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Going gluten-free with a diabetes diet

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Do you know an individual with type 1 diabetes who also has celiac disease? This is an increasingly common scenario. Celiac disease is reported to be affecting as many as 10% of adults with type 1 diabetes, and 4 – 9% of children.

Celiac disease is an auto-immune digestive disorder in which the body responds in a harmful way to gluten. The condition is also known as gluten-sensitive enteropathy (GSE).  For more information, read our article Celiac disease and diabetes. 

The only treatment for celiac disease is to follow a gluten-free diet for life. This can seem overwhelming for people who are already following a diabetes diet. However, the benefits can be significant, both in improving ongoing health and energy and in helping to avoid the serious complications of celiac disease.

It is important to consult with a dietitian to integrate a gluten-free diet into the diabetes management meal plan.

Meanwhile, here are some basic tips and guidelines.

Foods to avoid

Gluten is in wheat, barley, rye and in all foods that contain these grains. Individuals with celiac disease must avoid a number of grain-based staples, including the following:

  • Wheat based flour
  • Durum wheat
  • Wheat germ
  • Wheat bran
  • Graham flour
  • Semolina
  • Spelt
  • Kamut
  • Triticale

These ingredients are unfortunately found in a wide variety of foods. As a result, people with celiac disease must be very careful to check the ingredients label on commonly eaten items like bread, pasta, cereals, cookies, baked goods, sauces, soups, sauces, granola bars, and processed foods like frozen fries, sausages or hotdogs etc.

Gluten-free alternatives

The good news is that gluten-free alternative products are now becoming widely available in both supermarkets and specialty stores. For example, gluten-free pasta and breads are easy to find.

It is important to be aware that some of these gluten-free products have a higher carbohydrate content than traditional gluten-containing products. They may also have a lower fibre content. Be sure to check the carb counts per serving and continue to follow the recommendations in the diabetes management diet.

Choose gluten-free carbs

Many carbohydrates are naturally free from gluten. By choosing foods like these more often, an individual with diabetes can enjoy a healthy diet that fits with their diabetes meal plan.

Naturally gluten-free carbs include:

  • Rice
  • Potato
  • Beans
  • Corn
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Millet
  • Quinoa
  • Lentils
  • Millet

Yogurt, milk and fruits also contain carbohydrates.

Speak to the dietitian on the diabetes healthcare team for specific recommendations.  Combining a gluten-free diet with a diabetes meal plan requires guidance and ongoing monitoring. The health benefits are well worth the effort.

About Diabetes Care

Diabetes Care Community is the author of articles on a wide range of diabetes topics. All of these articles are written to a high standard of quality. They are reviewed for accuracy with health care professionals and, wherever possible, will adhere to Diabetes Canada's 2018 Clinical Practice Guidelines. It is our wish that you find our articles helpful. We welcome your feedback and comments.

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