Celiac Awareness Month: Interview with Jules Shepard

Celiac Awareness Month: Interview with Jules Shepard

Celiac Awareness Month is the perfect time to celebrate how far we’ve come the past 75 years in understanding a disease that had vexed physicians since the second century A.D. One of the most common hereditary disorders worldwide, we now know that celiac disease affects 1% of the population and is unique in that it is controlled by diet alone, not by prescription medications or medical procedures.

We’ve come a long way, yes, but it still takes an average of 6 to 10 years to diagnose someone with celiac. And even today, a mere 17 % of Americans with the disease know that they have it. We are learning that, as with other autoimmune diseases, celiac appears to occur more often in women than men, although recent research has showed that men and women may have more similar rates of the disease. It is indiscriminate though, when it comes to ethnicity, occurring in any population where gluten – the food protein that triggers the condition -- is a common dietary staple. Other conditions like lactose intolerance also often follow in those of us with celiac disease, further limiting dietary options.

Gluten-Free Food

It’s not just for celiacs that “gluten-free” has become a buzz word in recent years. One in five Americans now say they’re trying to include more gluten free foods in their diets ­– even without a medical diagnosis. Thanks to the FDA’s recent gluten-free labeling rule, there are many more products available touting gluten-free claims, keeping gluten-free in our collective awareness.

Even if you are not gluten-free yourself, it’s likely that you know someone who is. So how do you host a party, cookout or picnic and provide options for everyone without compromising on taste or variety? Start by looking for naturally gluten-free foods found on the outside aisles of any grocery store: whole foods like fruits and vegetables, nuts, and coconut or tree nut-based products are delicious and able to be enjoyed by most, even if they can’t tolerate gluten or dairy products. Avoid wheat, barley and rye, as they are synonymous with gluten, opting instead for tapioca, rice, potato, quinoa, millet, teff, sorghum and nut flours as alternatives in baking and other dishes.

And when you’re craving a sandwich, never fear! You can bake the best gluten-free breads at home anytime you like, and surprisingly it’s much faster and easier than baking gluten breads. I’ve perfected baking all kinds of gluten free breads in the oven or in a bread maker, so don’t go without! And when I don’t have time to bake my own, my go-to gluten free bread is anything from Canyon Bakehouse – they put their hearts into their bread and you can tell! Don’t deprive yourself or settle for less than great bread just because you’re gluten free – you don’t have to (I promise!).

This spring and summer, challenge yourself to find or create fresh new recipes without gluten, ask friends and family if they are gluten-free, and share facts about celiac disease and gluten sensitivity when you hear of others who aren’t feeling well or have health complaints. Celiac can present itself through hundreds of different symptoms. Anything from fatigue to mouth ulcers, infertility to joint pain, depression to anemia can be indications of celiac disease. It’s only by starting the conversation -- by sharing facts and by helping others get a proper diagnosis -- that we can actually help spread celiac awareness.

So this Celiac Awareness month, celebrate the fact that this mysterious illness is becoming better understood every day, and the fact that celiac disease is the only auto-immune disease with a cure — a completely gluten free diet. Embrace better health with recipes that rely less on processed foods and traditional grains and more on alternative, gluten-free grains, nuts and dairy-free ingredients so everyone can enjoy!

About Jules Shepard

Jules Shepard is Associate Editor of Living Without’s Gluten Free & More Magazine and she has authored three highly-regarded published books and numerous e-books on gluten-free living and cooking. Jules also hosts a popular podcast (The Gluten Free Voice), personally pens the #1 Gluten Free Blog (as voted in the 2016 and 2017 Gluten Free Awards), and runs gfJules, an award-winning gluten-free flour and baking mixes company. She can be found at gfJules.com and @THEgfJules on Twitter, @gfJules on Facebook and Instagram, and Jules Shepard on Google+ and Pinterest.