Celiac disease and the gluten-free diet: consequences and recommendations for improvement

Dig Dis. 2015;33(2):175-182. doi: 10.1159/000369504. Epub 2015 Apr 22.


Background: Celiac disease (CD) is a chronic small intestinal immune-mediated enteropathy precipitated by exposure to dietary gluten in genetically susceptible individuals. CD-related enteropathy leads to multiple nutritional deficiencies involving macro- and micronutrients. Currently, medical nutrition therapy consisting of the gluten-free diet (GFD) is the only accepted treatment for CD.

Key messages: The GFD is the cornerstone of treatment for CD. Prior published studies have concluded that maintenance of the GFD results in improvement of the majority of nutritional deficiencies. In the past, counseling for CD focused mainly on the elimination of gluten in the diet. However, the GFD is not without its inadequacies; compliance to the GFD may result in certain deficiencies such as fiber, B vitamins, iron, and trace minerals. Paucity of fortified gluten-free foods may be responsible for certain deficiencies which develop on the GFD. Weight gain and obesity have been added to the list of nutritional consequences while on the GFD and have been partially attributed to hypercaloric content of commercially available gluten-free foods. Follow-up of patients diagnosed with CD after starting the GFD has been reported to be irregular and, hence, less than ideal.

Conclusions: Monitoring of the nutritional status using blood tests and use of appropriate gluten-free supplementation are integral components in the management of CD. The ideal GFD should be nutrient-dense with naturally gluten-free foods, balanced with macro- and micronutrients, reasonably priced, and easily accessible. Rotation of the pseudo-cereals provides a good source of complex carbohydrates, protein, fiber, fatty acids, vitamins and minerals. Fortification/enrichment of commonly consumed gluten-free commercial grain products should be encouraged. Dietitians specializing in CD play a critical role in the education and maintenance of the GFD for patients with CD.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Celiac Disease / diet therapy*
  • Diet, Gluten-Free*
  • Dietary Fiber
  • Food
  • Humans
  • Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Weight Gain