Celiac Disease and the Gluten-Free Diet


For a few years, the gluten-free diet has been touted as this great weight loss diet although most people did not know what gluten was as proven in this Jimmy Kimmel skit. While going gluten-free can potentially help you lose weight, the reason is not because you are eating gluten-free products. In fact some gluten-free products can still be high calorie. Those who start a gluten-free diet tend to eat less refined carbohydrates such as breads and pasta and more foods containing protein and fat promoting satiety which can overall cut down on caloric intake. That being said, there is something to be said for reducing carbohydrates consumed. However, the gluten-free diet was originally meant for individuals with Celiac disease who require a strict gluten-free diet in order to prevent damage to the intestinal lining and remain symptom free.

The month of May is National Celiac Disease Awareness. Celiac disease, also known as non-tropical sprue, is when the body attacks the lining of the small intestine when gluten is ingested destroying it’s ability to absorb nutrients into the body. Celiac disease is passed down in the family and is not acquired through bad habits of any kind. Symptoms of celiac can include cramping and bloating although some people are asymptomatic but experience the same damage to their intestinal lining. If celiac disease is left untreated, it can lead to nutritional deficiencies and other digestive complications. This autoimmune disease is diagnosed via a blood test measuring antibodies in the blood and/or an endoscopic biopsy of the small intestine. The only treatment is a strict gluten-free diet which can take several months to years for the intestinal villi to repair itself. Some individuals may not test positive for celiac but still experience celiac-like symptoms. This is known as gluten sensitivity and can often be resolved with a strict gluten-free diet.

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye food products. It acts as a “glue” to hold the product together. Some grains are considered to be naturally gluten-free such as corn, rice, quinoa, and oats. Oftentimes these naturally gluten-free grains are contaminated by being processed in the same facility as gluten-containing products. This is also known as cross-contamination. Due to this, it is important to be vigilant and look at the ingredients section next to the nutrition facts of the packaging. There you will find in bold “may contain wheat” or something similar stating it has been packaged in a facility which contains wheat products. The reason cross-contamination is important is any small amount of gluten, such as a crumb from a toaster, can cause a flare-up in an individual with celiac or gluten sensitivity.

Not only should you be mindful of gluten-containing foods, but also medications. Yes, medications can contain gluten. The gluten is typically found in fillers that are placed in the medication to hold it together in pill form. For a list of medications which may contain gluten, go here. You should also be sure to mention your gluten-free needs to your pharmacist.

If you have any further questions about being on a gluten-free diet or have just been diagnosed, I suggest meeting with a registered dietitian to make sure you are going about this correctly. They can help you maintain a balanced diet while following a gluten-free lifestyle. You can also get more information from the websites below.


Celiac Disease Foundation

Beyond Celiac – Great source for recipes

Gluten Free Passport – Fast food options for gluten & allergy free dining **Make sure to read the fine print on these menus for potential cross-contamination

Gluten-Free at College – A great resource for students requiring a gluten-free diet. Includes recipes you can make in your dorm.