What is a Celiac Diet: Gluten-free Doesn't Always Mean Celiac-Safe

The only treatment for celiac disease is a gluten-free life, so a celiac diet is a gluten-free diet. However, with celiac, it takes the gluten-free diet a little further than some other gluten-related disorders like non-celiac gluten sensitivity.

Here when I use the term diet, I mean eating pattern and dietary needs. I do not mean a temporary meal-plan or way of eating like you might see for weight-loss

what is a celiac diet - Tayler Silfverduk, celiac dietitian - what should celiacs eat, do celiacs need a gluten-free diet

What is a Celiac Diet?

A celiac diet is a diet for people with celiac disease. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease where the small intestine is damaged when the person affected eats gluten.

Thus, this diet involves eating gluten-free 100% of the time, but it also involves avoiding cross-contact, balancing your diet to heal celiac, and managing any other food sensitivities you might have with celiac.

All of those factors combined makes a diet for celiac unique to the individual. So, let’s talk about each of these factors and how they impact the needs of people with celiac.

Foods to Avoid for Celiac

If you have celiac, you need to avoid gluten containing foods. These foods come from the gluten-containing grains barley, rye, oats (if not certified gluten-free or in a certified gluten-free product), wheat, and spelt (an ancient form of wheat).

You might find it helpful to remember the acronym “BROWS”, which represents the 5 gluten grains to avoid.

For a deep dive on specific foods to avoid if you have celiac, click here.

Avoiding Cross-Contact for Celiac

Cross-contact is when a protein of one food mixes with another food that wouldn’t otherwise have that protein. In the case of celiac disease, cross-contact is when food with gluten touches gluten-free food.

A key difference between celiac disease and gluten intolerance is that a celiac diet can have no cross-contact with gluten. That means absolutely no gluten should touch a celiac’s food.

Whereas, with a gluten-free diet for gluten intolerance, cross-contact needs vary depending on the person.

Basically, if you have celiac disease, it’s very important that your diet avoids gluten and cross-contact with gluten to stay safe.

And some times cross-contact needs to be taken even more seriously (yes, it gets more serious), like with the non-responsive celiac diet.

what is a celiac diet - Tayler Silfverduk, celiac dietitian - what should celiacs eat, do celiacs need a gluten-free diet

Balancing Your Diet to Heal Celiac

A celiac diet is not only one that is gluten-free but also is one that supports healing.

It also makes sure that no nutrients are missed in the diet. (Check out this post for 5 Common Gluten-Free Diet Nutrient Deficiencies)

In general this looks like a diet free from gluten that is balanced with a variety of fruits, vegetables, protein, gluten-free whole grains and healthy fats.

It’s important to note that everyone’s healing needs will be different so while we have these general guidelines, a balanced diet will look very different for everyone with celiac.

Food sensitivities and Celiac Disease

People with celiac often have food sensitivities on top of their gluten-free needs, especially as they heal. This is because the damage in the small intestine impacts what is known as the brush border. The brush border is located on the villi and is where many digestive enzymes, like lactase, are released.

These digestive enzymes help break down food so your body can absorb it. So, when the brush border is damaged, as it often is with celiac, it can cause food sensitivities like lactose intolerance.

It’s also important to note other changes related to the damage can influence food sensitivities as well, so being mindful and of how food impacts you and tailoring your diet to your needs is important.

Every Celiac's Diet is Different

A huge misconception is that celiac and safety is the same for everyone. What I mean is that people assume what is safe for one person with celiac, will be safe for the next.

What I hope this post has conveyed is that the needs of people with celiac vary per person. Not everyone with celiac will or can eat the same thing.

A celiac’s diet and celiac’s needs encompass a wide-variety of factors like cross-contact, gut health, food sensitivities, comfort-level, knowledge-level, skill-level and more.

While everyone with celiac is gluten-free and avoid cross-contact, the level of cross-contact can change depending on the person’s comfort, skill, and knowledge level.

And everyone’s balanced celiac diet for healing is going to look different depending on their needs and food sensitivities.

Need Help With Your Diet?

Need help with your diet? Not sure how serious to take cross-contact? Unsure how to balance your gluten-free diet? Or need help figuring out what food sensitivities you have? Working with a celiac nutritionist, like myself, can help.