Digestive Health

Updated 11 March 2016

Good diet helps people manage coeliac disease

The effects of gluten intolerance can be minimised with proper nutrition, expert says.

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For people with coeliac disease, an accurate diagnosis and proper diet are essential for good health, experts say.

Coeliac disease is an intolerance to the protein gluten, which is found in wheat, barley and rye. When people with coeliac disease eat gluten-containing foods, the lining of their small intestine is damaged and can eventually be destroyed, which prevents adequate absorption of nutrients and leads to other health problems, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

About one of every 141 Americans has coeliac disease.

"While the only treatment for coeliac disease is a gluten-free diet, the good news is, once the diet is started, the road to recover begins, and people with coeliac disease can lead long, healthy lives," registered dietitian and nutritionist Rachel Begun said in an academy news release.

"Managing coeliac disease is not just about eliminating gluten from your diet. It also entails ensuring you get all the vitamins and nutrients your body needs, such as iron, calcium, fibre and B-vitamins like thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and folate," she explained.

'Getting the important nutrients'

Many healthy foods are naturally gluten-free, including fruits, vegetables, lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, beans, legumes, soy, nuts, as well as the grains amaranth, buckwheat, corn, rice, teff and quinoa. Also, there are gluten-free flours made from almond meal, chickpeas and garbanzo beans, brown rice, coconut, potato, sorghum, tapioca and white rice.

An accurate diagnosis is a crucial for people with coeliac disease.

"Do not diagnose yourself. If you have any symptoms, talk with your health care provider and get tested," Begun said.

"It's important to keep eating a normal gluten-containing diet while being tested to ensure an accurate diagnosis. If you are diagnosed with coeliac disease, a registered dietitian-nutritionist will help you understand which foods are safe to eat and ensure you are getting the important nutrients your body needs."

Coeliac disease symptoms can include bloating, gas or abdominal pain, chronic diarrhoea or constipation, fatigue, itchy skin rash and tingling in the hands and feet. However, some people with coeliac disease do not have any of these symptoms.


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Dr. Estelle Wilken is a Senior Specialist in Internal Medicine and Gastroenterology at Tygerberg Hospital. She obtained her MBChB in 1976, her MMed (Int) in 1991 and her gastroenterology registration in 1995.

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