What I Wish People Understood About Celiac Disease


“Do I REALLY need to eat gluten free?”

As a chef and nutritionist for over 20 years, I am often asked this question by people who are seeking to improve their overall health or asking me about how I eat. Am I just eating on trend? Are others who eat gluten free doing it just to be cool or hip?

The answer is no. If you are not an individual who has celiac disease or has been diagnosed with non-celiac gluten sensitivity (a medical condition that benefits from eating gluten free), then no, you do not need to eat gluten free.

However, for many of us, our lives and health depend on it. Yes, I do need to eat different. So do all the others that are celiac and non celiac gluten intolerant.

May is Celiac Awareness Month. Celiac disease is condition for which the only treatment is a strict gluten-free diet.

One in 133 people are estimated to have celiac disease.

It is estimated to affect over 3,000,000 Americans or 1 in 133 people

I am also often asked why I eat gluten free. The answer?

I am one of those one in 133 that are diagnosed and have celiac disease.

My health depends on me not ingesting gluten.

Celiac Disease is an autoimmune disease.Allow me to repeat- it is a disease.

We are  not being picky or difficult~ that is what people need to understand.

Our lives depend on the food we eat. Change What You Eat~ Change Your Life. Simple 

This isn’t a fad, a game or something we do to be difficult — it is a medical condition.

For celiacs, we cannot have “just a little bit” of gluten or we become very ill. For those who don’t understand celiac disease, I compare it to a peanut allergy. Would an individual who has a peanut allergy just be able to eat “a little bit of peanut” or just a “slight dusting of peanut?” No, they cannot. This holds true for those who have celiac disease, or often those with non-celiac gluten sensitivity..

Our health depends on it and anyone else who is celiac or even non celiac gluten intolerant.

Symptoms of celiac disease may include muscle soreness, joint pain, congestion, stomach cramps, bloating, fatigue, gas, diarrhea or constipation, weight loss or weight gain, skin rashes, depression, irritability, confusion, anxiety and other mood changes

Celiac disease can also manifest as an autoimmune response in the skin. Dermatitis Herpetiformis is a gluten-sensitive skin disease. this subgroup of celiac disease can manifest as itchy skin lesions found on the back of the knees, buttocks, elbows and/or the face.

Dermatitis Herpetiformis


Celiac disease is a digestive disease that damages the small intestine and interferes with absorption of nutrients from food. People who have celiac disease cannot tolerate gluten, a protein in wheat, rye, contaminated oats, spelt, kamut and barley.

More info on the Canadian Celiac Association Website

When people with celiac disease eat foods or use products containing gluten, their immune system responds by damaging or destroying villi—the tiny, fingerlike protrusions lining the small intestine. This destruction of the villi causes malnutrition, no matter how healthy a celiac may eat.

Even just 1/8 of a gram can cause an onslaught of symptoms as described above.

The cure? A gluten- free diet. Simple.

As a diagnosed celiac since I was 12 years old, the plethora of new and exciting gluten- free foods available is a banquet of plenty compared to the early 1990’s. My niece is also a celiac and her choices are abundant. It truly couldn’t be a better time to be a celiac!

I can remember having to travel over 1.5 hrs with my mom to buy a loaf of bread that tasted similar to cardboard:) Now the choices abound around the world

THEE most important thing for a celiac or non-celiac  gluten intolerant individual to focus on is to eat minimally processed foods, healthy proteins, healthy fats and whole gluten -free grains.


We literally need to REBUILD up our villi to be able to absorb proper nutrition. Otherwise, you can be overfed with processed foods but starving to death from malnutrition. 

Don’t fall into the marketing trap of thinking a white rice flour gluten- free cookie is good for you. It is still a cookie (gluten- free or not.)

Instead, make a cookie with whole gluten free ingredients that will nourish you and help to heal your gut.

Living gluten- free can be fun, it can be delicious and in fact if you focus on ‘ real food’ it can be an amazing way of life.

The most important thing is your outlook. See it as a new way to try new foods, discover new gluten- free restaurants and even develop new recipes.

My 5 Favourite Gluten Free Foods?

  1. Avocados: Why? Loaded with healthy mono saturated fats to help soothe my digestive system and nourish my skin.
  2. Quinoa: Why? Highest grain that is a compete protein. The needs of a celiac or non celiac gluten intolerant individual are almost double to a non celiac individual due to needing to rebuild the villi.
  3. Black Beans: Why? Black beans are loaded in both protein and fibre. A mere 1/2 cup of black beans will provide the protein equivalent of 2-3 ounces of chicken.  Try my black bean recipe in Chatelaine Magazine here.
  4. Almond Flour: Why? Almond flour makes all gluten free baked goods higher in protein for proper muscle repair and automatically makes a recipes low glycemic to ensure blood sugar stability. Try my gluten free almond flour shortbread cookies on Global News here. 
  5. Hemp Seeds: Why? As a celiac, getting in enough high quality protein that is easy to digest can be a challenge. Hemp seeds provide the perfect solution for that. Add 2-3 tablespoons of hemp seeds to your salads or smoothies for an instant protein and healthy Omega 3-6-9 ratio.

Live Life Delicious ( and gluten- free!)

xo Kathy Smart