Diet & Nutrition

Everything you need to know about adopting a gluten-free diet

If you've recently found out you have coeliac disease, you may be wondering how your diet will change. Lisa Donaldson is here to help.

If you've been told you have coeliac disease, you're probably wondering how you're going to adjust to a gluten-free diet. You're also probably a little (read: a lot) annoyed at having coeliac disease. What will you eat? What about your favourite treats? How will you cope without donuts?

To help us adopt a healthy, gluten-free diet, accredited practising dietitian and lead dietitian at Voome, Lisa Donaldson, has answered some of our questions.

Hi Lisa, tell us about gluten-free diets – who needs to go on one?

Lisa: Gluten is actually a protein that is found in certain grains, such as wheat, rye and barley. For people with coeliac disease, the immune system reacts to the gluten by attacking the lining of the small intestine. This is very serious and can hinder the absorption of nutrients, as the intestinal lining becomes damaged and inflamed. So, for people with coeliac disease a gluten-free diet is critical.

Some people have non-coeliac gluten sensitivity, and may respond favourably to reducing gluten in their diet, also. There are no health benefits for removing gluten from the diet for others, in fact it can be less favourable as if not managed correctly, people can become very low in fibre from the removal of beneficial wholegrains.

What are the signs and symptoms that someone has coeliac disease?

Lisa: People with coeliac disease may experience physical pain in their abdomen, coupled with belching, diarrhoea, fat in stool, heartburn, indigestion, nausea, vomiting, or flatulence. If undiagnosed late in life, it can lead to bone loss, fatigue, and/or malnutrition. In children it can cause delayed puberty or slow growth. It can also show up as a skin rash or dermatitis.

What are some tasty foods gluten-free people can eat?

Lisa: When I was first diagnosed with coeliac disease, I thought my life was over! I remember eating a lot of rice in the first few months! Most wholefoods are wonderful choices – plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables; lean meats, legumes and tofu; as well as healthy fats like nuts, seeds and avocado.

As for grains and carbohydrates, there are a range of wonderful gluten free options like millet, quinoa, polenta, brown rice, sorghum, teff and amaranth. As for treats, I love Turkish Delight, dark chocolate, macarons and pavlova!

Are there any nutrients and vitamins coeliacs should try to consume lots of?

Lisa: If a diet is made up of beautiful wholefoods and few processed foods, it is likely a person with coeliac disease is able manage all their nutritional needs without any supplementation. It's always best to consult with an accredited practising dietitian when first diagnosed so that a person can best meet their needs in a balanced way.

Any tips for coeliacs that are dining out?

1). Ring the restaurant and let them know you are coming and your dietary requirements
2). When in doubt go for meat/chicken/fish/protein with veggies/salad
3). Opt for grilled fish
4). Avoid potato chips (fillers, gluten)
5). Choose grilled, BBQ or baked over deep fried
6). Beware of sauces – this is usually where hidden gluten can be found
7). Consider ordering a side of steamed vegetables as an extra filler
8). Desserts: Macarons, nougat, sorbet, pavlova
9). Be the last one to order so that you can ask questions and the waiter can go straight to the kitchen to discuss with the chef if required

Lisa is an Accredited Practising Dietitian who also has a background in education and fitness. She is a spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia and is the Lead Dietitian for Voome. Check out Voome's Low FODMAP Program led by Lisa.