More people than ever are deciding to stop eating meat and other animal products for good. But is a plant based or vegan diet too much to balance when you’ve been diagnosed  with coeliac disease and on a strict, lifelong gluten free diet as well?

Firstly, what exactly is coeliac disease and why is it so important to gain a diagnosis?

ABOUT COELIAC DISEASE

Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues when gluten is eaten. This causes damage to the lining of the gut which stops nutrients being absorbed from food. A gluten free diet is the only treatment for coeliac disease and allows the gut to heal so you can start absorbing nutrients from your diet.

SYMPTOMS OF COELIAC DISEASE

Coeliac disease has a wide range of symptoms, which can affect different parts of the body and can vary from mild to severe.

Coeliac disease can cause gut symptoms like bloating, diarrhoea, nausea, constipation and  wind. These symptoms are similar to those of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) so a test for coeliac disease should be carried out before a diagnosis of IBS is made.

Research shows that 1 in 4 people with coeliac disease have previously been misdiagnosed with IBS so it is important to get tested if you think you may have IBS.

Other common symptoms include regular and severe mouth ulcers, feeling tired all the time, sudden or unexpected weight loss and nutritional deficiencies including iron, vitamin B12 or folate deficiency.

For more information see: www.coeliac.org.uk/symptoms

WHEN SHOULD A TEST FOR COELIAC DISEASE BE OFFERED?

If you are concerned about your symptoms it is important to speak to your GP and in the first instance get a blood test and most importantly keep eating a normal diet containing  gluten, both before and throughout the entire time of being tested.

TIPS FOR GOING VEGAN WHILST ALSO GLUTEN FREE

Whatever your reasons for considering a vegan lifestyle, when changing your diet it’s important to think about your nutritional needs. This is especially true for people with  coeliac disease, who can sometimes have nutritional deficiencies, before diagnosis, in iron  and B vitamins or osteoporosis due to problems absorbing calcium.

Protein: Despite the  many supplements on the market, it’s relatively easy to get enough through your diet  alone. You might just need to pay a little extra attention when
planning meals.

Pulses (peas, beans and lentils) are good sources of protein, naturally gluten free and have the added benefit of being wallet friendly too.

Adding nuts and seeds  to your daily diet is another way of keeping your protein intake up. Try scattering seeds over salads or soup for added texture, or a teaspoon of whole nut butter spread on gluten free toast.

There are processed meat alternatives on the market made from textured soya  protein or mycoprotein, but they won’t always be gluten free – it’s really important to check the label. Likewise, whilst plain tofu is another good source of protein, marinated  products may contain gluten so always make sure you double check the packaging label.

Calcium: Calcium is a really important nutrient for people with coeliac disease – it helps to maintain good bone health and prevent osteoporosis. People with coeliac disease are recommended to have 1,000mg calcium a day compared to 700mg a day for the general
population.

If you’re vegan, it may be slightly trickier to have enough calcium in your diet when not eating dairy products but not impossible. For a start, some milk alternatives are often  fortified with calcium – check the label before you buy. And there are plenty of other dairy
free sources, including:

  • Tofu* (check Coeliac UK’s Food and Drink Information for suitable products)
  • Dark green vegetables like kale and broccoli
  • Seeds, especially sesame and sunflower seeds
  • Kidney beans and baked beans (just remember to check anything with a sauce to ensure it’s gluten free)
  • Dried fruit, like apricots and figs Tofu is a vegan nutritional powerhouse. It’s a good source of protein, contains all nine essential amino acids, and is a great source of iron and calcium too. You’ll also find the minerals manganese, selenium and phosphorus amongst others.

Iron: Not getting enough iron in your diet may lead to iron deficiency anaemia, which could leave you feeling extremely fatigued, dizzy and weak.

Pulses, dark green vegetables (like kale and spinach), dried fruit and nuts and seeds are all good sources of iron to include in  your day to day diet.

If you want to boost your iron absorption, try adding food and drink  rich in vitamin C at mealtimes. Have a drink of orange juice or a side dish of potatoes.

Vitamin B12: Sources of this key vitamin for vegans can be more limited as the only reliable vegan sources of B12 are foods fortified with B12 (such as vegan margarines and some plant milks) and B12 supplements. There may be some other specialist products  supplemented with B12, but not all of these will be gluten free so always check the label.

Vitamin D: You might already know that we make vitamin D by spending time in the sun. But did you know that vitamin D is crucial to absorb enough calcium? So you need to eat plenty of vitamin D rich foods. Look out for products such as breakfast cereals* which are fortified with extra vitamin D.

Iodine: As the major source of iodine comes from dairy and fish, this may be missing in plant based diets. It is found in some plants and the amount depends on the iodine content of the soil the plants are grown in. Foods grown closer to the ocean tend to be higher in iodine.

Zinc: Phytic acid, which is found in wholegrains and beans, can reduce the amount of zinc  absorbed by the body. So as these products can make up a large proportion of a plant  based diet, it is important to include good sources of foods that contain zinc such as  fermented soya. Or soak dried beans and rinse before cooking to increase zinc absorption.  Also look out for some breakfast cereals which are fortified with zinc.

If you’re concerned  about meeting any of your nutritional requirements, talk to your dietitian or GP for further  advice. You should always consult a healthcare professional before making big changes to  your diet.

You can also call Coeliac UK’s Helpline for more information Tel:0333 332 2033 or for further information, please go to: www.coeliac.org.uk 

* check Coeliac UK’s Food and Drink Information for suitable products