Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, or sometimes oats. It may also be found in some medicines. When a person with celiac disease eats or drinks anything containing gluten, the immune system responds by damaging the lining of the intestinal tract. This affects the body's ability to absorb nutrients.
Carefully following a gluten-free diet helps prevent symptoms of the disease.
To follow a gluten-free diet means, you need to avoid all foods, drinks, and medications made with gluten. This means not eating anything made with barley, rye, and wheat. All items made with all-purpose, white, or wheat flour are prohibited.
FOODS YOU CAN EAT
Cereals made without wheat or barley malt
Fruits and vegetables
Meat, poultry, and fish (not breaded or made with regular gravies)
Oats (may be okay for some people with celiac disease, but work closely with your doctor or dietitian)
The gluten-free diet involves removing all foods, drinks, and medications made from gluten. This means not eating anything made with barley, rye, and wheat. All items made with all-purpose, white, or wheat flour are prohibited.
Obvious sources of gluten include:
Breads, bagels, croissants, buns
Cakes, donuts, and pies
Cold cuts, hot dogs, salami, or sausage
Crackers and many snacks bought at the store, such as potato chips and tortilla chips
Pancakes and waffles
Pasta and pizza
Less obvious foods that must be eliminated include:
Marinades, sauces, soy and teriyaki sauces
Salad dressings (some)
There is a risk of cross-contamination. Items that are naturally gluten-free may become contaminated if they are made on the same production line, or moved together in the same place, as foods containing gluten.
Eating at restaurants, work, school, and social gatherings can be challenging. Call ahead and plan. It is important to read labels before buying or eating, due to the widespread use of wheat and barley in foods.
Despite its challenges, maintaining a healthy, balanced diet is possible with education and planning.
Talk to a registered dietitian who specializes in celiac disease and the gluten-free diet to help you plan your diet.
You may also want to join a local support group. These groups can help people with celiac disease share practical advice on ingredients, baking, and ways to cope with this life-altering, lifelong disease.
Your doctor might have you take multivitamin and mineral or individual nutrient supplement to correct or prevent a deficiency.
Rubio-Tapia A, Hill ID, Kelly CP, et al. American College of Gastroenterology Guideline: Diagnosis and management of celiac disease. Am J Gastroenterol. 2013;108:656-676.
Semrad CE. Approach to the patient with diarrhea and malabsorption. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 142.
Todd Eisner, MD, Private practice specializing in Gastroenterology, Boca Raton, FL. Affiliate Assistant Professor, Florida Atlantic University School of Medicine. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.