It’s National Nutrition Month, so it’s a good time to touch on the cornerstones of a gluten-free diet to make sure you’re getting the nutrients needed for health.
When people start off on a gluten free diet, step one is figuring a way to take out all the gluten, and get adjusted to this new way of living and eating. But as life starts to ease back to normal, it’s important to take the second step and eat a diet with all of the nutrients you need to feel better, allow your intestines to heal, and live well.
Years ago, studies showed that many people weren’t getting enough iron and B vitamins, so the US government decided to fortify our breads, cereals, etc. However, GF foods are considered specialty foods, and there are no laws about enrichment. Many GF foods are not fortified, so it’s not surprising that researchers have found that on average, people on a gluten free diet are eating less of these key nutrients than general population. People on a gluten free diet also seem to be eating less calcium, fiber and grains than recommended, especially among women.
Calcium is particularly important to people with Celiac disease, since osteoporosis often occurs due to intestinal damage from CD, which can cause malabsorption of calcium and Vitamin D. Also, many people with Celiac disease avoid dairy due to lactose intolerance. In a study of people on a GF diet, less than a third of the women ate the recommended amounts of calcium, although most men did get the amounts recommended. When people start off on a gluten free diet, step one is figuring a way to take out all the gluten, and get adjusted to this new way of living and eating. But as life starts to ease back to normal, it’s important to take the second step and eat a diet with all of the nutrients you need to feel better, allow your intestines to heal, and live well.
A survey of people on a gluten free diet found that less than half of women are getting recommended amounts of iron. This is particularly important, since many people with Celiac disease are anemic before going gluten free due to the constant intestinal damage and irritation. Anemia often causes fatigue, weakness and poor concentration. Liver and organ meats are great sources of iron, but there are a variety of foods and ways of combining foods with vitamin C that can help raise iron levels, too.
Most Americans are getting less fiber than recommended, and getting enough fiber can be even more challenging on a gluten free diet, since many high fiber cereals, breads and bars are off limits. Fiber is best known for its help keeping people regular, but it is important in helping lower risk of heart disease and diabetes, too.
So what’s a gluten free gal (or guy) to do?
- Take a (gluten free!) multivitamin
- Choose fortified gluten free products
- If you avoid dairy products, find other calcium fortified beverages and other high calcium foods
- Make sure you’re getting your Celiac serology (blood test) done yearly, and other #s, like vitamin D, iron, B12, folate, thyroid, etc. done every few years or as needed to avoid deficiencies.
- Make sure you’re getting enough fiber! Veggies, fruits, beans, flaxseed, and whole grain GF foods are a great source of fiber.
- Consider speaking to a dietitian to help you trouble shoot and make sure you’re getting what you need.
- Wow! There is now a Congressional Caucus to address Celiac disease! This is huge news. CDF is taking the lead, and if you’re interested, you may want to stay informed on news.
- Curious about oats? GF Jules has a great post and infographic that breaks it down.
- I’m doing a presentation for the Metro DC EDS Association on Digestion and Hypermobility and EDS on March 15th. If you have EDS or HSD and you’d like to attend, email me for more information.
Cheryl Harris, MPH, RD is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Wellcoach in Fairfax, VA. She helps people with a range of dietary issues, including Celiac Disease, digestive issues, preventing diseases and “whole foods” eating. Let’s get you on your way to achieving your goals and feeling great! Email or call 571-271-8742.