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Gluten-free diet and deficiencies

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 3 minutes read

You may need to follow a gluten-free diet if you have been diagnosed with celiac 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 grains such as wheat, barley, and rye. These are the basis of pasta, bread, pastries, biscuits, beer, couscous, and breakfast cereal, and they 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 mean 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 energy; and fiber, which helps food move along the gut, ensuring nutrients are absorbed and preventing constipation.

So I need more calcium?

A higher level of calcium is recommended for those with celiac 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. Good sources include green leafy vegetables, pulses, beans, nuts, and liver. Riboflavin, niacin, and vitamin B12 are found in eggs, dairy products, meat, and fish.

Celiac disease sufferers have higher requirements for folic acid. This is part of the vitamin B group and is 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 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, increase your fiber intake and to replace calcium and vitamin D.

Do I need a blood test?

If you seek 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 celiac disease or wheat allergy, it may be worth asking your doctor for advice from a dietician, or you can seek this on your own.

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 anemia 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.

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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