We live in a wheat-based society.
And yet, more and more people are discovering they can’t eat it.
Really what people are discovering they can’t eat is gluten, a protein found within wheat, rye, barley and oats. These people have either gluten sensitivity, gluten intolerance or Celiac disease.
The right diagnosis
Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition where the sufferer cannot digest gluten. The undigested protein then triggers the body’s immune system to attack the lining of the small intestine.
Because of this, people with Celiac disease are at risk for malabsorption of food in the gastro intestinal tract, causing nutritional deficiencies. This can lead to conditions such as iron deficiency, anemia, osteoporosis, thyroid disease, type I diabetes, joint and liver diseases and gastro intestinal cancers.
The good news is to treat the condition you don’t need expensive prescriptions. The bad news is to avoid symptoms you have to cut gluten out of your diet for life.
“Your GI tract has the same type of nervous system as in your brain,” said Dr. Betsy Yurgel, RN, NMD, who works at the Phoenix Holistic Health Center, 4747 E. Elliot Road. “If it’s not working well, that’s why I see a lot of anxiety a lot of depression in younger people.”
Yurgel said she is able to perform blood tests at the health center to see if patients have a gluten sensitivity. She herself tries to limit her amount of gluten intake after her daughter was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, a condition that is also irritated by gluten.
According to a 2003 study by Dr. Alessio Fasano, professor of pediatrics and director of the University of Maryland Center for Celiac Research at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, the genetic disorder affects as many as one out of 133 Americans.
The National Institutes of Health estimates that about 2 million people in the U.S. have Celiac disease, and that more than 95 percent of people with the condition go undiagnosed.
Where it gets confusing is that people can have a sensitivity or an intolerance to gluten and not have Celiac disease, so many times a test will come back negative for Celiac and people will think it’s OK to continue eating gluten. So proper diagnosis is key.
Yurgel also said as a psychiatric RN, she recognizes the mind, body and spiritual component and likes to get a very comprehensive look at her patients as a whole. She said you have to address everything, and the diet is a huge part of that.
“It empowers the patient but it also puts responsibility onto them so they can have control over their lives,” Yurgel said.
For more information about the Phoenix Holistic Health Center, call (480) 753-0888.
The right diet
Having a passion for cooking his whole life, Ahwatukee Foothills resident David Hall started his own personal chef business, Thyme for a Chef.
In addition to cooking 20 meals in a client’s home that can feed a single person for a month or a family of four for about a week, he offers dinner parties, cooking parties, special event dinners like anniversaries or birthdays, in-home cooking lessons and demonstrations, wine pairings and kids’ parties.
He also teaches a 101 Series of culinary classes for the home chef at Whole Foods around the Valley, such as knife skills, sauces and grilling.
“About half my business is teaching and coaching people how to cook,” Hall said. “When you do that you empower people to be independent.”
But the people who are really flocking to him lately are the people who can’t eat gluten. Hall said most people are limited to the same two or three foods every day, and they’re bored with food because they don’t know how to cook gluten free.
Hall said the catalyst for this aspect of his business was his wife Debbie, who has intolerance to gluten that results in seizures, among other dietary restrictions.
“When we first met I wanted to make dinner for her. She told me, ‘Don’t bother, you don’t know what you’re in for.’” Hall said.
After three hours at the grocery store, Hall had checked all the labels for the ingredients he needed to prepare a dinner to fit her needs.
Now the Halls offer to help others with gluten intolerance through consulting and support.
“We take them shopping and show them how to shop for food and what to look for,” Debbie Hall said. “It is a huge undertaking the first few times that you do it.”
Another challenge for those with gluten sensitivity is that it’s everywhere, even sometimes in turkey or chicken. David Hall said a lot of times the poultry will be injected with broth to make it juicier, and the broth is thickened with flour.
In reading the ingredients on a food item, gluten can be in caramel coloring, natural flavors, hydralized vegetable protein, among others, he said.
“It’s just not nature’s food anymore,” Yurgel said. “That’s where your body looks at it and goes, ‘What? I don’t know what that is.’ In our country we mess so much with our foods that more and more people are being affected by them.”
Yurgel said the best dietary advice she can give is to eat like our great, great, great grandparents used to eat. Everything natural, everything real, nothing processed. David and Debbie Hall recommend the exact same thing.
For more information on Thyme for a Chef, call (480) 861-1082 or visit www.thymeforachef.com.