Diet For People With Celiac Disease

Overview & Description

Celiac disease is a chronic digestive disorder that affects the small intestine. It can begin at any stage of life, from infancy through adulthood. The disease varies in severity from person to person. People with celiac disease have an intolerance or a reaction to gliadin, which is a component of gluten. Gluten and gliadin are found in several common grains.


Diet is an important part of treating this condition. A person with celiac disease is put on a gluten-restricted, gliadin-free diet. If he or she is very careful, most vitamin and mineral levels will return to normal without supplementation.

Food to avoid are any products made with wheat, rye, and, sometimes, oats and barley. These starches are found in many flours and thickening agents. Many processed foods also have hidden sources of gluten and gliadin. People with celiac disease should learn to read food labels to look for hidden gliadin-containing ingredients. Foods such as corn, rice, soybeans, chickpeas, tapioca, arrowroot, and potatoes are eaten instead. It also can be helpful to cut back on lactose, a milk sugar found in most dairy products.

A person with this disease may need to supplement his or her diet with vitamin and minerals, including calcium and vitamin D, and electrolyte and fluid replacement.

The cause of celiac disease is not completely known. One theory suggests that it is due to a missing or poorly functioning enzyme of the immune system. Other theories suggest it may be genetic. Recovery from this disease may take as long as 6 months to several years on a gliadin-free diet. After this time, symptoms will largely disappear and the small intestine will return to normal.

People with celiac disease must also be careful that gliadin foods do not come into contact with other foods during preparation. This can easily happen in the cases of shared utensils, cutting boards, or containers. This problem can make eating out hard for those with the disease.

The good news is that people with celiac are not alone. There are many groups that provide resources for these people and their families. There are also more choices today than ever before for gluten-free foods. At one time, people with celiac disease had to make many of their own foods. They commonly made bread from potato flour and cereals from non-gluten grains. Now there are large food companies that produce pasta, breads, and cereals made from gluten-free grains. In many cases, these foods are available through mail order.

These organizations can provide information and resources:

  • Celiac Sprue Association/ USA, Inc. PO Box 31700 Omaha, NE 68131-0700. (402) 558-0600
  • Internet site:
  • Gluten Intolerance Group of North America PO Box 23053 Seattle, WA 98102-0353. (206) 325-6980
  • Functions and Sources

    What food source is the nutrient found in?

    Gluten is found in wheat, rye, barley, oats, corn, and rice. Gliadin, the offending substance, is not present in corn or rice but is found in the other grains. So, the diet for celiac disease is actually known as gluten-restricted and gliadin-free. People with the disease cannot eat wheat, rye, barley, and oats or any products made with these grains. They can have corn and rice, even though they contain gluten, because they don’t contain gliadin. Oats have traditionally been considered off-limits to people with this condition. However, recent studies have challenged this, and experts now tell people with celiac to try oats on a case-by-case basis.

    How does the nutrient affect the body?

    In people with this disease, gliadin damages the tiny projections, called villi, that cover the lining of the small intestine. Villi absorb and carry fluids and nutrients. When they are damaged, the body is unable to take in the nutrients that it needs. This causes problems that include:

  • diarrhea
  • weight loss
  • fatigue
  • irritability
  • distended belly
  • It also can cause vitamin and mineral deficiencies, lactose intolerance, and a foul smell to feces.

    Article type: xmedgeneral