Celiac Disease – Nutritional Considerations

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder passed down through families. When a person with celiac disease eats or drinks anything containing gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, or sometimes oats (including medications), the immune system responds by damaging the lining of the intestinal tract. This damage affects the body’s ability to absorb nutrients.

A gluten-free diet, when followed carefully, helps prevent symptoms of the disease.

Alternative Names

Gluten-free diet; Gluten sensitive enteropathy – diet; Celiac sprue – diet

Food Sources

Staples of the gluten-free diet include:

  • Cereals made without wheat or barley malt
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Meat
  • Milk-based items
  • Potatoes, rice, corn, beans
  • Specialty foods (such as pasta, bread, pancakes, and pastries) made with alternative grains (rice, tapioca, potato, or corn flours and starches)

You can buy these products through local and national food companies, or you can make them from scratch using alternative flours and grains.

The gluten-free diet involves removing all foods, drinks, and medications made from gluten. This means all items made with all-purpose, white, or wheat flour are prohibited. Obvious sources of gluten include:

  • Bagels
  • Bread and breaded foods
  • Buns
  • Cakes
  • Cookies
  • Crackers
  • Gravy
  • Most cereals
  • Most convenience foods
  • Most soups
  • Pancakes
  • Pasta
  • Pie
  • Pizza
  • Stuffing

Less obvious foods that must be eliminated include:

  • Beer
  • Certain candies
  • Certain salad dressings
  • Communion host
  • Croutons
  • Marinades
  • Sauces such as teriyaki and soy

There is a risk of cross-contamination. Items that are naturally gluten-free may become contaminated if they are made on the same production line as, or moved together in the same setting with, foods containing gluten.

Restaurant eating and social gatherings pose another, but manageable, challenge. Calling ahead and special planning become important measures. Label reading becomes a frequent, essential task due to the widespread use of wheat and barley in foods.

Despite its challenges, maintaining a healthy, balanced diet is possible with education and planning.

Recommendations

Once you have been diagnosed with celiac disease, it is very important that you talk to a registered dietitian who specializes in celiac disease and the gluten-free diet.

Joining a local support group is also recommended. Support groups can help people with celiac disease share practical advice on ingredients, baking, and ways to cope with this life-altering, lifelong disease.

Your doctor might prescribe a multivitamin and mineral or individual nutrient supplement to correct or prevent a deficiency.