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Coeliac disease

Coeliac disease is a condition where the lining of the small intestine is damaged due to its sensitivity to gluten. Gluten is a protein found in grains such as wheat, rye, oats, barley and triticale. Coeliac disease and diabetes may occur together and is more common in people with type 1 than type 2 diabetes. It is estimated that up to 5% of people in Australia with type 1 diabetes may have coeliac disease.

A gluten-free diet is currently the only known treatment for coeliac disease. Gluten-free foods include corn, rice, sago, tapioca, buckwheat, potato, soy, arrowroot, fresh fruit, vegetables, meat (except most processed meats), poultry, fish and most dairy foods.

If you think that you have coeliac disease, you should first approach your doctor. A medical history and an examination will be performed and further tests may be undertaken to help diagnose the condition. You may be referred to a specialist. If coeliac disease is suspected, a gluten-free diet should never be started until the condition is properly diagnosed, otherwise this will interfere with the correct diagnosis. The gluten-free diet should always be undertaken with medical supervision.

Read more in our fact sheet Coeliac disease and diabetes.

Symptoms of coeliac disease

The following symptoms are often associated with coeliac disease:

  • diarrhoea
  • steatorrhoea (floating, fatty stools)
  • loss of weight
  • abdominal bloating or distension
  • flatulence

Foods with gluten

Besides grains wheat, rye, oats, barley and triticale, gluten can also be found in processed foods with ingredients such as wheaten cornflour, wheat starch, malt, malt extract, malt dextrin and the thickeners 1400 to 1450.

If you are diagnosed with coeliac disease, gluten-containing foods, along with products made from these foods, must be avoided. This includes many breads, cereals, biscuits, cakes, scones, pizzas, pies and processed foods. Coeliac Australia has produced an Ingredient list app and a booklet that lists ingredients and their suitability for a gluten-free diet.

Importance of not eating gluten

Damage to the intestine can occur even if you are eating gluten and not experiencing any symptoms. If coeliac disease is left untreated or is inadequately treated, your chance of developing other medical problems increases. Your body may not be able to properly absorb essential nutrients from food such as iron and calcium. It can also lead to difficulties in controlling diabetes.

Healthy eating for diabetes and coeliac disease

For those who have diabetes and coeliac disease, healthy eating includes:

  • regular meals and snacks containing gluten-free carbohydrates
  • foods low in saturated fat
  • plenty of fruit and vegetables.

If you have been diagnosed with diabetes and coeliac disease, it is recommended you see a dietitian with expertise in coeliac disease for specific advice on an eating plan that’s right for you.

Importance of carbohydrate foods

Carbohydrate foods are the best energy source for your body. When digested, they break down to form glucose in the bloodstream. Eating regular meals and spreading carbohydrate foods evenly throughout the day, may help maintain energy levels without causing large increases in your blood glucose levels. If you take insulin or certain diabetes tablets, you may need to eat between-meal carbohydrate snacks. Discuss this with your dietitian or diabetes educator.

For more information about coeliac disease see Coeliac Australia.