In the last few years, awareness around celiac disease has increased immensely. Although nowadays there’s a better understanding about the condition and there are more gluten-free products being introduced into the market than ever before, there’s still a long path ahead. According to Beyond Celiac, the autoimmune disease affects an average of 1 in every 133 people in the United States and around 83% of these are undiagnosed. Many of those who know about their condition find it difficult to socialise, eat out, travel and struggle to their favourite products in the gluten-free aisle.
To celebrate Celiac Awareness Month, we’ve chatted to Christina Kantzavelos a celiac influencer about what it’s like to live with this health issue.
1. Tell me a bit about yourself
My name is Christina Kantzavelos, and I’m a San Diego and Joshua Tree, CA-based licensed psychotherapist, owner of Buen Qamino a gluten-free and health-conscious food, travel and lifestyle blog. I started BuenQamino after completing the Camino de Santiago, a 500-mile pilgrimage across northern Spain, and realizing the need for more gluten-free travel and lifestyle resources. ‘Buen Camino,’ which translates to wishing someone a good path, is a saying commonly said to ‘pregregrinos’ (pilgrims) along the Camino.
Some of my main hobbies (in no particular order) are traveling, writing and reading, hiking and being out in nature as well as meditating, learning and practicing different languages (I speak four). I also love painting, spending time with friends and family, volunteering and helping others to help themselves.
2. When were you diagnosed? What led to your diagnosis?
I was diagnosed in 2012. It had been years of not knowing what was going on with my body. It was doctor visit after doctor visit, and multiple failed protocols, until I saw a naturopath who took one look at me and knew almost immediately. I was experiencing various GI issues, migraines, acne, anxiety, mouth sores, and more.
3. How did you feel after being diagnosed?
It unfortunately didn’t stop at gluten, as I later had to also ditch casein, most soy products, alcohol, refined sugars, and a few high histamine foods due to other health concerns. However, changing my diet was life-changing, and continues to be.
4. What resources helped you when you were first diagnosed?
Tapping into the gluten-free online community was a wonderful place to start. It's full of info, tips, recipes, resources, guides, support and much more.
5. What impact has having celiac disease had on your day-to-day life?
There has to be more thought and preparation in going out, socializing and traveling. Be it going to a new restaurant, a dinner party, traveling, packing, etc. Preparation and communication are key.
6. Do you feel awareness around celiac disease has increased in the past few years?
Yes, I do and that’s reflected by the many new products, and dedicated facilities and kitchens sprouting around the world. However, we have a long way to go, which includes more awareness and education.
7. Do you find it easy going out to restaurants?
I communicate with any new restaurant I visit prior to ordering anything. If I feel the information they provide makes it safe for me, then I have no problem eating there. If something is questionable, I use my Nima sensor to test it out.
8. What tips do you have for people with celiac disease eating out?
Call the restaurant or cafe you’re visiting in advance, and ask if they have a dedicated kitchen, or kitchen space, what protocols are in place to avoid cross-contact. Safely eating out should be enjoyable.
9. How do you handle having to follow a gluten-free diet when travelling abroad?
The biggest tip is to prepare. Doing research ahead of time, to know what food you can eat, which restaurants you can visit, and what you will need to pack in order to supplement yourself while you’re away will save you a lot of time later on. Doing so will actually allow you to enjoy your trip, rather than stress about it. I like to look at other gluten-free travel blogs, associations in the cities or countries I’m visiting, or use free apps, like Find Me Gluten-Free to plan.
You can visit my website to find our free Traveling with Gluten-Free Guide.
10. Do you feel the food market has improved when it comes to gluten free products?
Yes, it definitely has since I was diagnosed nearly a decade ago. I feel like there is a substitution for just about everything and it’s amazing. With that said, I think we can do better than just gluten-free. Why not make it organic, refined-sugar free, and remove harmful fillers? We can always do more for our gut health. Not to mention, new products are always appreciated.
11. Do you struggle to find products you like in a gluten-free version?
Living in the US, nearby multiple health food stores is definitely a privilege. I can find the gluten-free version of just about anything. And if not, I can find a recipe and ingredients to make it. I’m grateful.
12. What do you think of brands like Mr Lee’s who are working towards putting out products on the market to satisfy this dietary requirement?
I am grateful for brands like Mr. Lee’s. It makes living with celiac disease that much easier.
13. What are some of your favourite gluten-free products?
There are too many brands for me to shout out to! For bread and bakery bits, I always buy from MyBread and Bread Srsly, for quality Mexican gluten-free food Siete Foods and The Real Coconut and for snacks, I love NuGo and Simple Mills bars and cookies. I also like a lot of products from Schar, Saffron Road, Oma’s Own and Bob’s Red Mill also do great gluten-free products.
With that said, I mostly cook at home, and absolutely love using fresh and organic whole foods, which are naturally gluten-free (vegetables, fruits, gluten-free grains, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices). I think we often forget that we have at least 25 flour substitutions to work with (i.e. cassava, rice, coconut, buckwheat, almond, garbanzo, etc.). I enjoy making anything from tacos, to stir fries, French toast, to almond cakes and cookies.
14. Are there any fellow gluten free bloggers you would like to give a shout out to?
I love @therocksanddirtbakery and @guthealings as they share great gluten-free content and @celiacandthesix shares lifestyle, home and travel content as well as information on their motherhood journey. I also follow @brandi.j.dean and @glutenfreebootcamp who share great gluten-free resources, tips and recipes and @glutenfreewith3 is great for finding creative gluten-free meals for kids.
15. Any words of advice for those who have recently been diagnosed?
You are not alone, and it’s not the end of the world. You are about to feel so much better, which will supersede anything glutenous you can summon in your mind. And even if you do summon something, know that there is likely a great tasting substitution for it. Tapping into the gluten-free online community is a wonderful place to start. It's full of info, tips, recipes, resources, guides, support and much more. I haven’t let being gluten-free restrict me from enjoying my life, and neither should you.
You can find Mr Lee’s Premium Instant Gluten-Free noodles and congee in Whole Foods Market nationwide and Central Market in Texas. Find our noodles at Harris Teeter in the Mid-Atlantic region, in King Foods Markets in New York, Metropolitan Market if you are in the Seattle area. Alternatively, you can head to the Mr Lee’s online shop or Amazon to buy them now.