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Avoiding gluten

Avoiding gluten

By Holly Ebel

lifestyle@postbulletin.com

local celiac support group, their families and friends will be part of a nationwide effort to raise awareness and research funds through the National Walk for Celiac Disease Awareness and Research at Silver Lake.

"This disease can strike anyone any time, regardless of age or sex," said Ivy Pillers, a consultant

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foodp By Holly Ebel

lifestyle@postbulletin.com

It's hard to think of food as the enemy, but for those suffering from celiac disease, it can be. Foods that most of us eat without thinking -- a slice of toast, a cookie, a bagel -- can make them desperately ill.

Saturday the local celiac support group, their families and friends will be part of a nationwide effort to raise awareness and research funds through the National Walk for Celiac Disease Awareness and Research at Silver Lake.

"This disease can strike anyone any time, regardless of age or sex," said Ivy Pillers, a consultant at Mayo Clinic and herself a victim of the disease.

Celiac disease is a condition caused by an intolerance to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, rye and possibly oats, "though we are not yet sure about that," she said.

The gluten damages the lining of the small intestine, making it almost impossible to absorb nutrients from foods. The symptoms are much like those for irritable bowel syndrome: abdominal gas, diarrhea, anemia and bloating.

With the proper diet the small intestine begins to heal itself. "The diet, however, has to be a lifelong commitment," she said.

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Even though many people have never heard of it, Pillers is very familiar with the disease, since her mother has had it for years.

"As long as I can remember she was cooking differently and looking for gluten-free products. At the time they were difficult to come across."

Because there can be a genetic predisposition to the condition, Pillers was tested several years ago and a diagnosis of celiac disease was made, even though she was symptom-free at the time. That prompted her to have her own family tested. Her 5-year-old daughter, Peggy, tested positive. Her son did not. Her father also was recently diagnosed with celiac disease.

So what is the cure? "There is not any cure per se," Pillers said. "We all just have to stick to a gluten-free diet. At first that can be a challenge and even a nuisance, but there are a wide variety of gluten-free products on market shelves these days, so that is a huge help."

It would seem a special challenge to keep a child on a special diet, but Pillers says her daughter deals with it very well with help from family and teachers.

"Peggy knows how sick she can get if she does not follow the diet, but we think she has adapted very well," she said.

"One of the biggest concerns we have is cross contamination. Even the smallest crumb from wheat can trigger a reaction, so she and I have our own separate toaster and jar of peanut butter."

There are many foods that do not contain gluten: Plain meats (hold the sauce), fruits, vegetables, rice, potatoes and most dairy products. There are also gluten-free flours for baking breads and cookies.

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"Overall, there are probably as many foods that we can eat as we cannot," Pillers said. "Celiac sufferers also learn to be very good label readers."

For birthday parties, Pillers bakes cupcakes and takes one for the birthday child and one for Peggy. At a recent pizza party Pillers baked a gluten-free crust and then added the regular toppings.

"I do not want her to feel different from her peers and so far she does not," Pillers said.

Pillers said celiac disease is more common than the general population may think, with one in 300 people suffering from it. However, she is quick to note that those with the disease should not feel isolated.

"In our area there are support groups and newsletters and even some restaurants such as Outback that have printouts of gluten-free food choices," she said. "The general population is becoming more aware and we hope this walk will add to that awareness."

Holly Ebel of Rochester is a free-lance writer.

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