What is Celiac Disease?

As someone who has lived with the diagnosis of Celiac Disease for nearly three years, and having suffered from it for a decade before finding the root cause of my health problems, there is a great deal of confusion over what this disorder is when first diagnosed or trying to explain it to friends and family members.  I am not a doctor, but wanted to share this information in a personal way so that if you are diagnosed, or know someone who is, it will make understanding the issue easier.  This and other posts on celiac disease and living gluten free come from my own experience, reading lots of books and web articles, and conversations with my general practitioner (GP), as well as my gastroenterologist.

What is Celiac Disease?

You will find this disorder called be several different, though related, name:  Celiac Disease, Celiac Sprue, or Coeliac.  All of these are the same issue: a disorder that causes the immune system to attack gluten in the small intestine, leading to intestinal damage, and which results in nutritional absorption problems.  Though easily described as an allergy, it is not, it is an autoimmune disorder.

What are the Symptoms of Celiac Disease?

The symptoms of celiac disease can include abdominal pain, gas, bloating, indigestion, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and unexplained weight loss. Undiagnosed or untreated celiac disease can lead to nutritional absorption problems which may lead to secondary symptoms such as hair loss, depression, anxiety, fatigue, itchy skin, muscle cramps, joint pain, and even seizures.  Because celiac disease can effect the whole body the symptoms may seem unrelated to the immune system or digestion.

My primary symptom was diarrhea, which would happen within an hour or so of eating a gluten heavy meal, like pasta, pizza, sandwiches, or subs.  Initially, my diagnosis was Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), which lead to a phenomenon my GP at the time referred to as “bathroom counting” and said that once I knew where every public bathroom was in the area that my problem had probably advanced from mild or moderate to rather severe.  Once my youngest daughter was born, and we were trying to do more activities as a family, I realized how bad the symptoms had finally gotten pretty bad and needed to talk to my doctor about what was going on.  Before it was easy to stop in some place, visit a bathroom, and then continue on my journey.

What Are the Tests for Celiac Disease?

I underwent 4 different tests to check for celiac disease.  One was a simple blood test to look for two specific antibodies: antitissue transglutaminase antibodies (tTGA) and anti-endomysium antibodies (EMA).  One came back positive and the other inconclusive.  That was enough for my gastroenterologist to schedule me for a colonoscopy and upper endoscopy. Other than the preparation for the procedures, both were simple procedures that went well, and confirmed the initial blood tests and diagnosis: I had celiac disease.

Is there a Cure for Celiac Disease?

At this time there is no cure for Celiac Disease, but it can easily be controlled by going on a gluten free diet.   Once my doctor confirmed the diagnosis he ordered a gluten free diet and included some pamphlets on how and what to eat, as well as literature on a local and national support group, the Gluten Intolerance Group.

What is a Gluten Free Diet?

A gluten free diet is one that does not contain any ingredients derived from wheat, barley, rye, or contaminated oats.  Finding these on a nutritional label is fairly straight forward.  However, it is products derived from wheat, barley, and rye that can get someone with celiac disease in trouble.  These following items may include gluten:

Food Starch (unless the starch is declared, such as “Corn Starch”)
Modified Food Starch (unless the starch is declared, such as “Modified Corn Starch” or “Corn Starch, modified”)
Vinegar (unless it says that it is distilled or apple cider)
Yeast,  Yeast Extract, Nutritional Yeast, Brewers Yeast (Torula Yeast is OK)
Malt Flavoring
Caramel Color (if made outside the United States.  Caramel Color from the U.S. is made from corn)

How Long Before the Healing Begins?

The amount of time it takes to recover from the damage caused by celiac disease will vary by each individual.  If someone has gone a long time without a diagnosis it may take longer for their body to heal, but I have not heard of any cases where the body cannot or will not recover.  Within 4 days of beginning a strict gluten free diet it my symptoms went away.   From conversations with my gastroenterologist he said that it would take 6-8 weeks for my small intestine to recover from the damage and my body would begin absorbing nutrients properly again.

What Happen if I Eat Gluten After Being Diagnosed?

Your symptoms may return.  But once you go back on the gluten free diet, they will go away again and your body will heal.

With so many foods to choose from, it is easy to grab something you think is gluten free only to realize it isn’t.  Recently I was eating having some potato chips at a friend’s house, chips that I had read the label on before and said were gluten free,  when I looked at the label on the current bag and there was the allergen warning: CONTAINS WHEAT. The manufacturer changed the recipe, and I hadn’t thought to check to see if it was safe.  Too late.  I had eaten gluten.  The next morning I had some issues, but they cleared up quickly.  Be careful, read labels, and do your best.

How Long Must I Stay Gluten Free with Celiac Disease?

If you are a big fan of breads, cakes, and pastas, it can be disheartening to hear this, but you must remain on a gluten free diet for life. There is no cure and even though the symptoms go away, they will return if you start eating gluten again.

Where Can I Buy Gluten Free Foods?

Many grocery stores now have gluten free foods in their health food section or scattered among the regular items.  My local grocery stores, Giant and  Weis, do a mix of these methods, with specialty items like gluten free granola and gluten free baked goods in the health food section, and gluten-free versions of regular products, like Bisquick, in the aisle with the normal product and a gluten free tag on the shelf.

I have found, however, that one of the best retailers to buy gluten free foods from is Amazon.com.  They have one of the largest selections, often with bulk offerings, and with the subscribe and save option on many items, you can set up regular deliveries of your gluten free staples and save an extra 15%.  Follow any of the links below to look through the gluten free options on some staple products.

Gluten Free Bread
Gluten Free Cereal
Gluten Free Cookies
Gluten Free Pasta
Gluten Free Snacks
Gluten Free Soup
My Favorite Book on Celiace Disease:

Celiac Disease: A Hidden Epidemic
The cover on this book is unfortunate because it looks like an unreadable text book or medical reference, however, it is one of the most easy to read, straightforward books on celiac disease that I have encountered to date.  Tons and tons of useful information rest withing the covers especially on what foods and food additives are safe and which to avoid.

References and Additional Reading:

PubMed Health: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001280/
Mayo Clinic: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/celiac-disease/DS00319

Gardening With Children

When teaching children to garden, there are three items essential items: a hat, sunscreen, and insect repellent.  To make it more fun for children, and so they can emulate adults who are working along side them, a pair of gloves and set of work tools can also be added for little cost.

Bucket Hat

A good hat helps to protect our children from the sun, absorb sweat, provide shelter from a light rain, and overall keep them cooler so they can enjoy their time digging in the dirt. My favorite style of hat, for children or adults, is a bucket hat. These hats, if you haven’t see one, have a vertical crown, flat top, and a uniform brim around all the way around. Usually made of cotton or a cotton/poly blend, they are inexpensive if you buy one new, or can be purchased for a dollar or two at a thrift store or yard sale. My son has at least 5 of these hats right now because of grandparents and other family members picking them up for him when they see one they think will make him look cute. I thank them for getting a hat that will shield him from the elements, and is sized loosely enough that a spare one can be kept in the van for him or his sister.


Sunscreen is a point of much debate among myself and my friends with children.  Which sunscreen is the best?  Which sunscreen offers the best protection? What chemicals are used to block the UV rays?

I use a children’s continuous spray sunscreen, broad spectrum SPF 50, but am considering moving to a cream based product after having problems applying the fine spray in moderate winds even when shielding the can and spraying into my hand to be rubbed on. If you are concerned about the contents of your sunscreen, look for a product that uses zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as the main ingredient. Badger and Burt’s Bees both make well reviewed products and a friend of mine recommends California Baby, Jason, or Alba Botanical.

Insect Repellent

When it comes to insect sprays, I’m not a fan of DEET bug repellent, due to the damage it can do to synthetic fabrics and plastics which seem to be in abundance, or permethrin clothing treatments because of the list of potential warnings. That lead to a search for something that would offer protection and not be based on one of these ingredient. After trying a long list of natural bug sprays, a trip to Oregon introduced me to Liquid Net by the Liquid Fence company, which is based in my home state of Pennsylvania.

Now, I am what you might call a bug magnet. For example, on a camping trip I received over 100 mosquito bites, that I could count, while the victim with the next highest number in the group was in the low teens. Finding something that works is important or I am left to spend another summer either itching or wrapped up from wrist to toe. Surprisingly, after using Liquid Net I went bite free during a particularly bad mosquito season. Since then, I apply this whenever heading out of doors and have not had any serious bites to report since.

Liquid Net is a great product because it is effective, first and foremost, but it also goes on light, meaning it doesn’t leave any feeling of film or residue on the skin, has a pleasant smell, and a 12oz bottle lasts a long time. Oh, yeah, and did I mention it works? Really well. Compared to the cost of other DEET free products it is competitive, especially when you realize how long a bottle lasts. Liquid Net is a good value and will remain my insect spray of choice until it is no longer available.

Once these essentials are covered for you and your children’s foray out into the garden, now comes the accessories that make the time spend digging and planting more fun: Work Gloves and Tools.

Work Gloves

My children love wearing their own gloves because they get to look like Mommy and Daddy as they dig and gives them a sense that they are doing real work, not just playing. If they don’t have their gloves on, but the gardening tools are out, then they will dig in the dirt looking for dinosaur bones or so that they have a deep enough spot to put in rocks and make stone soup. Once they have their gloves on, it is time for business and they begin asking about what we are going to plant and start talking about where things should go and asking what they can do next to help get things ready. If only I was so collected as a 2 or 3 year old. From the stories my parents told it was always about what I could eat from the garden, not what I could help plant.

Finding good gardening gloves for children took quite some time. Once the search was over we bought each of our children a pair of gloves from Womans Work. The gloves come in two sizes, small, for 3-5 year old, and large for 6-9. The sizing is right on the mark. Both of our children’s hands fit in them nicely, even if it takes a bit of wrangling to get the littlest one’s hands in, and there is even a place for the child, or a parent, to write their name and have their very own set of gloves. Then they can get down to hard work while protecting their hands and I can relax knowing that getting their hands clean is one less task when we go inside.

Garden Tools

Now that their heads, skin, and hands are properly protected for in the garden, it is time to fill their hands with tools and set them loose in the garden under the watchful eye of their parents. Finding a good set of gardening tools for children was much easier, and less expensive, than I expected. The surprise came when the Lee Valley Tools and the Small Garden Tools Set. For under $10 you get a set of 6 tools: a wide trowel, four-prong cultivator, weeding fork, narrow trowel, two-prong cultivator, and weeder. Made of glass-fiber-reinforced polypropylene, they are light and easy for children to use, won’t rust, are brightly colored and easy to find if forgotten in the grass, and hold up to the elements if they are left behind. My children have used them heavily without an issue. Also, if you have never dealt with Lee Valley before, they stand behind their products and have one of the nicest customer service departments I have ever had the pleasure of working with.

Teaching our children at a young age to garden and spend time outdoors can lead to a life time of learning. As their parents, relatives, teachers, or mentor it is important to get them into the world so that they can grow and explore. With a few precautions and some inexpensive investments we can take them into the garden where they can play, and at the same time learn skills that will last them a lifetime.

Quinoa Cookies


For being such a whole grain, low sugar (4g/serving), cookie Andean Dream Quinoa Cookies are delicate, flavorful, and have a good texture.  Where some gluten free cookies feel like a mouthful of sand when you start to chew them, these come apart into big crisp crumbs that are a little chewy.  The orange essence is clean and lingers on the tongue for a few minutes after eating.  Each cookie is individually wrapped which makes them easy to grab and take with you.  Having bought quite a few boxes, since they were onsale, I toss some in my pocket whenever we are going out so I have a safe snack.