This is a popular term these days. What does it mean? Why is it so popular? A gluten free diet is used to treat celiac disease (an autoimmune disease triggered by gluten), along with wheat allergies, and non celiac gluten sensitivity. What is gluten, you may ask? What does it mean to be “gluten free”

I am not a doctor, nor an expert on celiac disease or other gluten intolerance, being very new to the whole concept. I am not gluten intolerant, though I know people who have this disease, and I had been asked to prepare some foods that do not contain gluten, for certain local functions. I had not the least concept of what this really meant. I knew gluten is found in wheat. I bake bread all the time, so of course I know that. I had no idea gluten is also found in barley and rye and a whole host of other things. This section is meant only as a beginner's primer on the subject, though I now understand how important it is even for one without a gluten intolerance to thoroughly understand what it means and how it can affect a loved one.

What is Gluten

Gluten is a protein composite found in wheat and other related grain species like spelt, kamut and triticale, and including barley and rye. This means it is also in any foods processed from these grains, or near these grains. The word “gluten” comes from the Latin for “glue”. Gluten gives elasticity to dough, helping it to rise and keep shape, and can give the final product a chewy texture. As it is used as a thickener , gluten can be found in soups and broths, gravies , salad dressings, mayonnaise. It is added to the strangest and seemingly unlikely places. It is added to many yogurts, as it makes it a smoother, creamier and so called “more palatable” food. Gluten is also often found in the substance used to seal envelopes, since it acts as a stabilizer. Gluten is used to create protein supplements and meat substitutes (such as seitan), for people (such as vegetarians or vegans) who do not get enough protein in the diet.

What is Gluten Intolerance

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease triggered by gluten. Gluten intolerance is a term used to describe three conditions: wheat allergy, non celiac gluten sensitivity and celiac disease. All three conditions are difficult to diagnose, so many people are unaware that this intolerance is at the root of other health issues.

Most forms of gluten intolerance cause the body to produce an abnormal immune response in the presence of wheat or its proteins. An allergy to wheat can produce symptoms such as hives, difficulty breathing and digestive problems. In really serious cases, a person with this allergy can experience anaphylaxis. With celiac disease, which causes damage and inflammation in the small intestine, people may suffer from bloating, weight loss, fatigue and headaches, as the body cannot obtain all the nutrients it needs from food. Non celiac gluten sensitivity is even harder to diagnose, so most often these people are lumped into the celiac category.

Celiac disease is called an autoimmune disease, in that when a person with celiac disease consumes gluten, the immune system attacks its own body. It causes inflammation and damages the lining of the small intestine. Since most of our nutrients are absorbed in the small intestine, one with celiac disease is less able to absorb nutrients from food. Additionally, this damage to the small intestine can also cause leaky gut syndrome, and fragments of proteins and toxins that should remain in the small intestine, now pass through the intestinal wall to the bloodstream.

What does it mean to be “Gluten Free”

Eliminating all sources of gluten from the diet can be a completely daunting prospect. To one just diagnosed as gluten intolerant, it might seem like the end of the world as one knew it. Giving up pizza, bread, cookies, beer is there still life after that?

Starting on a gluten free diet, one must make certain to attain enough fiber, folate, iron, niacin, riboflavin, selenium and thiamine; often lacking in a gluten free diet. Additionally it is important to not fill up on too many simple carbohydrates. Too many refined flours like white rice flour would not be a healthy start.

Read Food Labels

Reading food labels is an absolute must, but even reading labels with utmost care will not always give the answers one needs. Labels are confusing. Different countries label differently. The US FDA allows 4 times the accepted amount of gluten to be considered “gluten free” as Australia; a large difference. And then, gluten or wheat is in so many products one would never have thought. Who knew that licking an envelope might trigger an attack.

Foods to Avoid

It is easy to understand that wheat must be eliminated from the diet, but wheat is hidden behind a lot of other titles, such as bulgur, durum flour, farina, graham flour, kamut, semolina and spelt. Good gracious.

Things to avoid unless they are specifically labeled “Gluten Free”, or made with corn, rice, soy or other gluten free grain: Beer (generally made with wheat or barley), breads, cakes & pies, candies, cereals, cookies & crackers, croutons, French fries (commercial), gravies, imitation meat or seafood, matzo, pastas, processed luncheon meats, salad dressings, sauces (including soy sauce), seasoned rice mixes, seasoned snack foods (such as potato chips and tortilla chips), self basting poultry, soups and soup bases, vegetables in sauce.

Oats are controversial. Very often oats are grown in a field next a field planted with wheat. There is enough contamination there to cause severe reactions in some people. Also oats and wheat are often processed in the same facilities. Most doctors recommend avoiding oats entirely, unless they are labeled specifically “gluten free.”

Cross Contamination

Cross contamination occurs when gluten free foods come in contact with foods containing gluten. This can occur so easily and in unthought-of of ways just in the home. Wooden cutting boards or utensils that have been used with a gluten containing food must not be used when preparing something gluten free. Using a toaster that has been used for wheat breads is a major source of contamination. Any non wooden utensils must be thoroughly cleansed before using to prepare a gluten free food. If one uses wheat flour in a recipe, it can take up to 24 hours for the wheat dust particles in the air to completely settle. Or, using butter that someone else has swiped to butter a slice of wheat bread, leaving behind traces of that bread.

Cross contamination occurs in processing facilities when gluten free foods come in contact with foods containing gluten, such as when using the same equipment to make a variety of products. Some foods are labeled “may contain” but understand that this labeling is voluntary. Check the ingredient list. If you aren't sure if a food contains gluten, either don't buy it, or call the manufacturer to ask what it contains.

Gluten Free Now What

When initially eliminating all the gluten filled products from the diet, one can experience mild to severe withdrawal symptoms. Gluten's complex proteins trigger the body to manufacture chemicals similar to endorphins, producing a calm and relaxed feeling. Just as when an opiate consumption is stopped, one can experience a degree of withdrawal from gluten. This withdrawal can cause irritability and intense cravings. Additionally, as the body heals during the first week or so of going gluten free other possible side effects could be things like hives, mild rashes or headaches. This is because the body, and particularly the liver, as it is in the process of detox, can suddenly better process and eliminate toxins. Understand this is a process, and will pass.

Switching to a gluten free diet is a huge change, and as with anything new it requires getting used to all these new concepts. While one may initially feel deprived by all the restrictions, it may come as a pleasant surprise to find how many gluten free products are available. Many grocery stores or specialty stores these days have a section of gluten free products, such as breads, pastas and crackers. If they are not available in your area, check with a celiac support group or go online.

Above all, stay positive.

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autoimmune disease diet

15 thoughts on “Autoimmune Disease Diet

  1. neeshera

    Does anyone know of a good vitiligo diet and also recipes to follow that diet?
    Vitiligo is an autoimmune disease and responds well to ayurvedic treatment, provided a strict dietary regime is followed. Is anyone, especially from India, aware of a good dietary recommendation for vitiligo and also recipes to adapt to the dietary restrictions?

  2. shorty

    Can lupus be a cause of pancreatitis since lupus is an autoimmune disease?
    My Mom has been battling pancreatitis for over a month with little relief unfortunately she is losing a lot of weight which is something she cannot afford to do. She is on an all liquid diet and I am afraid of her becoming malnourished. Any Help would be appreciated

    1. Linda R

      I am sorry your mom is having such a hard time of it. Yes, lupus can attack any organ in the body. But there can be many other reasons for pancreatitis. It is important to let the doctors do the diagnosing. Lupus is a complex disease and not easy to diagnose. And they will not make a diagnosis of lupus until everything else is ruled out.

      Your mom needs to have opend discussions with her doctor to find out what he/she is exploring. If the doctor refuses to communicate with her, it may be time to fire that one and get a new one.

  3. Pasha

    Why is Celiac disease considered dangerous, and gluten intolerance not dangerous?
    I’ve read everywhere that people diagnosed with gluten intolerance suffer the same symptoms as those diagnosed with Celiac Disease, and yet Celiac is considered to be more dangerous. In what way is it worse, and why don’t doctors take gluten intolerance as seriously?

    1. Pamela

      Celiac disease, wheat allergy and gluten-intolerance are treated similarly, in that patients with these conditions must remove wheat from their diet. It is important to note, however, that there is a difference between these three medical problems. Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition, where the body’s immune system starts attacking normal tissue, such as intestinal tissue, in response to eating gluten. Because of this, people with celiac disease are at risk for malabsorption of food, which cause nutritional deficiencies and may result in conditions such as iron deficiency anemia, osteopenia, and osteoporosis.  Persons with a wheat allergy or gluten-intolerance usually do not have severe intestinal damage, and therefore are not at risk for these nutritional deficiencies.  They also are not at increased risk of developing other autoimmune conditions.

      Unlike a food allergy or food intolerance, celiac disease is an inherited condition.  This means family members may have it, too.  For this reason, if someone in your family is diagnosed, it is recommended that first degree relatives (parents, children, siblings) are screened as well.  Finally, celiac disease involves the activation of a particular type of white blood cell, the T lymphocyte, as well as other parts of the immune system, which may increase the risk of developing GI cancers, in particular lymphomas, in persons with celiac disease.  Since food allergies and intolerances do not involve this particular immune system pathway, these patients are not at increased risk for these cancers.

  4. kowhai51

    why does one have to change their diet, just because of medication?
    I want to know why one cant eat normal food? i have an autoimmune disease which is destroying my saliva glands, apparently this problem gets worse if i eat dairy or wheat. Other foods causing a problem are vitamin K and also soya, rice, citrus, potatoes, nuts and all dry foods have been to naturopath and dietician but they just expect u to get used to things u cant tolerate. I would like proper food not garbage stuff.

    1. Angus.


  5. kowhaiflowers

    why is gluten free foods so dry, hard and tasteless?
    I have no saliva due to an autoimmune disease called sjogrens syndrome, which means my immune system is destroying my saliva glands. I find gluten free foods so dry, tasteless and not nutritional.

  6. kowhai51

    can anyone please help me with a moist diet?
    I NEED A MOIST DIET WITH VARIETY. I CANT HAVE ANY OF THE FOLLOWING ITEMS. RICE,WHEAT, DAIRY, SAUCES, GRAVYS, OILS, HERBS, SPICES, SUGAR, SOYA. The only fruit I can have is apples. I have cut my 3 meals down to two and dont eat in between meals. I am 109kg I am on warfarin (no vitamin K)
    I cant walk far, I have an exercise bike and can only manage 5 mins a day due to deterioating immune system. I have autoimmune disease that is destroying my saliva glands. I have an extremely slow metabolism. I get continual achy pain all through my body due to deterioating immune system. I have inflammation all in my body. Please dont suggest things I cant have. None of the following can help me Naturopath, Dr, Dietician, I need someone who understands my problem. I look forward to any suggestions. Thank you.

  7. Anonymous

    Why is gluten intollerence called celiac disease? What exactly does celiac mean?
    Why is gluten intollerence called celiac disease?
    What exactly does celiac mean?
    It seems more ‘right’ to be called something like gluten disease. Does the celiac trunk have something to do with it?

  8. RH

    What is a good diet regimen for a lupus patient to follow? What foods should be avoided?
    I would like to know what foods to stay away from and what foods may help people diagnosed with autoimmune diseases. What is a good diet regimen for this diagnosis? Are there any foods that are harmful or that should be totally avoided by lupus patients?

    1. Linda R

      Lupus patients should avoid alfalfa sprouts. They stimulate the immune system, just the opposite of what we need.

      Outside of that, here are some basic guidelines that work for me.

      1. Eat lots, and I mean lots, of fresh fruits and vegetables
      2. Limit or eliminate animal fat. We have a high rate of premature atherosclerosis. A healthy heart diet is essential.
      3. Limit processed foods
      4. Eat plenty of fiber (#1 will accomplish that)
      5. Get regular mild to moderat exercise-it improves immune function, lubricates joints and elevates mood. Ask your rheumy what would be good for you.
      6. Do not take echinacea or goldenseal. They also stimulate immune system.
      7. Some lupus patients find wheat gluten to be inflammatory, but many of us have no problem with it.
      8. If you can’t pronounce the ingredients, don’t put it in your mouth.
      9. Fish oil is anti-inflammatory. You can eat cold water fish like salmon to get that. A small amount of nuts is good, too.
      10. Make sure you get plenty of calcium. Our meds make us prone to osteoporosis. Exercise helps with that, too.

  9. Wooohoo69

    I might have celiac disease, can someone tell me about it?
    I’m being tested. I’ve got the symptoms and it’s in my family 🙁 so, all i know is it’s an autoimmune disease where your immune systom atacks your intestines. Anything else I should know, just incase?

    1. MishMash

      Blood tests DO NOT ACCURATELY DIAGNOSE Celiac Disease.

      Doctors who ask for the test to be done are simply wasting your time.

      ONLY A BIOPSY OF YOUR INTESTINAL LINING done by a Gastro-enterologist during a gastroscopy can confirm that you have Celiac Disease.

      Before you have the gastroscopy, the Gastro-enterologist will ask that you INCLUDE gluten in your diet for at least 6 weeks prior to your gastroscopy so that the biopsy will give an ACCURATE result if indeed YOU are a Celiac.


      When researching medical/health information on the Internet be aware of bogus sites offering ‘advice’ and then trying to sell you their product !

      Reputable health sites are those that have been approved by the “Health On the Net” Foundation, which was set up by the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.

      By going to the “Health on the Net” website you can down load their tool bar to check for accredited sites. This tool bar gives you a grey square in the top right hand corner of your computer screen. When you are on an accredited reputable, honest medical/health site the grey square will light up red.

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