Gluten: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Dispelling the Myths About Celiac Disease

For people with celiac disease, consuming anything made with gluten, a food protein found in wheat, rye, barley, spelt and other grain, can spell big T-R-O-U-B-L-E.

Celiac Disease 101

Although some people think it’s an allergy, in reality, celiac disease is an autoimmune disease in which the ingestion of gluten causes the body to damage its own villi, the microscopic hair-like projections on the small intestine that aid in food absorption.

The result can be malnutrition or anemia, said Paul Ufberg, D.O., a Banner Health pediatric gastroenterologist, both of which can affect one’s quality of life and lead to life-threatening complications. Symptoms in children can include a bloated abdomen, constipation, stomachaches, diarrhea, weight loss, bone loss and tooth defects. Infants may be small, short, irritable or considered failing-to-thrive.

“Celiac disease can go undetected for years,” Dr. Ufberg said, noting it seems to be hereditary and that it’s not uncommon for a child to be diagnosed, and then later, to have a parent receive a similar diagnosis. Dr. Ufberg recommends a screening test as well as a follow-up biopsy to confirm a diagnosis.

Gluten-Free Lifestyle

While there is no cure for celiac disease, there is one surefire treatment:  avoid gluten. That’s easier said than done, but, luckily, gluten-free products and restaurant options have become more available in recent years.

Because a gluten-free approach can be a very healthy lifestyle, it may be tempting to convert the entire family so mealtimes are more streamlined, but Dr. Ufberg recommends checking with the family doctor before starting any kind of diet. He also suggests families join a support group or online organization.

“It can make a huge difference in life,” he said,  adding that there is comfort in knowing there are others going through similar situations  and that they can be a great resource in how to make the gluten-free lifestyle easier.

Tasty Alternatives

“Gluten-free can be fun!” said Chandice Probst — and she ought to know.

The Gilbert mother of two boys was diagnosed with the autoimmune disease four years ago and is president and founder of the Celiac Disease  Foundation — Arizona East Valley Chapter. She also runs two websites, and, which promote celiac awareness through activities, blog-style commentary and, yes, oodles of recipes.

Although folks with celiac disease must avoid many foods, particularly processed items, Probst promises there are tons of tasty alternatives on restaurant menus. For example, Barro’s Pizza makes gluten-free pie and 24 Carrots in Chandler serves gluten-free pancakes and a chocolate-banana cheesecake. There are many gluten-free products available on mainstream grocery store shelves, and just about any dish is adaptable thanks to products like gluten-free rice pasta, which is what Probst uses when making spaghetti. There’s also the Gluten Free Country Store in Gilbert, packed with goodies that don’t require hours of food-label research.

“They have gluten-free chicken nuggets and gluten-free Goldfish-style crackers — they have everything,” Probst said, noting her brood is particularly fond of one local brand the store carries: Julia’s Gluten Free Bakery.

“She does phenomenal cinnamon rolls and red velvet cupcakes!”

For gluten-free recipes, go to