoimmune reaction that damages the tiny, hair-like projections in the small intestine. The damage inhibits proper nutrient absorption from foods.

Celiac disease is arguably one of the most common autoimmune disorders. According to the National Institute of Health, it affects 1 in 133 people; this amounts to approximately 3 million Americans.

Its prevalence is significantly underestimated. In fact, more Americans have celiac disease than type 1 diabetes, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis and cystic fibrosis combined.

When repeatedly exposed to gluten, those with celiac face an increased risk of both nutritional and immune-related disorders such as anemia, osteoporosis, GI cancers and nervous system disorders.

The only treatment for celiac disease is through adhering to a strict gluten-free diet. That means avoiding all products that contain gluten, which is in wheat (including durum, semolina, spelt, kamut, einkorn and faro), barley and rye.

Gluten can be found in cold cuts, soups, marinades, dressings, soy sauce, candies and chocolates.

Other possible hidden sources of gluten include: caramel color, artificial and natural flavor and color, smoke flavor, stock/gravy cubes, mixed spices or seasonings and dry-roasted nuts.

So how do those following a gluten-free diet find safe products to eat? They read labels for gluten-containing ingredients or look for gluten-free certification on food packages.

Still, the gluten-free diet can be hard to navigate and sometimes the list of “avoids” seems endless. I have had a lot of experiencing reading labels and agree they can be tricky to navigate, especially for those on a gluten-free diet.

My best advice: Read the labels and, if you’re still not sure, contact the manufacturer for further clarification. It’s not worth the risk!

If you have a food allergy or intolerance, or are cooking for someone who does, it is important that you respect their requests, as the consequences can be life-threatening.

For some, gluten-free may be the new trendy health kick, but celiacs will not be ditching this diet any time soon.

Phil Lempert is the editor of and reports on the latest trends on NBC’s “Today” show, ABC’s “The View” and local Chicago news programs. E-mail

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