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Celiac Disease: Eating a Gluten-Free Diet


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Celiac disease is a problem some people have with foods that contain gluten. Gluten is a type of protein found in the grains wheat, barley, rye, and triticale (a wheat-rye cross). When a person with celiac disease eats gluten, it triggers an immune response that is not normal. This damages the small intestine.

Symptoms of celiac disease can include gas, bloating, diarrhea, weight loss, fatigue, weakness, and vomiting. Stools may be bulky, loose, and more frequent. The damage to the intestine also makes it hard for your body to absorb vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. This can lead to anemia or osteoporosis or both.

This information can help you learn more about how to eat so you can manage your symptoms, prevent long-term problems, and still get the nutrition you need.

Key points

  • Untreated celiac disease can make it hard for you to get the nutrients you need. Eating a variety of healthy foods that do not have gluten can help you keep your weight up and stay strong.
  • The main treatment for celiac disease is to avoid eating any foods that contain gluten. Even the smallest amount of gluten is harmful and can cause symptoms in some people.
  • Even if you don't have symptoms, you still need to avoid gluten totally to prevent damage to the intestines and long-term problems.
  • Some people with celiac disease need to avoid cow's milk and milk products when they first begin treatment. Most people can slowly add dairy foods back into their diet as the intestine heals. But they will still need to avoid foods with gluten for the rest of their lives.

If you have questions about following a gluten-free eating plan for celiac disease, talk to your doctor or dietitian.

Return to topic:

Gluten is found in wheat, barley, rye, and triticale (a wheat-rye cross). Common foods that contain gluten include:

  • Bagels.
  • Bread.
  • Breakfast cereals made with wheat, barley, or rye, or with the term malt or malted in their names. Malt is made from barley.
  • Crackers.
  • Pasta.
  • Pizza.

Some foods are labeled wheat-free, but this doesn't mean that they are gluten-free. For example, some food labels list hydrolyzed vegetable protein. This sounds harmless, but this protein is often made from wheat and can contain a lot of gluten.

Test Your Knowledge

It is okay for people with celiac disease to eat foods that are labeled wheat-free.

True
False

By following a gluten-free eating plan:

  • You avoid damaging your intestines and the severe problems that the damage can cause.
  • Your body can get the nutrition it needs.
  • You control your symptoms.

After you go on a gluten-free diet, symptoms such as bloating, gas, and diarrhea usually bother you less or go away within 2 or 3 weeks. Also, your body begins to absorb nutrients normally, and the small intestine gradually heals.

If celiac disease goes untreated, you are more likely to get iron deficiency anemia, folic acid deficiency anemia, osteoporosis, and other problems.

Test Your Knowledge

By eating foods that are free of gluten, you avoid damaging your intestines.

True
False

Do not eat any foods that contain gluten. These include foods made with wheat, barley, rye, or triticale (a wheat-rye cross).

Avoid all beer products unless they say they are gluten-free. Beers with and without alcohol, including lagers, ales, and stouts, contain gluten unless they specifically say they are gluten-free.

Avoid oats, at least at first. Oats may cause symptoms in some people, perhaps as a result of contamination with wheat, barley, or rye during processing. But many people who have celiac disease can eat moderate amounts of oats without having symptoms. Health professionals vary in their long-term recommendations regarding eating foods with oats. But most agree it is best that people newly diagnosed with celiac disease not eat oats until the condition is well controlled with a gluten-free diet.

Carefully read food labels. Look for wheat or wheat products added to foods such as ice cream, salad dressing, candy, canned and frozen soups and vegetables, and other processed foods.

When you eat out, look for restaurants that serve gluten-free food. You might ask if the chef is familiar with cooking without any gluten. Also look for grocery stores that sell gluten-free pizza and other foods. The Internet can be another source of information on gluten-free foods.

On a gluten-free eating plan, you can still have:

  • Eggs and milk products such as cheese. Some cheese and cheese spreads may contain gluten, so check the labels for additives. You may need to avoid milk and milk products at the beginning of treatment.
  • Flours and starches made from rice, corn, buckwheat, potatoes, soybeans, or tapioca.
  • Fresh, frozen, or canned unprocessed meats. Examples of processed meats are hot dogs, salami, and deli meat. Read labels for additives that may contain gluten.
  • Fresh, frozen, dried, or canned fruits and vegetables, if they do not have thickeners or other additives that contain gluten.
  • Certain alcohol drinks, including wine, liquor (including whiskey and brandy), liqueurs, and ciders.

Eating a gluten-free diet isn't easy. But if you take your time to read labels and ask questions, you can stay on a gluten-free eating plan.

Test Your Knowledge

On a gluten-free eating plan, you can still drink beer.

True
False

You may need to avoid milk and milk products at the beginning of treatment for celiac disease.

True
False

If you have questions about this information, print it out and take it with you when you visit your doctor. You may want to mark areas or make notes in the margins where you have questions.

Many communities have celiac disease support groups that are local branches of national organizations. It can help to join such groups. Other members of the group can help teach you which foods are gluten-free, share recipes and meal ideas, and help you learn what foods to avoid.

If you would like more information on celiac disease, the following resources are available:

Organizations

Celiac Disease Foundation (CDF)
13251 Ventura Boulevard
Suite 1
Studio City, CA 91604
Phone: (818) 990-2354
Fax: (818) 990-2379
Web Address: www.celiac.org

CDF provides support, information, and assistance to people affected by celiac disease and dermatitis herpetiformis. The Web site has information about diet and lifestyle changes, including a quick-start diet guide and lists of gluten-free resources. There is also a Kid's Korner with information especially for children and teens who have celiac disease and for their parents.


Celiac Sprue Association
P.O. Box 31700
Omaha, NE 68131-0700
Phone: 1-877-CSA-4CSA (1-877-272-4272) toll-free
(402) 558-0600
Email: celiacs@csaceliacs.org
Web Address: www.csaceliacs.org

This nonprofit, member-based organization has information for people who have celiac disease and for their families, such as ways they can incorporate a gluten-free diet into their daily lives.


Gluten Intolerance Group of North America (GIG)
31214 124th Avenue SE
Auburn, WA 98092
Phone: (253) 833-6655
Fax: (253) 833-6675
Email: info@gluten.net
Web Address: www.gluten.net

This organization provides support, education, awareness, and advocacy to people affected by gluten intolerances.


National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse
2 Information Way
Bethesda, MD 20892-3570
Phone: 1-800-891-5389
Fax: (703) 738-4929
TDD: 1-866-569-1162 toll-free
Email: nddic@info.niddk.nih.gov
Web Address: www.digestive.niddk.nih.gov

This clearinghouse is a service of the U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health. The clearinghouse answers questions; develops, reviews, and sends out publications; and coordinates information resources about digestive diseases. Publications produced by the clearinghouse are reviewed carefully for scientific accuracy, content, and readability.


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerJerry S. Trier, MD - Gastroenterology
Last RevisedMay 29, 2012

eMedicineHealth Medical Reference from Healthwise

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