Coping with celiac disease

My son was recently diagnosed with celiac disease. What exactly does this mean, and how can I safely modify his diet?

Having a child who is diagnosed with celiac disease can seem overwhelming at first. But it is manageable by reading labels, and making sure his new diet is well balanced.

Celiac disease is characterized by a food allergy to gluten, a protein found in some grains. Now that your son has been diagnosed with celiac disease, it’s very important that he avoid all food products that contain gluten. People with celiac disease who eat foods containing gluten experience an immune reaction in their small intestines, causing damage to the inner surface of the small intestine and an inability to absorb certain nutrients. Repeated ingestion of gluten can even cause nutrient deficiency-related diseases, such as iron deficiency anemia and decreased bone density.

Common foods that may contain gluten are breads, cereals, pasta, pizza, cakes, pies and cookies. When you go food shopping, be sure to carefully check the labels on packages for gluten. Certain kinds of soups, sauces, syrups and even luncheon meats may also have gluten.

While this may sound like a lot of food to avoid, don’t worry, your son still has a variety of dietary options that are available to him. Since grains are a vital component of a healthy diet, many food manufacturers make gluten-free breads, cereals and pastas. These products should have a label that says “gluten-free.” Corn tortillas, homemade breads, biscuits, or muffins made from gluten-free flour, rice cereals, rice cakes, cornflakes, and brown, wild, or white rice are also good gluten-free grain products.

To ensure that your son will get the nutrients he needs, he may have to take a daily vitamin or mineral supplement. Consult with a doctor or a registered dietician about the supplement that’s best for your child.

In addition to a supplement, it’s also important that he maintains a balanced diet. Be sure he gets several daily servings of fresh fruits and vegetables; calcium-rich products, such as low-fat yogurt or milk; foods that contain iron, like poultry or nuts; and foods with B12, such as eggs and seafood.

With the right type of simple modifications to his diet, your son will still be able to enjoy all of his meals and maintain healthy eating habits. And over time, managing the disease will become second nature for the both of you.