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Dinner table tips for those with celiac disease

For those affected by celiac disease, following a strict gluten-free diet is the only way to avoid its ill effects. Do you know what you need to put on the table?

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley, and when someone with celiac disease ingests even a small amount, it elicits an immune response in the body that damages the villi — small fingerlike projections that line the small intestine — and hinders nutrient absorption, causing digestive ailments and more.

It can sometimes seem difficult to avoid gluten, especially for those who love pasta and bread, but it’s crucial. For the one in 100 people in the U.S. affected by celiac disease, long-term effects when untreated can include early onset osteoporosis, development of autoimmune disorders, gall bladder malfunction, heart disease, liver failure, malnutrition, neurological conditions, intestinal cancers and more, according to the Celiac Disease Foundation.

Developing a gluten-free meal plan is an important step when dealing with celiac disease. Maury Regional Health (MRH) offers one-on-one nutrition counseling with a team of registered dietitians who help patients set dietary goals and create a tailored plan.

Nutrition consultations at MRH, offered with a physician’s order, generally last 30 minutes to an hour and are offered on a one-time or recurring basis, depending on a physician’s recommendation. Some insurance plans cover medical nutrition therapy for certain health conditions including diabetes and chronic kidney disease. Patients are encouraged to check with their specific insurance plan for details of coverage.

“The long-term effects of continual ingestion of gluten for someone with celiac disease can be serious, so it’s important to consult your physician if you’re experiencing symptoms,” said Keri Howell, chief clinical dietitian at MRH. “Together with your physician, we can develop a gluten-free meal plan that meets your personal nutritional needs and doesn’t lack on taste.”

It’s important to base your gluten-free meal plan around fruits, vegetables, red meat, poultry, seafood, dairy, beans, legumes and nuts. Some naturally gluten-free starches that you can add include corn, flax, nut flours, potatoes, quinoa, rice and soy.

There are gluten-free alternatives for most gluten-rich foods widely available. When you’re shopping, look for a gluten-free label, which means the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has certified the food has less than 20 parts per million of gluten.

“Those with celiac disease need to look closely at the packaged foods they buy,” Howell said. “Check for a gluten-free label and read the ingredients on packaged food thoroughly, checking specifically for wheat, barley, rye, malt, brewer’s yeast and oats.”

Remember that celiac disease can develop at any age, so just because you’ve always eaten gluten-rich foods without issue doesn’t mean it can’t change. Celiac disease is also hereditary, and your risk of developing it goes to one in 10 if a parent is diagnosed positive, according to the Celiac Disease Foundation.

More resources on celiac disease, including a Symptoms Assessment Tool that can identify if you’re at an increased risk, can be found at

For more information on nutrition counseling at MRH, visit

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