What you need to know about coeliac disease

If you have recently been diagnosed with coeliac disease, it can be a daunting experience.

Many people may have had coeliac disease without realising for months or years. During that time, eating gluten-containing foods will have damaged the lining of their gut and this will have impacted on how well nutrients have been absorbed from food.

It is important, therefore, once you are diagnosed, to eat a healthy diet, concentrating especially on the nutrients that your body may not have been getting in sufficient quantities. Big ones to watch out for include:

Iron: The best or most easily absorbed form of iron is contained in red meat, so it is a good idea to include some red meat regularly in your diet. If you do not eat red meat, other sources of iron include fortified breakfast cereals and green vegetables, but these are not so well absorbed. By having a vitamin C source it will boost absorption. But make sure to discuss this with your doctor or dietitian as you may need to take an iron supplement in the short term just to boost your stores.

Calcium: The incidence of osteoporosis is higher in people with coeliac disease and this seems to arise as calcium absorption is affected. It is important, therefore, to include calcium-rich food. The best source is dairy products like milk, cheese, and yoghurt. It is recommended that you include at least three portions of calcium-rich foods per day.

Vitamin D works hand in hand with calcium to help you have strong bones. It is unique in that our bodies can manufacture it from sunlight. However, when you have first been diagnosed it is important to include vitamin D-rich foods, and there are not many of them. It is found in fish oil, margarine, eggs, and fortified milks. Therefore, to go hand in hand with your calcium intake, it might be a good option to change to fortified/enriched milk, just so you have your vitamin D covered.

Once you are established on a gluten-free diet, it is important that it is healthy and balanced. Remember, just because a food is labelled as gluten free, it does not imply any magical health attachment. Many of the specialised gluten-free foods may not be fortified with nutrients, as would be the case in ordinary foods.

For more information contact Maria at The Community Nutrition and Dietetic Service, HSE Dublin-Mid Leinster, on (044 ) 9395518 or email [email protected].

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