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Coeliac disease

Coeliac disease is a condition where an intolerance to gluten causes inflammation and damage to the small bowel.

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and oats. The only treatment for coeliac disease is a lifelong gluten-free diet.

Coeliac disease and type 1 diabetes can occur together because they are both autoimmune conditions. It is estimated that 5 out of 100 of people with type 1 diabetes may have coeliac disease.

Some people with type 2 diabetes also develop coeliac disease, but the two conditions are not related.

If you think that you have coeliac disease, you should first approach your doctor. A medical history, an examination and further tests may be undertaken to help diagnose the condition. You may be referred to a specialist.

Wait until your diagnosis is confirmed before you start on a gluten-free (GF) diet. This is important to make sure the diagnosis is accurate. Avoiding gluten before you have the tests could influence the results and mask the diagnosis.

Read more in our fact sheets:

The symptoms of coeliac disease can vary from person to person. Symptoms may include one or more of the following:

  • diarrhoea and/or constipation
  • weight loss
  • flatulence
  • fatigue
  • abdominal bloating and cramping
  • anaemia or low iron levels.

People with type 1 diabetes may have coeliac disease without any symptoms. So, screening is important to detect this condition. Ask your diabetes health professional for more information.

Besides wheat, rye, barley and oats, 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. 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

If coeliac disease is left untreated, you have an increased risk of developing other medical problems.

If you have coeliac disease and diabetes, healthy eating includes:

  • regular meals and snacks containing gluten-free carbohydrates (carbs)
  • low glycemic index (GI) carb foods
  • foods rich in calcium and iron
  • high-fibre food choices and plenty of fruit and vegetables.

See a dietitian with experience in managing coeliac disease and diabetes. A dietitian can help you develop a healthy eating plan that is right for you.

Healthy eating for diabetes includes choosing the right type and amount of carb foods. Many commonly eaten carb foods such as breads, cereals, pasta, biscuits and crackers contain gluten. So, you will need to avoid these. Look for gluten-free carb alternatives. Including low-GI foods can help manage 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.

Free access to diabetes programs

Learn to manage your diabetes confidently with diabetes programs, available face-to-face and online. Register for a diabetes program.

Carb counting

Available anywhere, anytime. These short modules will teach you how to recognise and count carbohydrates (carbs), to help in managing your diabetes.

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This program helps participants learn to read nutrition information, with real products to look at and compare.

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Diabetes Australia acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of this Country. We recognise their connection to land, waters, winds and culture. We pay the upmost respect to them, their cultures and to their Elders, past and present. We are committed to improving health outcomes for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people affected by diabetes and those at risk.

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