Everything you need to know about coeliac disease

From common symptoms to gluten-free snack suggestions

Everything you need to know about coeliac disease

Coeliac disease affects 1 in every 100 people in the UK. For sufferers, eating gluten (most commonly found in wheat, barley and rye based foods) can result in some very uncomfortable – and even dangerous – symptoms. 

Only a few years ago coeliacs struggled to get their hands on good quality gluten-free products, but according to Sarah Collar, Coeliac UK’s Food Policy Officer, nowadays "you can find a wide range of specialist gluten-free foods in the supermarkets such as gluten-free pasta, bread and cakes." 

We put some questions to Coeliac UK to find out how you and your family can eat a well-balanced diet, minus any gluten...

What is coeliac disease?

Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disease triggered by eating gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye, and in the UK it can affect 1 in 100 people. It's not a food allergy, nor a food intolerance.

“If someone in your immediate family has the condition the chances of you also having the condition are significantly increased to 1 in 10,” says Sarah. Your immediate family includes your parents, children, or siblings.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms can vary widely from person to person, from very mild to severe. 

Adults and older children may experience bloating, diarrhoea, nausea, wind, constipation, tiredness and sudden or unexpected weight loss (but not in all cases). 

In younger children and babies, symptoms include delayed growth, diarrhoea, muscle wasting, poor appetite, lethargy and behavioural change.

How do you get diagnosed?

If you suspect you or your child has coeliac disease, it is important that you discuss your concerns with your GP.

Sarah says: "The first stage of getting diagnosed is a simple blood test to check for antibodies which can indicate coeliac disease. 

"If there's clinical suspicion of coeliac disease, your GP will then refer you for an endoscopy with biopsy. This is a simple procedure which looks for damage in the gut typical of coeliac disease.

"For children, a biopsy may not always be necessary,” advises Sarah. 

What's the treatment?

"The good news is that treating coeliac disease doesn't require medication,” says Sarah. 

"Currently, the only treatment for coeliac disease is a strict gluten-free diet for life. Gluten is found in wheat, rye and barley and some people also need to avoid oats - even if they are special gluten-free oats.

"Common foods that contain gluten include bread, pasta, pizza, cakes and biscuits. It is also found in some processed foods like ready meals, cooking sauces, sausages and stock cubes.”

But have no fear - while there are many foods that contain gluten, there are also plenty that don’t, including:

  • Meat, poultry, fish
  • Rice, beans, pulses
  • Fruit, vegetables
  • Eggs, cheese, butter, milk, plain yogurt, cream

Always check food labels to make sure the product is suitable for you. Ingredients that contain gluten and other allergens will be emphasised in the ingredients list in bold lettering.

How do you accommodate for coeliac disease in your child’s diet?

"One of the key challenges for parents of young children is making sure their child understands that they have coeliac disease and the importance of not swapping foods with other children or trying their packed lunch instead,” stresses Sarah.

"For snack ideas, why not try a small pot of houmous with carrot batons or celery sticks and gluten-free grissini. Cold gluten-free pizza can be a great way to use up leftovers for packed lunches the next day. Fromage frais, crème fraîche or natural yogurt can be used as a sweet dip for eating with sliced apple, pear and strawberries.”

You can still eat the rainbow on a gluten-free diet, says Sarah: "Fruit and veg is the ultimate fast food – apples, kiwi fruit, bananas, satsumas, grapes, berries, carrots, cucumbers, peppers and celery are healthy, gluten-free snacks."

Will you miss out on all of your favourite foods?

There are plenty of small swaps you can make so you or your loved one doesn’t have to miss out on the gluten-containing foods that they love.

"Today you can find a wide range of fresh gluten-free breads which are great for sandwiches, as well as wraps, sandwich thins and crackers to add a bit of variety through the week,” says Sarah.

Asda also stock a large range of award-winning gluten-free puddings, bakes and sweet treats. 

gluten free recipes

Don't despair, as you can still eat a delicious and varied diet with coeliac disease. That includes all of those carbs you love – bread, pasta, cake, biscuits... there's no need to miss out.

How about these peanut butter cookies? Using Free From flour, gluten-free porridge oats and dairy-free soya spread, they can be on the table in 20 minutes.

Like pancakes? Try this gluten-free dutch baby pancake recipe - brunch, sorted.

Yes, you can have pizza, too! Potato works well as a base, topped with mozzarella, tomato and basil. 

See more gluten-free recipes here.

For more information about coeliac disease visit Coeliac UK. You can view our full list of gluten-free foods online or head into your local store