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Home > Wellness Resources > Health Library > Celiac Disease: Eating a Gluten-Free Diet
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
osteoporosis or both.
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.
Gluten is found in
wheat, barley, rye, and triticale (a wheat-rye cross). Common foods that contain gluten include:
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.
It is okay for people with celiac disease to eat foods
that are labeled wheat-free.
While some foods are labeled wheat-free, this
does not mean that they are gluten-free. It is important for people with celiac
disease to avoid eating any foods that contain gluten. Even the smallest amount
of gluten can cause symptoms in some people.
Continue to Why?
By following a gluten-free eating plan:
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
By eating foods that are free of gluten, you avoid
damaging your intestines.
People who have celiac disease must be on a
gluten-free eating plan. If the disease is left untreated, more severe problems
Continue to How?
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:
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
On a gluten-free eating plan, you can still drink
On a gluten-free eating plan, you can still drink beer if it is gluten-free. But avoid all beer
products, both with and without alcohol, including lagers, ales, and stouts if they do not say they are gluten-free.
You can also have other alcohol drinks, including wine, liquor (including
whiskey and brandy), liqueurs, and ciders.
You may need to avoid milk and milk products at the
beginning of treatment for celiac disease.
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 all foods with gluten.
Continue to Where?
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:
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.
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.
This organization provides support, education,
awareness, and advocacy to people affected by gluten intolerances.
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.
If you have questions about following a gluten-free
eating plan for celiac disease, talk to your doctor or dietitian.
Return to topic:
May 29, 2012
E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & Jerry S. Trier, MD - Gastroenterology
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