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When you’ve been told that you or one of your family members has been diagnosed with Coeliac Disease, it can be quite an overwhelming time. Overhauling the diet to be completely gluten free sounds like hard work. And initially it can be. It can help to focus on what you CAN eat, rather than dwelling on what you can’t eat.

There may be some initial nutritional deficiencies that need to be addressed in the newly diagnosed Coeliac. This will be guided by your healthcare professional, but some common deficiencies are Iron, Magnesium, Zinc, B Vitamins and Vitamin D. Intake of essential fatty acids may also need to be increased. All of these deficiencies can be addressed with a balanced GF diet. Nutritional supplements may be advised if the deficiencies are significant, especially if the disease has been undiagnosed for some time.

Probiotics may also be considered, particularly if gastrointestinal symptoms have been present, as this may have caused an imbalance in the healthy bacteria in the gut. Your healthcare professional can prescribe the right probiotic strain to meet your needs.

Challenge No. 1 – Cross contamination:

Consider whether you’d like the whole household to be GF, or just the family member with Coeliac Disease. If other members of the household are choosing to eat gluten, then it’s really important that they all know how to prevent cross contamination. For example, if a cutting board and knife is used to make sandwiches, then they need to be cleaned thoroughly before the GF food is handled with that same board and knife (or always prepare the GF food first, to avoid contamination with gluten). Toasters are an item that rarely gets thought of, but to be strictly GF, have a separate toaster for GF bread, or use the grill to toast.

Food items that are likely to get cross contaminated include anything that might be spread on bread such as butter and jam, so have separate containers for these and clearly mark them as GF so that a knife that’s been dragged across gluten bread doesn’t then get used in the jam that the GF family member will be using. Any porous kitchen utensils (i.e. wooden) should be marked for use for gluten or gluten free, and labelled as such.

Have a think about your kitchen and look at where cross contamination might occur.

Challenge No. 2 – Reading the labels:

Enjoying a whole foods diet is one of the easiest ways to avoid gluten. Fresh fruit and vegetables and whole proteins are GF. Buying packaged food requires some care, as there is hidden gluten in many products (such as soy sauce, vegemite, gravy powder, marinades, sausages, vegetarian meat substitutes, instant soups, frozen potato chips, and many other packaged products).

Be strict about reading labels and become familiar with ‘code words’ for wheat, such as spelt, semolina, malt, triticale, farro, durum, brewer’s yeast, kamut and there are many more.

You will find that many products are now labelled as GF which makes life a whole lot easier when it comes to grocery shopping. There are also many products that are GF that don’t have this specifically stated on them, so remember to check the ingredients so that you aren’t excluding some of your favourite treats unnecessarily. You’ll also find that you get to know what products suit your family which will also make shopping faster and easier.

Challenge No. 3 – Eating Out:

Fortunately, eating out when you’re GF has become easier for those with Coeliac Disease, as there is greater awareness in the community and most cafes and restaurants clearly state on their menus what the GF options are. It can also help to phone ahead when you are planning where to eat to make sure that the restaurant can cater for GF eating. If the staff aren’t sure, stick to whole foods with no sauces/dressings. This can be in the form ofsimple foods such as salads, steamed vegetables (not fried, like chips), eggs and grilled meat (with no coatings such as batter or crumbs).

The less the food is handled in the kitchen, the less likely it is to have exposure to gluten.

Challenge No. 4 – Kids Eating Gluten Free:

Sometimes, it can be easier just to make the whole household GF, so that the child can feel safe that they can eat anything in the house, and also, you don’t then have to worry about cross contamination. This can also help with a child that doesn’t want to feel different to the rest of the family.

If the house isn’t totally gluten free, then educate other household members about the importance of keeping gluten items separate from GF items, whether they be food or utensils used to handle food. It can help to have a section of your pantry and fridge that are GF so that everyone knows where the GF food is.

Many recipes can be adapted to be GF, and sometimes it’s as simple as substituting gluten free pasta in a spaghetti sauce. There are hundreds of great blogs with kid friendly GF recipes – just start searching and you’ll find some favourites that have food that your family will love.

When you have a GF child going to school, inform the school of your child’s GF status, and explain to your child that they can’t swap food with friends. If this is a big issue for your child, then pack some extra food in their lunch box that they can give to friends so they don’t feel left out. Use Toast Bags for sleep overs/school camps, etc. These are little bags that cover the bread so it can be popped into a communal toaster and be toasted. These can be bought at some supermarkets, or from the Coeliac Society.