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What To Eat If You Are Celiac or Diabetic?

Updated on December 4, 2012

Celiac disease and Type 1 Diabetes are similar in that they are both autoimmune diseases influenced by genetic predisposition and environmental factors. It is well known that environmental nutrition plays a key role in the development of diabetes (type 1) but also celiac. Some people are more likely to develop an over-reaction to wheat and other foods, which may break the balance within the immune system and make the body to develop an immune problem, such as Type 1 Diabetes. Up to 10% of children with Type 1 have clinical celiac disease. In their case, the celiac disease often precedes the Type 1 diabetes.

Globally, about 250 million people are afflicted by diabetes. The most severe form is Type 1 diabetes which makes up about 10 % (cca. 25 million) of the worldwide total. Scientists in different parts of the world have found that there is a connection between Type 1 Diabetes and celiac disease. Evidence suggest that patients diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes are at high risk for celiac disease, moreover, the prevalence of the latter in patients with Type 1 Diabetes has a ratio 5-7 times higher than the general public. The occurence of celiac disease in patients with diabetes is from 1%-16%, which is considerably higher, compared to the general population, from 0.3% to 1%. Beside having the common genetic susceptibility locus in the so called HLA system, celiac and diabetes are tied by other seven regions outside of this system. Consequently, ADA – The American Diabetic Association recommends screening for celiac disease to all people positively diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. Still, routine screening for celiac disease in those with Type 1 Diabetes, isn’t really routine. Therefore, 97% of people with celiac disease go undiagnosed, which can lead to secondary complications such as weight loss, bowl malignancy or stunted growth.

Scientists have done a few researches studying animals on gluten-free diet and managed to gain positive results, but there isn't a lot of evidence supporting improvements for diabetics on a gluten-free diet for humans.

Nevertheless, people can and should act in order to prevent both diseases, or to save themselves at least from one of these difficult autoimmune disorders, and that is, by putting themselves on a gluten-free and dairy-free diet.

Some patients don't develop celiac disease for many years after receiving diabetes, but researches have shown that, more than half of the patients screened for celiac disease eventually become diagnosed with celiac (if not at the very beginning, shortly after Type 1 Diabetes is discovered). That’s why it is important to keep frequency in testing for celiac in diabetic patients, possibly once a year. Unfortunately, patients are self-responsible to advocate for celiac screenings and those may be expensive.

Once you feel better, don't start eating large amounts of wheat or other gluten-rich foods. If you are diagnosed with celiac, chances are, you will end up sicker than you were before.

Personal note. I recommend you to visit Dr. Schaer’s official site to learn more about gluten-free diets and products.

How to prevent celiac in patients with Type 1 Diabetes and viceversa

Going gluten-free is an option for diabetes patients as a preventive measure, but it’s a must for those diagnosed with celiac. Therefore, it is recommended to:

  • eat only foods cooked in your home, which means no packaged food and try to avoid restaurants. If you do decide to eat in a restaurant, choose chicken salad, for example, without vinegar or aceto balsamico as they contain gluten (mild apple vinegar is a possibility in small quantities) or another safe gluten-free meal. You can always ask the chef to change the menu and leave out the ingredients you are intolerant of.
  • eat naturally gluten-free food such as rice, meat, fish, eggs, vegetables and fruits.
  • read all ingredient lists carefully. You may be surprised to know that you can’t eat flavors, colorings and additives such as caramel color, wafers or even curry powder as they contain hidden gluten!!! Gluten isn’t always listed in the ingredients as it sometimes comes as part of the packaging, for example, some chewing gum wrappers are dusted with flour. Search the web to learn what exactly you can eat and what you should avoid. There are people with very high gluten intolerance and those with a medium gluten intolerance. Both need to take care to recognize the possibility of hidden gluten.
  • lactose intolerance is often the result of celiac. The intestines are sensitive to the type of sugar found in milk and other dairy products and unable to digest. So, keep the lactose consumption low or nonexistent. Use soy milk or rice milk.
  • count carbs to measure the drive on the blood sugar. Read the Nutrition Facts labels. Sandwich made with gluten-free bread doesn’t have to have the same amount of carbohydrate as the usual bread.
  • avoid alcohol. Alcohol made from grain (beer, for example) contains gluten and it rises sugar levels in the body.

Special Issues

Be careful because:

1) A body recovering from celiac disease absorbs food (more nutrients, sugars, starches, etc.) in a different manner; the increase in absorption is unpredictable in the beginning. This means that managing diabetes can be made more difficult with gluten-free diet.

2) Better absorption of food also means the need for more insulin: your hemoglobin A1c levels may get worse for awhile. You might gain weight and have higher cholesterol levels.

3) Carbohydrate, fat and protein ratios are different in gluten-free foods. They have extra amounts of other ingredients to make the food palatable. This will probably affect your carbohydrate counting.

4) Diabetics and celiacs should always have gluten-free snacks with them (to avoid eating other foods when hungry or in case of drop in blood sugar).

Search the web to learn more about the gluten-free diabetes diet and the side effects of the gluten-free diet.

If you found this article useful, please, don't forget to vote it up and share it with your friends or family.


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    • vox vocis profile image

      Jasmine 5 years ago

      @Daddy Paul: You're absolutely right about the benefits of reducing gluten and dairy in our diet habits. Thanks for the comment :)

      @oceansnsunsets: I'm glad you learned something from this hub and hopefully other people will benefit from the read. Thanks for the comment!

      @kelleyward: Being in a situation to go on a diet because of illness is always hard. I'm on a gluten-free, dairy-free and nut-free diet. A few years ago, I also had to go sugar-free and, after a couple of years, my allergy to sugars decreased significantly. I'm glad to hear about your test turning celiac negative. Thanks for commenting!

    • profile image

      kelleyward 5 years ago

      I think there is a connection between the two because of the autoimmune part. Autoimmune diseases commonly occur together. It's hard enough eating to beat diabetes I can't imagine putting myself on a gluten free diet in addition to a diabetic diet unless needed. I was tested for celiac and it came back negative. Thanks for the hub!

    • oceansnsunsets profile image

      Paula 7 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Great hub on diabetes and celiac disease. I learned a lot, and hopefully more people will look for and catch or screen for the celiac disease as well. Prevention tips are really helpful, thank you!

    • Daddy Paul profile image

      Daddy Paul 7 years ago from Michigan

      "putting themselves on a gluten-free and dairy-free diet"

      I am convinced on of the biggest problems we have with diet today is too much gluten and dairy.

      Try reducing both and see how much better you feel!