If you know a friend, colleague or a family member who is gluten-free, chances are you have heard about Coeliac Disease.  While reportedly 1 in 70 Australians are affected by Coeliac Disease, a shocking 4 in 5 with the disease remain undiagnosed (Coeliac Australia, 2021). Why? Coeliac Disease is incredibly varied in its symptoms and can affect anyone of any age or background. That’s why Coeliac Awareness Week (13-20 March 2021) is so important for closing this gap. 

What is gluten?

Picture yourself holding a ball of pizza dough and stretching it out with your hands – that is exactly what gluten, a naturally occurring protein found in some grains (wheat, rye, barley and triticale), does in food products. It functions to bind food together like a “glue”, contributing to the stretchy and elastic feel of many of our favourite foods, including bread, baked goods, cereals, crackers and pasta. Other foods containing gluten can include oats, lollies, chips, and premade sauces. However, gluten is not unique to foods; it may be added in medicines, lip balms and even lickable envelopes!  It’s always important to check the label for any allergen warnings.

Difference between Coeliac Disease and Non-Coeliac Gluten Sensitivity

While gluten has no negative effect for many of us, for some individuals it can trigger either a life-threatening immune reaction (Coeliac Disease) or sensitivity (Non-Coeliac Gluten Sensitivity).

Coeliac Disease is a serious autoimmune disease. This means that the body’s own immune cells begin to attack the lining of the small intestine when gluten is consumed. Since the small intestine is normally responsible for the absorption of nutrients, this reaction can cause malnutrition and a number of health consequences, including impacting growth and development in children.   

Many of those with Coeliac Disease also present with anaemia, resulting from the reduced absorption of iron, folate and vitamin B12 which all play a role in producing red blood cells for the body.

Other symptoms can include weight loss, constipation, acid reflux, heartburn, headaches, rashes, abdominal pain, and early onset osteoporosis. However, some with coeliac disease may be asymptomatic, meaning they may not present with any obvious symptoms. Regardless of symptom severity, all with Coeliac Disease will still experience damage to the small bowl if ingesting gluten.

Non-Coeliac Gluten Sensitivity or “Gluten Intolerance” is not an autoimmune reaction to gluten. It is an inability of the body to tolerate gluten. This may cause symptoms such as lethargy, brain fog, bloating in the abdomen, diarrhoea and headaches. Unlike Coeliac Disease, these symptoms resolve after the gluten consumed leaves the system. Individuals with Non-Coeliac Gluten Sensitivity may still consume trace amounts of gluten, such as in oats, without any symptoms. Why oats? Though oats are naturally gluten-free, contamination with gluten during processing prevents its labelling as “gluten-free” in Australia, so they should still be avoided by those with Coeliac Disease.

Coeliac DiseaseNon-Coeliac Gluten Sensitivity
Autoimmune Disease
Gastrointestinal Symptoms
Ongoing Symptoms
Can consume trace amounts of gluten
Elimation of gluten will resolve symptoms

Managing Coeliac Disease

Two people with Coeliac Disease will never experience the exact same symptoms. The severity of symptoms experienced are dependant on a range of different factors: environment, age, time from diagnosis and adherence to a gluten-free diet. A dietitian can assist in identifying triggers based on your risk factors and symptom severity to develop a nutritious personalised diet plan. You should not attempt to eliminate certain foods on your own as this may compromise your intake of certain food groups and important nutrients for wellbeing.

Screening for Coeliac Disease

Coeliac Australia encourages getting a definitive medical diagnosis of Coeliac Disease for the successful management and resolving of associated symptoms. The most common type of screening is a blood test, performed by a GP; a positive blood test to gluten antibodies may indicate the presence of Coeliac Disease. To accurately confirm diagnosis, a small bowel biopsy needs to be performed by a gastroenterologist.

Coeliac-Friendly Recipes

Does going gluten-free mean compromising tastiness of your food? Not at all! Thankfully, a range of gluten substitutes are available, allowing individuals with Coeliac Disease to still enjoy nutritious and flavourful meals! If you are unsure about whether something is gluten-free, always remember to check for “may contain” statements on food packaging.

Check out some of these gluten-free recipes on our website to gain some inspiration and meal ideas:

  • Warm breakfast quinoa: Quinoa is a great substitute for oats and gluten-containing grains. It is packed with antioxidants and is nutritionally dense in iron, B vitamins, magnesium, potassium, calcium and fibre.
  • Zucchini and rice cheesy slice: Fresh vegetables are naturally gluten-free and are packed with an abundance of vitamins and minerals that are essential for maintaining healthy bodily functions. Rice is also a gluten-free, despite being a grain; it is used as a substitute of wheat in many gluten-free foods.
  • Lamb, lentil and tomato salad: Legumes are gluten-free (check for “may contain” statements on packaged/canned legumes) and a great way of getting in extra fibre, protein and carbohydrates which are typically present in wholegrains.

Get involved

You can get involved by sharing your knowledge of Coeliac Disease with your friends, family, colleagues, social media, and the community. Together, we can raise awareness about the necessity of being screened and seeking help for Coeliac Disease to be able to live a healthy and sustainable lifestyle.