Estimates show that rates of celiac disease diagnoses have risen by nearly 400 percent since the 1960s, and many health authorities speculate that there still may be a significant percentage of people living with undiagnosed celiac disease or similar problems.(1) In the U.S. and most other industrialized nations, slightly less than 1 percent of all adults have been diagnosed with celiac disease. (2) For these people, following a celiac disease diet, which mean a strictly gluten-free diet, is considered to be the only definitive way to improve celiac disease symptoms and prevent complications.
The biggest threat associated with untreated celiac disease, or other similar food allergies, is that it can cause long-term health problems, such as malnutrition, developmental delays, lowered immunity, neurological illnesses and psychiatric illnesses. Although some people with celiac disease might show no symptoms at all (at least for a while), long-term complications are still believed to be a threat whether symptoms are experienced or not.
That’s why it’s so vital to follow the proper celiac disease diet if you have this gluten allergy.
Top Foods for the Celiac Disease Diet
Currently, there is no known cure for celiac disease, which is why it’s considered to be chronic in nature. The best way to manage celiac disease symptoms and prevent future health problems is to follow a strict gluten-free diet, along with improving overall immune function through preventing nutrient deficiencies, reducing stress and getting enough sleep.
The focus of a celiac disease diet should be including more anti-inflammatory, healing diet foods in order to repair the gastrointestinal tract/digestive system and heal any nutrient deficiencies. These include organic animal products, raw dairy products, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and probiotic foods.
The Celiac Disease Foundation offers helpful resources regarding how to strictly avoid gluten, including foods to avoid when grocery shopping or eating out at restaurants. (1) Since gluten can be very “sneaky” and hard to detect in numerous packaged foods, it’s recommended that you become very knowledgeable about safe and unsafe food product choices if you’ve been diagnosed with celiac disease. To help you feel less unsure of what foods might contain traces of gluten when shopping, you can also use gluten-free technology to quickly find out about various brands.
Some of the Healthiest Gluten-Free Foods Include:
- Fruits and vegetables: Fruits and vegetables are the cornerstone of any healthy diet and are naturally gluten-free. They provide valuable essential nutrients, fiber and antioxidants to raise immune function.
- Lean proteins: These provide protein, omega-3 fats and minerals that fight malnutrition and inflammation. Sources include cage-free eggs, fish (wild-caught), pasture-raised poultry, grass-fed beef, organ meats, and other protein foods and omega-3 foods.
- Healthy fats: Sources include ghee or butter, avocado, virgin coconut, grapeseed, virgin olive, flaxseed, avocado, hemp and pumpkin oils.
- Nuts and seeds: Good sources of healthy fats, fiber, omega-3 fats and minerals, almonds, walnuts, flaxseeds, hemp, chia seeds, pumpkin, sesame and sunflower are all good options.
- Dairy (organic and raw is best): Good source of electrolytes like calcium and potassium, healthy fats and protein, sources include goat milk or yogurt, other fermented yogurts, goat or sheep cheese, and raw milk from A2 cows.
- Legumes, beans and gluten-free whole grains: These include all beans, wild or brown rice, gluten-free oats, buckwheat, quinoa, teff and amaranth. It’s a good idea to properly prepare beans and grains (especially types that contain gluten) by soaking, sprouting and fermenting them. Sprouting them helps improve nutrient bioavailability, reduces the presence of antinutrients that can cause digestive issues and makes proteins more digestible. (3)
- Gluten-free flours: These include baking flours such as brown rice flour, potato or corn meal, quinoa flour, almond flour, coconut flour, chickpea flour, tapioca flour/starch, cassava and other gluten-free blends. Always purchase products certified as gluten-free to be safe.
- Bone broth: Great source of collagen, glucosamine and amino acids that help repair the GI tract.
- Gluten-free alcohol: Sources include most (but not all) wines or hard liquors.
- Other gluten-free condiments, spices and herbs: This includes real sea salt, cocoa, apple cider vinegar, fresh herbs and spices (labeled gluten-free), raw honey and organic stevia
Foods to Avoid on the Celiac Disease Diet Include:
The single most important thing to do on a celiac disease diet is avoid all products containing wheat, barley or rye. Gluten makes up about 80 percent of the protein found in these three grains. Other than avoiding eating these grains in whole-grain or flour forms, you need to be very careful about consuming packaged foods in general and also restaurant-prepared foods, since many have trace amounts of wheat or gluten lurking in them.
Foods that contain gluten to avoid on a celiac disease diet include:
- All products containing wheat, barley, rye: Read ingredient labels carefully and look for any type of wheat, couscous, spelt, semolina, rye, barley and even oats.
- Processed carbohydrate foods: These are often made with refined wheat flour, but even those that aren’t predominately wheat-based can have gluten because some gluten-free grains can experience cross-contamination during manufacturing. Examples of processed carbs to avoid include breads, pastas, cookies, cakes, snack bars, cereals, rolls, buns, pie crusts, phyllo dough, baking flours and so on.
- Most baking flours: Wheat-based baking flours and products include all bran, bromated flour, durum flour, enriched flour, farina, phosphate flour, plain flour, self-rising flour and white flour.
- Beer and malt alcohol: These are made with barley or wheat.
- In some cases, even gluten-free grains: Due to cross-contamination during manufacturing, gluten-free grains can sometimes contain small amounts of gluten. Be careful because “wheat-free” does not necessarily mean “gluten-free.” Processed products that are labeled “gluten-free” are also not good choices to rely on often, since they’re very low in available nutrients and usually high in synthetic ingredients to make up for lost flavor and texture.
- Bottled condiments and sauces: It’s important to read food labels very carefully and avoid products made with additive ingredients that contain even small traces of gluten. Wheat is now chemically made into preservatives, stabilizers and other additives that are used in even liquid products. These include any condiments made with nearly all flour products, soy sauce, salad dressings or marinades, malts, syrups, dextrin and starch.
- Processed fats: These include hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils, trans fats and refine vegetable oils that raise inflammation, including corn oil, soybean oil and canola oil.
- Added sugars: High in calories, they can worsen inflammation and deplete the body of nutrients.
A full list of processed frozen and prepared foods with hidden gluten is lengthy and can include: (4)
- Artificial coffee creamer
- Malt (in the form of malt extract, malt syrup, malt flavoring and malt vinegar, which are indicative of barley)
- Pasta sauces
- Soy sauce
- Bouillion cubes or prepared gravy
- Frozen french fries
- Salad dressing
- Brown rice syrup
- Seitan and other meat alternatives
- Frozen veggie burgers
- Imitation seafood
- Prepared meats or cold cuts (like hot dogs)
- Chewing gum
- Certain ground spices
- Potato or grain chips
- Certain veined cheeses
- Ketchup and tomato sauces
- Vegetable cooking spray
- Prepared fish sticks
- Flavored instant coffee
- Prepared rice mixes
- Flavored teas
Other Celiac Disease Diet Tips
1. Prevent or Correct Nutrient Deficiencies
Many people with celiac disease can benefit from taking supplements in order to correct deficiencies and help rebuild the immune system that’s been compromised by malabsorption. Celiac disease can cause damage within the digestive tract that means nutrients consumed even from a healthy diet are often not fully absorbed. Common deficiencies can include iron, calcium, vitamin D, zinc, B6, B12 and folate. (5)
The following supplements can help speed up the healing process:
- Gluten-free multivitamin
- Digestive enzymes — look for one that contains DPP-IV
- Probiotics — take one containing between 5 billion to 10 billion organisms daily to replenish good bacteria
- Vitamin D3 — dosages range between 2,000–5,000 IU daily depending on age
- L-glutamine — taking 500 milligrams daily can improve digestive system and help reverse gut permeability
2. Avoid Other Household or Beauty Products Made with Gluten
Non-food items that can contain gluten and trigger symptoms include: (6)
- Glue on stamps and envelopes
- Laundry detergent
- Lip balms
- Body lotions and sunscreens
- Medications, vitamins or over-the-counter pills
- Shampoo and soaps
What Is Celiac Disease?
Celiac disease is a serious food allergy and autoimmune disorder that’s triggered from eating gluten, a type of protein found in numerous foods containing wheat, barley and rye grains. It’s believed that gluten allergies can be tied to dozens, if not hundreds, of different symptoms stemming from indigestion to chronic fatigue, according to the Celiac Disease Foundation. (7)
For most people, celiac disease does a lot more than cause bloated stomach, gas and diarrhea — because it’s an autoimmune disorder, similar to Hashimoto’s disease or rheumatoid arthritis, for example, it also takes a toll on the entire immune system and therefore often someone’s overall quality of life.
What are some common signs or symptoms of celieac disease and its underlying causes?
People with celiac disease experience negative reactions to compounds found in gluten, including one called gliadin, that cause an increased release of cytokine chemicals that raise inflammation and autoimmune reactions. Symptoms often include bloating, diarrhea, constipation, fatigue, joint pain and behavioral issues. When the body’s immune system overreacts to gluten in food, this damages tiny, hair-like projections (villi) that line the small intestine and help with nutrient absorption, so malabsorption is a big concern. (8)
Experts believe that people with celiac disease are usually genetically predisposed to having a gluten allergy, including showing abnormalities in human leukocyte antigens and non-HLA genes. Although having celiac disease in the family alone doesn’t mean someone will necessarily be diagnosed, the odds are much higher.
Celiac Disease Diet vs. Gluten-Free Diet
- It’s possible to have a gluten intolerance (or gluten sensitivity) without testing positive for celiac disease. A new term has been given to this type of condition called non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), which is usually managed with a gluten-free diet. In people with gluten intolerance or NCGS, test makers for celiac disease (using two types of criteria, histopathology and immunoglobulin E, also called IgE) are negative, but gastrointestinal and non-gastrointestinal symptoms still occur after eating gluten.
- Celiac disease and gluten-free diets have certain things in common, although someone diagnosed with celiac disease will need to be more careful overall about avoiding even minor amounts of gluten.
- Both diets can be very beneficial and focus on eating whole, real foods. Considering that USDA data shows that in the U.S. most people are now getting around 70 percent of their total calories every day from grain flours (especially wheat products containing gluten), vegetable oils and added sugar, any diet that cuts down these foods is a step in the right direction. (9)
- The primary difference between these diets is that even gluten-free products or grains might be a problem for people with celiac disease. Modern food-processing techniques often result in gluten appearing in trace amounts in gluten-free products or typically gluten-free grains, such as corn or oats.
- Sensitivity to gluten falls along of a spectrum of mild to very serious, so people with either celiac disease or gluten sensitivity need to track symptoms carefully and work with a doctor to know if consuming gluten-free grains or products safely is an option or not.
Gluten-Free Recipe Ideas
Cooking more at home is the best way to control your exposure to gluten. Keep in mind that when cooking or prepping ingredients, it’s important to avoid cross-contact with foods that have gluten. Contamination can happen through shared utensils or a shared cooking/storage environment, so always be cautious.
Instead of viewing celiac disease as a limiting medical problem that makes eating healthy harder, see it as an opportunity to explore new foods and recipes. Here are some favorite gluten-free recipes you can make at home that adhere to a celiac disease diet:
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Check out a host of my gluten-free recipes here.
Final Thoughts on the Celiac Disease Diet
- Celiac disease is a type of serious food allergy and autoimmune condition that’s caused from consuming a type of protein called gluten, which is found in wheat, rye, barley and many processed products.
- Symptoms of celiac disease are widespread and affect the entire body, including the immune and digestive systems. Because of this, malabsorption, nutrient deficiencies and lowered immune function are common.
- A celiac disease diet, meaning one that is strictly gluten-free and high in bioavailable nutrients, helps manage symptoms, rebuild the GI tract and lower risk for long-term complications.