May is Celiac Disease Awareness Month and a great time to spread awareness about the disease. Celiac disease is a gastroenterological, autoimmune and digestive disorder. It is complex and is linked to hundreds of symptoms; some people have many of them and some people have few to none. That’s why it can take years before it is diagnosed. In fact, most people living with celiac disease are undiagnosed.

I became very sick at 18 months old and suffered from a wide range of symptoms, particularly those related to my gastrointestinal tract. I had anemia, severe weight loss, was malnourished and failing to thrive. After many months of medical investigations and misdiagnoses, I was hospitalized and finally a biopsy confirmed a diagnosed of celiac disease. I was placed on a gluten-free diet, the only treatment currently recommended by medical doctors.

Growing up gluten-free in the 80’s was difficult to say the least. There were very few gluten-free cookbooks and recipes available (and of course the internet and social media did not exist). There was a lack of support and a lack of gluten-free products on the market—there was only one gluten-free food manufacturer in Canada. However, my family learned to cope and so did I. Things sure have changed over the last several years! For example, today you can find artisan gluten-free loaves and buns at Queen Street Bakery. Living with celiac disease today is much easier. Have you recently been diagnosed with celiac disease? Here are five tips to help make things even easier.

1. Join a local celiac support group

You will be amazed by how much you can learn from non-profit support groups, such as the Canadian Celiac Association. Get some information about workshops and events organized through your local chapter—you’ll have fun and you might even make new friends. There are also unique opportunities to get involved with advocacy work.

2. Monitor your nutrients

I do my best to monitor certain nutrient levels via bloodwork about every six months, especially vitamin B12, iron and calcium, as I have a history of low levels for these nutrients. I continue to take quality supplements to support my body’s needs, with the advice of my naturopath.

3. Eat clean

Do the best you can to maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle. I try to consume clean, whole, unprocessed foods and avoid refined sugar and processed foods (including processed grains) as much as possible. Consider fermented foods, foods high in fibre and probiotics, which are all good for your gut. You can purchase an ingredient dictionary to better understand what you are allowed and should avoid on a gluten-free diet. It can come in handy when looking at food labels.

4. Prevent cross-contamination

It’s learning curve, but you need to start somewhere. According to the Canadian Celiac Association, “Anywhere you see crumbs is a potential place for cross-contamination.” For example, counter tops, cutting boards, microwaves, toaster ovens and containers with spreads can be major culprits. Get your own separate toaster and cutting board. Boil, bake, fry and cook separately. Having your food (especially protein sources) cooked on foil when dining out will help prevent cross contamination.

5. Try new recipes

There are so many delicious, healthy gluten-free, grain-free and paleo recipes available online, thanks to gluten-free food bloggers, chefs and cookbook authors that take the time to share their creations. Take the time to try out new recipes that look appealing and have fun with it! Check out Queen Street Bakery’s gluten-free recipes online.

About the Author: Living with celiac disease, Lisa Cantkier is a writer and educator focused on nutrition and health.