What’s the Big Deal About Gluten-Free?

2016-10-19

A trip to the local grocery store reveals more and more packaging and signage touting specific products as “gluten-free.” School cafeterias are asked to serve up gluten-free meals to select students. Do you know why? October is Celiac Disease Awareness Month (CDAM), and thus the perfect time to learn more about this medical condition that requires a complete avoidance of foods containing gluten.

Celiac disease is a genetic autoimmune disorder in which the small intestine is unable to break down gluten (most commonly found in products and ingredients made from wheat, rye and barley). The presence of gluten in the digestive system quickly leads to the corrosion of the lining of the small intestine and causes a range of serious digestive problems in those affected. The consequences of Celiac disease are more profound than those of a “gluten intolerance” or “gluten sensitivity,” although some of the symptoms are the same. Celiac disease can lead to malnutrition and permanent intestinal damage.

CDAM is an awareness-boosting campaign of The Celiac Support Association. This year, CDAM’s theme is to “Look Beyond the Surface.” Celiac disease is known as the “invisible illness,” because you can’t see its effects externally. It’s estimated that 1 in 141 people have the disease, but about 80% of them remain undiagnosed. This campaign is based on the principle that 60 seconds is enough time to inform anyone that Celiac disease is a serious condition. Watch this short video and share it on social media with the hashtag #60ForCeliac to help spread the message to others.

Eating meals outside the home can be a particular challenge for Celiac-suffers! It’s not just a matter of avoiding the bread basket, the pasta bowl or baked goods. Wheat and other sources of gluten are often hidden ingredients in products that you might not expect, such as salad dressing, gravies, processed lunch meats, soups and more. Accidental exposure and cross-contamination are real concerns–numbers show that 70% of those on a gluten-free diet are still found to be exposed to gluten.

You can support CDAM and increase awareness by doing some minimal Internet research and sharing what you learn (using the hashtag #CeliacDiseaseAwarenessMonth) with your students, as well as across all social media platforms. Want to take your awareness building efforts to the next level? Plan a series of quick training sessions with your team to review ingredient labels to identify foods containing gluten so that you can be more responsive to students—as well as family members and friends—who suffer from Celiac or other gluten-related conditions. Make time this month to do your part.

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