Health Column: Learning gluten-free terms |

Health Column: Learning gluten-free terms

Angela Wetzel
Free Press Health Columnist

Every industry has its own language.

I work in television, and when I talk to people about what I do I have to explain things in laymen’s terms or I get a glassy-eyed reaction.

Talking about medical issues is the same way. I can talk about celiac disease, intolerances, and more all day long, but to most people it doesn’t mean a lot. It’s just a bunch of medical mumbo jumbo.

So, here’s some explanations on terms that I have used, or may use, in my columns.

First, what is celiac disease?

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that damages the small intestine when gluten is ingested. Gluten is the protein that is found in wheat, barley and rye. Eating anything with gluten for someone with celiac disease can continually wear down the cilia in the intestine wall, which can cause malabsorption. This means your body won’t absorb minerals and nutrients that your body needs. Celiac disease is not an allergy. A few symptoms of celiac disease are brain fog, bloating, diarrhea, and lethargy, among others. A blood test or upper GI test can determine if someone has celiac disease. If you have celiac disease, you must cut out all gluten.

Another term that is thrown out there is gluten intolerance. People with gluten intolerance can have the same symptoms as celiac disease, but the blood test won’t show the antibodies for celiac disease. As with celiac disease, you should stay away from gluten to prevent symptoms.

I’ve also mentioned the term “cross-contamination” before. Cross-contamination is when food particles are carried to other foods. For example, if you cut regular French bread on a cutting board and then cut gluten-free bread on the same board, you have caused cross-contamination. For someone with celiac disease, this is something that needs to be avoided as any particle with gluten can be dangerous.

I’ve found that most restaurants do not have separate areas for gluten-free food, so cross-contamination is an issue. Even toasting gluten-free bread in a toaster where normal bread is toasted is a source of cross-contamination. Saying that an item is gluten free may not be an actuality; it might be dangerous to someone with celiac disease.

If you are a restaurant that wants to become more gluten-free friendly, please contact me.

GJ Free Press health columnist Angela Wetzel has celiac disease and is president of Gluten Free Grand Valley, a support group for those with celiac disease and wheat allergies. Contact her at or visit Gluten Free Grand Valley on Facebook.

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