Anyone who has coeliac disease needs to follow a gluten-free diet. Coeliac disease is a permanent intolerance to gluten.
The walls of the small intestine are lined with tiny finger-like projections called villi. The villi are necessary for digesting and absorbing nutrients such as carbohydrate, fat and protein. When people with coeliac disease eat gluten, the villi become flattened and inflamed.
This interferes with the absorption of nutrients and can cause poor nutritional status along with symptoms such as weight loss, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, and anaemia.
Gluten is found in wheat, rye, barley, and triticale.
These grains and foods containing them need to be avoided on a gluten-free diet. Oats are also currently excluded in a gluten-free diet to avoid cross-contamination of gluten from wheat products. Many foods made from these grains are obvious, for example, breads, breakfast cereals, cakes, biscuits and pasta.
However, there are a number of foods which contain hidden gluten in the form of additives such as thickeners, stabilisers and flavours.
People with coeliac disease need to become skilled at reading ingredient lists and recognising potential sources of gluten.