A lifelong, gluten-free diet is the only treatment for celiac disease. Fortunately, it is extremely effective. Symptoms often go away within days of starting the diet. (Some symptoms, such as certain dental problems, may be permanent). Complete healing of damaged villi lining the intestines may take months or years.
Additional intake of gluten can damage the intestine, even if you have no symptoms. Nutritional supplements, given intravenously, may be needed if the intestinal damage is significant and does not heal.
Since gluten is present in many foods (such as bread and pasta) and it is often an additive to many foods, the diet can be complicated and frustrating. Many people consult with a dietitian who can help with meal planning. Support groups are also helpful with dietary issues associated with celiac disease.
Foods to Avoid
To follow a gluten-free diet, you must avoid all foods containing:
This list includes most bread, pasta, cereal, and processed foods. Special gluten-free breads and pastas are available. They are made with potato, rice, soy, or bean flour.
Many people with celiac disease also become lactose intolerant. If you are lactose intolerant, you may also need to avoid milk products. In some people, lactose intolerance resolves after following a gluten-free diet.
Managing the Diet
Maintaining a gluten-free diet requires a lot of vigilance since gluten is included in many unexpected foods and beverages. When buying processed and packaged foods, carefully read all labels. If you are unsure if a food contains gluten, don’t eat it until you find out definitively.
Examples of other foods that contain gluten include:
Ordering at restaurants can also be challenging since many foods on the menu may contain gluten. Rather than shying away from eating at restaurants, call ahead or look at a menu online to see what options are available.
Celiac disease. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114570/Celiac-disease. Updated September 14, 2016. Accessed October 3, 2016.
Celiac disease (gluten enteropathy). Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/gastrointestinal-disorders/malabsorption-syndromes/celiac-disease. Updated May 2014. Accessed December 31, 2015.
Celiac disease: Treatment. American Academy of Family Physicians Family Doctor website. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/diseases-conditions/celiac-disease/treatment.html. Updated April 2014. Accessed December 31, 2015.
What I need to know about celiac disease. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at: http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/digestive-diseases/celiac-disease/Pages/ez.aspx. Updated September 2013. Accessed December 31, 2015.
Last reviewed December 2015 by Daus Mahnke, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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