Gluten-Free Diet Deficiencies: 5 Common Nutrient Deficiencies

There are a lot of concerns surrounding a gluten-free lifestyle and nutrients. Because a gluten-free diet is so restrictive and far from the western norm, there are some concerns for potential common gluten-free diet nutrient deficiencies.

Not to mention, if your gut isn’t working right (which is often the case when recovering after a celiac diagnosis), then your nutrient absorption might not be up to par. In this post, I will discuss 5 common gluten-free diet nutrient deficiencies that should be on your radar if you’re living a gluten-free lifestyle.

I want to make it clear, when I say a gluten-free diet I mean a lifestyle that is necessary for those diagnosed with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Additionally, this post lists foods that are rich in the common gluten-free diet nutrients of concern. While I support and promote a food-first approach, sometimes food isn’t enough and supplementation should be considered. Click here for 10 Supplements for Celiac Disease.


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5 Common Gluten-Free Diet Nutrient Deficiencies

Whether your gluten-free for celiac or you’re following a gluten-free diet for other reasons, there are a few nutrients to keep your eye on. Below at 5 common gluten-free diet nutrient deficiencies that can occur if you’re not balancing your diet correctly.

iron is a common gluten-free diet nutrient deficiencies -celiac iron deficiency anemia, low iron status, signs of low iron, signs of iron deficiency, iron deficiency anemia and celiac, low iron and celiacGluten-free Iron Rich Foods, - Tayler Silfverduk, celiac dietitian

Iron

Our first nutrient deficiency up on the list is iron. Iron is one of the common gluten-free diet nutrient deficiencies for a few reasons.

  1. If you have celiac disease and are recovering from damage in your small intestine, your iron absorption could be impaired. Which leads to…
  2. Iron deficiency anemia is a common symptom of celiac disease.
  3. Breakfast cereals and bread are often enriched with iron (and other nutrients) but their gluten-free alternates are often not.

These three reasons are why iron is a major nutrient of concern on a gluten-free diet.

Signs of iron deficiency include:

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Pale skin
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Feeling light headed
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Inflammation or soreness of the tongue
  • Brittle nails
  • Unusual cravings for non-nutritive substances, like ice
  • Poor appetite

To learn more about Iron and a Gluten-Free Diet check out this post on Gluten-Free Iron-Rich Foods.

Magnesium

Magnesium is a common nutrient deficiency seen in people living gluten-free for similar reasons to Iron. (In fact, a lot of the reasons these nutrients are of concern are similar).

Wheat and other whole grains are rich in magnesium and are one of the main sources of magnesium in the diet. When you live gluten-free often, grains are restricted (and some like Wheat, are removed entirely). This means that your biggest contributing source of magnesium is removed on a gluten-free diet leaving you susceptible to magnesium deficiency.

Not to mention magnesium is absorbed in the small intestine and if you’re recovering from damage, well you might not be absorbing as much as you need.

True magnesium deficiency is rare however, people with celiac disease are at risk of imbalance due to intestinal damage. Here are some symptoms of low magnesium:

  • Poor appetite
  • Nausea (sick to your stomach) and vomiting
  • Sleepiness
  • Weakness
  • Cramping
  • Muscle spasms

Nuts, seeds, dark leafy greens, black beans, and whole grains are just some of the gluten-free food sources with magnesium.

Folic Acid / Folate

Just like the above mentioned nutrients, people on a gluten-free diet may also be prone to this nutrient deficiency. People with celiac disease are prone due to impaired absorption in the small intestine, but that’s not all.

Because fortified grains are removed from the gluten-free diet, even people with non-celiac gluten sensitivity can be deficient in folate. This is because our grains are fortified with B-Vitamins (among other things).

Folate deficiency can cause folic acid deficiency anemia, a condition you can read much more about here. People with celiac disease especially, are often diagnosed following persistent and unresolved anemia related to nutrient deficiencies. If you are deficient in folate you may experience anemia and anemia related symptoms.

Gluten-free foods with folate include citrus, leafy greens, beans, eggs, and more.

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Calcium + Vitamin D (The Dairy Double Whammy)

When you have celiac disease the damage to your small intestine can impair your ability to absorb nutrients (as discussed previously). Two of these nutrients are crucial to bone health and those nutrients are Calcium and Vitamin D. If you gut is still under recovery after a celiac diagnosis you might be at risk for a deficiency.

This is also one of the common gluten-free diet nutrient deficiencies because of a related issue. Often when people are diagnosed with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten-sensitivity, they also are intolerant to dairy. This means often people living gluten-free (including myself) restrict calcium-rich and vitamin D fortified dairy products. Thus, people following a gluten-free lifestyle are at risk deficiency in both nutrients.

The risk of deficiency of both nutrients also leaves people with celiac disease at high risk for development of osteoporosis. This is why it’s extremely important to find a health professional who is well versed in the implications of celiac disease to make sure they are monitoring your health appropriately (I.E. bone density scans!).

Gluten-free foods with calcium include milk, chia seeds, poppy seeds, sesame seeds, figs, canned sardines and salmon, beans, and more.

Gluten-free foods with vitamin D include fatty fish, fortified foods (like milk, orange juice, soy milk etc.), liver, egg yolks and more.

Other Nutrient Deficiencies on a Gluten-Free Diet

While not an all-inclusive list, this is a great starting point on knowing what nutrient deficiencies to keep on eye on if you living gluten-free. As always, consult your medical health professionals if you have any concerns about nutrient deficiencies. This post is not to take the place of individualized medical care provided by your health-care team/provider[s].

Work with a Celiac Dietitian