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Gluten-free diet and deficiencies

Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Roger HendersonReviewed on 29.04.2024 | 3 minutes read

You may need to follow a gluten-free diet if you have been diagnosed with coeliac disease (an autoimmune reaction to gluten), you have a wheat allergy, or you have reason to believe you have a gluten intolerance. Gluten is found in the grains wheat, barley and rye. These are the basis of pasta, bread, pastries, biscuits, beer, couscous, breakfast cereal and it can be used as a thickening or coating agent in many sauces, soups or ready meals. Oat products may also cause symptoms to flare for some people.

Excluding gluten products means you need to find alternative sources of a number of vitamins. This includes most of the B vitamins, which are crucial for creating and maintaining cells in the body to keep tissues healthy, carbohydrates, which provide us with energy, and fibre, which helps food moves along the gut to ensure nutrients are absorbed well and we don’t get constipated.

So I need more calcium?

A higher concentration of calcium is recommended for those with coeliac disease, so it’s advisable to up your dairy intake, or pick some of the dairy-free options listed in the section below. Vitamin D is a vital component to ensuring calcium is absorbed and working optimally, so make sure you’re soaking up the sunshine or taking supplements, especially in winter.

Where do I find the B vitamins?

Grains are an important source of the vitamin B group – B6, B12, folate, thiamin, riboflavin and niacin – so you need to find alternative sources to get these. If you think generally: green leafy vegetables, pulses, beans, nuts and liver, you should get a good dose of these. Riboflavin, niacin and vitamin B12 are found in eggs, dairy products, meat and fish.

Coeliac disease sufferers have higher requirements for folic acid. This is one of the vitamin B group and found in green vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale and spinach. Chickpeas and kidney beans are also good sources, and liver (if that appeals).

What will I find in the shops?

Look out for the gluten-free label for foods guaranteed to contain no gluten, and you may find gluten alternatives such as wheat-free bread and flour. Many supermarkets have an entire aisle devoted to gluten-free foods.

Supplements are also available to boost your vitamin B stores or fibre needs, and to replace calcium and vitamin D.

Do I need a blood test?

If you are seeking sources of calcium and B vitamins from food and supplements, you don’t need a blood test to continue with a gluten-free diet. If you’ve been diagnosed with coeliac disease or wheat allergy, it may be worth asking your doctor for advice from a dietician, or you can seek this privately.

If you have any symptoms or concerns, you should discuss these with your doctor, who may order tests including a blood test. You are at risk of anaemia if you don’t get enough vitamin B12 and folic acid, and this can leave you feeling tired, out of breath climbing the stairs or you might look quite pale. If you have concerns but have no particular symptoms, you can request a private blood test.

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Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Roger Henderson
Reviewed on 29.04.2024
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