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The gluten-free diet

Gluten is a protein found in many grains, including wheat, rye and barley. It’s found in most breads, cereals, pastas and many processed foods. People who have a condition called celiac disease develop an immune reaction to gluten that damages the intestine, and so they need to avoid the protein. About 1 percent of the population has celiac disease.

If you have coeliac disease , your immune system reacts to gluten  and leads to damage to the lining of your gut. This causes symptoms of coeliac disease, including bloating, diarrhoea, nausea, tiredness and headaches. This only happens if gluten is eaten.

By avoiding all gluten (some people also need to avoid oats), your gut can heal and your symptoms should improve.

The gluten-free diet is the only treatment for coeliac disease.

On the gluten-free diet you can eat any naturally gluten-free foods, such as:

  • meat
  • fish
  • fruit and vegetables
  • rice
  • potatoes
  • lentils.

You can also eat processed foods which don’t contain gluten, such as ready meals and soups.

Some ingredients are confusing as they can be made from wheat but the final ingredient is gluten-free, for example glucose syrup.

Our Gluten-free Checklist can help you identify which foods are safe. There are also gluten-free substitute foods available, such as specially made gluten-free bread, flour, pasta, crackers and biscuits. These are available on prescription , in the free form section of the supermarkets and health food stores.

Drinks

There are plenty of both alcoholic and soft drinks which don’t contain gluten:

  • fruit juice
  • flavoured water
  • cordials
  • fizzy drinks
  • cider
  • wine
  • sherry
  • spirits
  • port
  • liqueurs.

There are also specially made gluten-free beers and lagers available. You can usually find them in the Free From section of supermarkets and some health food stores.

The following drinks are not suitable for people with coeliac disease:

  • barley squashes
  • beer
  • lager
  • stout
  • ales.

Feeling better

The time it takes for someone to feel better on a gluten-free diet varies. Many people feel better within a few days and usually symptoms like nausea, diarrhoea and bloating clear up within a few weeks.

Some symptoms may take longer to improve, or you may find one symptom gets better before another. The time it takes for the gut damage to heal completely varies from person to person and can take between six months and up to five years (in some cases longer).

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