A gluten-free diet involves eliminating gluten, a protein, from your diet. This is found in wheat, barley, and rye.

Oats were reported to contain gluten, but it is actually avenin, a protein similar to gluten, which is found in oats. Most people with celiac disease can tolerate oats without any adverse health effects.

Celiac disease, which affects roughly one per cent of the population, occurs when the small intense is damaged by gluten. This reaction then causes the immune system to attack the lining of the bowel, and food is not absorbed properly.

Who can follow a gluten-free diet?

People with celiac disease must follow a gluten-free diet, as those with extreme sensitivity to gluten can experience sickness if they consume even a trace of gluten.

Otherwise, people with a gluten allergy or gluten sensitivity may adopt the gluten-free diet if they experience bloating, pain and stomach cramps. However, this allergy to gluten is not the same as celiac disease, which is an autoimmune disease.

A number of people follow a gluten-free diet as maintaining a healthy diet through avoiding pre-prepared foods can be beneficial.

Celiac disease and diabetes

Like type 1 diabetes, celiac disease is an autoimmune disease, and it can be common for someone to have both conditions.

According to the American Diabetes Association, 10 per cent of people with type 1 diabetes also have celiac disease.

As food is absorbed differently while your body recovers from celiac disease and eating gluten, this can make it challenging to manage your diabetes.

In 2013, a Mayo Clinic study on mice concluded that a gluten-free diet may prevent type 1 diabetes from developing, suggesting that gluten could be a causal factor in the development of type 1.

However, tests on gluten-free diets in children at risk of type 1 diabetes are yet to conclusively show that the diet protects against type 1 autoimmunity.

You should also ask your pharmacist if any of your medication contains gluten in case a suitable replacement may need to be arranged.

How does avoiding gluten help in celiac disease?

When the lining of the small intestine becomes inflamed, a gluten-free diet is required to heal the intestine and return it to a pre-celiac state.

Many people with celiac disease need to adhere to a strict gluten-free diet to avoid adverse health effects, but while some can tolerate a small amount of gluten without feeling unwell, following the diet is essential so your ability to absorb food increases.

Which foods should be avoided in a gluten free diet?

Carbohydrates such as bread, pasta and noodles contain wheat flour, and will need to be avoided, as will pastries, cakes, pies and biscuits. However, many supermarkets will stock gluten-free replacements for a number of these items.

Anything cooked in breadcrumbs and batter will contain gluten, while certain cereals may also be unsuitable.

A number of pre-prepared foods might include gluten as a binding agent, which can further limit your options.

Among the foods which could contain gluten include:

  • Crisps and potato chips
  • Curries
  • Ice cream
  • Sausages and processed meats
  • Packaged meals
  • Certain sauces, such as soy sauce
  • Alcohol – beer, lager, ale and stouts

It is wise to become as informed as possible regarding ingredient lists to assess what has gluten in it. Labels such as “gluten free” and “suitable for celiac” may also appear on the packaging.

What can I eat on a gluten free diet?

Thankfully, there are gluten-free alternatives for a number of foods, such as bread, pasta, biscuits and cereals. Gluten-free flour also enables you to amend recipes which would otherwise be made with wheat flour.

Other foods you can freely eat include:

  • Fruit and vegetables
  • Most dairy products
  • Fresh meat and fish
  • Rice
  • Potatoes
  • Beans and nuts

Eating more home cooked meals and cooking from scratch will allow you to monitor your diet far more closely than eating packaged foods.

There are several gluten-free cooking books that can teach you how best to prepare your meals at home. Teaching yourself how to count carbohydrates will also allow you to accurately substitute gluten-free ingredients into your recipes without exceeding your serving size.

Moreover, quite a few restaurants provide information on which of their meals contain gluten and which ones are gluten-free. If this information is not displayed, be sure to ask which foods may have been prepared with gluten-containing ingredients.

Are blood sugar levels affected by a gluten-free diet?

The blood sugar levels of someone with diabetes may be affected on a gluten-free diet, but these changes should not be major.

As food is absorbed differently in people with celiac disease, this may result in unexplained highs or lows among diabetics.

Insulin requirements may therefore be slightly higher or lower, which could impact people who are susceptible to hypoglycemia.

Are there side-effects from a gluten free diet?

If you are looking to adopt a gluten-free diet, but you do not have celiac disease, or a gluten allergy, you should see your doctor beforehand.

You may be prescribed supplements to ensure you do not experience any nutrient deficiencies, which can be a side-effect of a gluten-free diet.

Gluten-free diet and vitamins

Nutrient supplements may be beneficial if the small intestines of patients are not properly able to absorb vitamins.

Research has shown people with celiac disease may be deficient in iron, magnesium, Vitamin D and calcium.

However, certain vitamin supplements may contain gluten, and extra care should be taken to ensure you are not exposed to gluten.