What is Celiac Disease?
Celiac disease makes you sick when you eat things like bread, pasta, crackers and cake. That’s because those foods have gluten, which is a tiny protein in wheat, barley and rye. When you have celiac disease, gluten hurts your body, making it harder for you to get the vitamins and nutrients you need to grow strong and healthy. Celiac disease is not a food allergy. It's actually a genetic autoimmune disease, meaning that it runs in families.
Did You Know? Celiac disease isn’t contagious, which means you can’t catch it like you catch a cold.
Signs of Celiac Disease
Have you ever had any of the following?
- Feeling like you’re going to throw up
- Pain when you go to the bathroom
- Feeling tired all the time
- Short stature (your friends are taller than you)
- Weight loss or weight gain
- Feeling grouchy
- Itchy rash
If you never felt any of these things, you’re not alone. Some kids with celiac disease feel sick, but some don’t feel sick at all! (They still have to be really careful about what they eat though.)
Did You Know? Three million Americans have celiac disease. That means there are a lot of kids with celiac disease, just like you!
Celiac Disease Science: What’s Going on Inside Your Body?
If you have celiac disease and you eat gluten, the food upsets your insides. Over time, that damages your small intestines. Little finger-like things in your intestines called villi wear down, leaving the insides of your intestines very smooth and making it harder for your body to grab on to nutrients it needs. For a lot of kids with celiac disease, that means they can’t gain weight or grow like they should, no matter how much they eat.
What is “Gluten-Free”?
Eating “gluten-free” means you only eat foods that don't have wheat, barley or rye.
Luckily, there are lots of delicious foods that are naturally gluten-free! Fresh fruits and vegetables are gluten-free, and so are most meats like chicken and fish. Most ice cream is gluten-free, too!
There are also gluten-free versions of all your favorite foods, like gluten-free bread, cereals, pancakes and even pizza crust. Just make sure you look for the words “gluten-free” on the box.
Did You Know? Gluten is what makes bread soft and spongy. Gluten-free breads use other ingredients to stay soft.
Why is Gluten-Free Important?
Eating gluten-free is the only way kids with celiac disease can stay healthy. There’s no medicine or shot you can take to make it go away. That means it’s up to you to eat right so you will stay healthy and not feel sick.
By sticking to gluten-free food, you will start to get all the good vitamins and minerals you need to grow. Your body’s insides will heal. Lots of gluten-free kids feel stronger and have more energy.
Can You Eat Gluten Once You Feel Better?
No. If you have celiac disease, you always have to eat gluten-free food, even if you feel good. You feel healthy when you eat gluten-free because that’s what your body needs. If you eat food that’s not safe for someone with celiac disease, you’ll put gluten back in your body and get sick again. Even if you don’t feel sick, you could be hurting yourself.
If you make a mistake and do eat gluten, you might feel sick right after eating food that has gluten in it, or you might not feel a difference. No matter what, eating gluten is dangerous for you. Your body won’t heal, and you could get even sicker. But don’t worry: As long as you stay gluten-free, you’ll be strong and healthy!