I’m Gluten-Free. Am I Getting my Nutrients?
Gluten-Free Diet Nutrient Deficiencies
Getting the right balance of nutrients can be hard at any time, but when you have celiac disease (CD), low intake of a good mix of foods and poor absorption limiting what your body takes in can add to the challenge. CD can cause damage to the small intestine, reducing the absorption of certain vitamins and minerals.
The most commonly affected nutrients that may not absorb as well if you have CD are:
- Vitamin B12
- Fat-soluble vitamins such as A*, D*, E* and K*
Once you’ve adapted your diet to address CD, the intestine generally heals and recovers from any damage caused by gluten and absorption should improve.
Adjusting to a modified diet can create another issue with getting the daily nutrients your body needs: reduced intake. If you have non-celiac gluten sensitivity you will generally not experience an issue with nutrient absorption, but you could also lack nutrients due to a changed diet and reduced intake of what your body needs.
Gluten-containing grain products are commonly enriched or fortified with vitamins and minerals, but very few gluten-free grain products are modified to add in these vital nutrients. If you’ve relied on nutrients from fortified and enriched products and then make a switch to non-enriched products, you can become nutrient deficient.
Some people with CD also have lactose intolerance during the early stages of their treatment on a gluten-free diet, since the enzyme that digests lactose is produced in the villi of the intestine. Cutting out dairy could result in other nutrient deficiencies: a reduction in calcium, magnesium and Vitamin D.
Food Sources for Vitamins & Minerals
Here are some deficiencies that are common in gluten-related disorders and some suggestions for alternative gluten-free and dairy-free sources:
- Thiamin (Vitamin B1): Sunflower seeds, black beans, tuna, green peas, lentils
- Riboflavin (Vitamin B2): Mushrooms, cooked spinach, venison, soybeans
- Niacin: (Vitamin B3): Mushrooms, avocados, broccoli, tuna, salmon, chicken breast
- Folate (Vitamin B9): Green leafy vegetables (spinach, romaine lettuce, turnip greens), asparagus, lentils, beets, broccoli
- Vitamin B12: All types of meat, poultry & fish, eggs, dairy products
- Vitamin A: Green leafy vegetables (spinach, turnip greens), sweet potato, carrots, red bell peppers
- Vitamin D**: Salmon, sardines, shrimp, cod
- Vitamin E: Green leafy vegetables (spinach, mustard greens, turnip greens), sunflower seeds, almonds, hazelnuts
- Vitamin K: Green leafy vegetables (kale, spinach, Swiss chard, collard greens), broccoli, Brussels sprouts
- Iron: All types of meat, lentils, soybeans, tofu
- Calcium: Green leafy vegetables (spinach, turnip greens, collard greens), sardines, almonds, sesame seeds, seaweed (nori, kelp)
- Magnesium: Green leafy vegetables (spinach, Swiss chard), pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, black beans
Increasing Fiber on a Gluten-Free Diet
Another area where your diet may become deficient when you go gluten-free is with your fiber intake. While you are eliminating the natural fiber of wheat and gluten-containing products, you can replace the lost fiber with virtually any plant foods.
Examples of gluten-free sources of fiber include:
Fruits: apples, pears, oranges, figs, plums, prunes, berries
Gluten-Free Whole Grains: amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat, brown rice, teff, millet, corn, oats (choose a certified gluten-free oat)
Legumes: lentils, split peas, black beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, lima beans, garbanzo beans
Nuts & Seeds: almonds, pistachios, pecans, flax seeds, sunflower seeds, chia seeds
Vegetables: squash, broccoli, artichokes, peas, green leafy vegetables, carrots
Getting the Most Nutrients Out of Your Food
Here are some other ways to make sure you aren’t cheating your body of important nutrients as you eat entirely gluten-free:
Eat Foods as “Whole” as Possible: Whole foods – meaning unprocessed foods that are as close to the way they grow in nature – have nutrients that processed foods no longer contain. Most whole foods are located around the perimeter of grocery stores, like fresh fruits and vegetables. Try to do more shopping in those outer aisles for the most nutrient-rich food options.
Cook Vegetables Lightly: Nutrients are lost when a food is fried or boiled in water for an extended period of time. Lightly sauté, steam, bake or roast vegetables rather than frying them or boiling them in water. If you are boiling them, consider making a soup instead so you consume the nutrients from the vegetables that end up in the water or broth.
Be Colorful: Choose foods that are naturally bright in color. In general, each color represents a different nutrient. For example, red tomatoes and pink watermelon have a nutrient called lycopene and orange sweet potatoes, pumpkin and carrots have a nutrient called beta-carotene. For a nutrient-rich and appetizing meal, try to include several different colors of fruits and vegetables.
Changing your diet, for any reason, can lead to nutrient deficiencies. While -managing your nutrient intake can seem daunting, a well-balanced diet that includes a variety of gluten-free whole and plant foods can provide the good nutrition you need to help keep you healthy and feeling good.
*An increased risk of these deficiencies only occurs when there is fat malabsorption.
**There are only a few food sources of Vitamin D. Especially if you live in a northern climate, a supplement may be needed.
This article has been assessed and approved by a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist.
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