By Adrianna Smallwood
Registered Dietitian, owner of Newfound Balance and member of CCA’s Professional Advisory Council
If I take a gluten ‘digester,’ can I eat a little bit of gluten and not get sick?”
Following a gluten-free diet can be extremely difficult. From missing our favourite foods to feeling left out at social events, it can sometimes be challenging and discouraging. But once symptoms have subsided and blood work returns to normal, a lot of people wonder whether can they add just a little bit of gluten back to into their diet, or if can they can “cheat” periodically?
Unfortunately, the answer right now is no. The only cure for celiac disease is complete avoidance of all gluten in the diet. Currently, the market boasts several forms of gluten ‘digesters.’ Often found in the vitamin aisle of drugstores, these products promise to break down gluten so that you don’t feel as sick when you’ve been “glutened”. But don’t get your hopes up. Gluten digesters have not been shown to work for people who have celiac disease and so should not be used to let you “cheat” or as a substitute for the gluten-free diet. At the moment, there are products being tested that might, one day, allow those with celiac to ingest gluten safely, but they aren’t approved or available yet. The Canadian Celiac Association is the trusted source for all information pertaining to celiac and the gluten-free diet, so you can be sure that when such products are proven safe and effective and come to the market, the CCA will make a big announcement.
So, what exactly are the consequences of continuing to eat gluten or incorporating it back into your diet after your symptoms have subsided? Firstly, you’re likely to experience a return of symptoms. That said, even if you feel fine, if you were previously diagnosed with celiac disease, you still have it, so eating gluten will cause damage in your intestine. Long-term consequences of continuing to eat gluten when you have been proven to have celiac disease include nutrient deficiencies, intestinal damage, decreased bone mass and even cancer. It’s serious business.
The moral of this story? Celiac disease should be taken seriously. This isn’t like a weight-loss diet, where the occasional “cheat” is acceptable. If you have celiac disease, diagnosed by your doctor or gastroenterologist, then you’ll need to strictly avoid gluten for the rest of your life. There are more and more gluten-free products available every day—having a bite of gluten isn’t worth the risk to your health.