Every year in Australia Coeliac Awareness Week is held by Coeliac Australia, a not-for-profit organisation that was developed to support people with coeliac disease and medically diagnosed gluten intolerances.
As we all know in the past two to three years there has been a huge increase in the accessibility to gluten free products and menu items when out at your local café. Although this is great for someone like me who was diagnosed many years ago at the age of two, after six months of misdiagnosis, it is also taken with a grain of salt, as misdiagnosis and self-diagnosis is leading to gluten free diets becoming popular and the severity of correctly diagnosed coeliac disease is being misperceived and undermined.
Coeliac disease is one of the most under-diagnosed conditions in Australia and in 2015 Coeliac Australia is aiming to increase the awareness amongst Australians of Coeliac disease and to ensure medical professionals are appropriately equipped with the knowledge and skills to ensure a correct diagnosis is made and an appropriate model of care for each patient is developed. Additionally, it is important for individuals awaiting testing for coeliac disease to be aware not to commence a gluten free diet prior to tests as this may lead to unreliable test results.
So what is Coeliac Disease?
People with coeliac disease have an abnormal immune reaction to gluten which is found in wheat, rye, barley and oats. In humans, the small intestine is covered with small hair like structures called villi. Usually these stand up tall and ensure adequate absorption of nutrients from food. However, when a coeliac consumes gluten, it results in these villi flattening down onto the surface of their small intestines and they no longer can absorb the nutrients from food. This occurs because of an auto-immune reaction in which the body mistakenly thinks gluten is harmful and reacts in a way similar to when our body is trying to fight off bacteria and viruses. Each individual can respond to this differently. In my case I experience abdominal pains and vomiting.
If coeliac disease goes undiagnosed, sufferers will continue to consume gluten, leading to intestines becoming severely inflamed which will in turn have massive ramifications for the rest of the human body. Specifically, inflammation of the gut can lead aggravation of the peritoneum, a membranous tissue which surrounds the gut. The peritoneum surrounds the abdomen and is directly attached to the spine. If this becomes inflamed it can directly impact the spine by compressing or pulling on it leading to a significant amount of pressure being placed upon the back. This chronic inflammation can also present in the joints of the body as rheumatoid or poly arthritis, conditions which are commonly seen by osteopaths.
To recognise the importance of Coeliac Awareness Week 2015 I thought I would share with you one of my favourite coeliac friendly recipes that tastes great and is kind on the gut (and spine!) But first, here are my five top tips to living with coeliac disease:
1. Be Creative: When cooking meals for yourself get creative. Think about what you can eat, not what you can’t. Focus on the positives- you can eat as much fresh meat and produce as you like. Think crunchy stir-fries, fresh salads and heart-warming soups!
2. Go out and socialise: Like I said earlier- the rise in gluten free products has led to coeliac friendly menu items popping up all over the place. Often there will be a key on the menu so look for the GF options and make sure your waiter is aware of your allergies. Try all day breakfasts on gluten free bread or cut the bread out altogether and have it served on your favourite gluten free potato rosti.
3. Make your family get checked: Unfortunately coeliac disease is genetic so tell your family to go and get checked just to make sure they are OK and if not, they can start treating themselves earlier and you can experiment with different gluten free friendly recipes together.
4. Prepare: Sometimes you may be out and hungry and you don’t have access to gluten free food. Have some snacks in the freezer that you can chuck in your bag before heading out for the day or some delicious Primal Junction’s Chewy Mocha Powerballs. See recipe below.
5. Stay informed: Keep up to date about Coeliac Disease. Regularly visit Coeliac Australia’s website to see what is on, new products on the market, travel tips and where you can get help and advice.
PRIMAL JUNCTION’S Yummy Chewy Mocha Powerballs
(makes ~15 balls)
1 cup pre-soaked*, raw nuts (we use a mix of macadamia and cashew, but almonds, walnuts and pecans would work too)
8 fresh medjool dates, pitted
3 cm chunk ginger, finely grated
2 tbsp. raw cacao powder
2 heaping tbsp. goji berries
1 tbsp. coconut flakes
1 tbsp. finely ground coffee beans
2 tbsp. coconut oil, melted
1 tbsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. salt
Plus, for dusting:
¼ cup raw cacao powder
¼ cup sesame seeds
¼ cup desiccated coconut
In a food processor, add the nuts and pulse until roughly ground, but still chunky.
Add in the pitted dates, cacao powder, ginger, coconut oil, coconut flakes, cinnamon, salt, and coffee. Process until the mixture is consistent and starting to stick together (about 60 seconds on high).
Add the goji berries and pulse again, for just 15 seconds.
On 3 separate flat plates, pour the dusting sesame seeds, cacao and coconut.
Using your hands, roll the mixture into small balls (about 3 cm/ 1 inch across).
Roll the balls in the toppings to coat the outer surface.
Place in a single layer on a flat plate and allow to set in the fridge or freezer until eaten.
Tip: The coffee in this recipe is added mainly to create a coffee-chocolate flavour, which is intensified when chilled. If serving in the afternoon or evening, omit the coffee to prevent sleepless nights!
*Soak the nuts for up to 24 hours in a big bowl of filtered water. This is “activating” the nuts, and helps to remove the anti-nutrients from the nuts, making them easier to digest and more beneficial.