Gluten intolerance 101: everything you need to know

Gluten intolerance 101: everything you need to know

Gluten intolerance can be tricky to navigate considering its signs and symptoms closely resemble a gluten allergy. Here is everything you need to know to help your clients understand, treat, and manage gluten intolerance or celiac disease.

Gluten intolerance is a growing health concern in the U.S. In fact, almost 6% of the U.S. is affected by gluten intolerance. Gluten makes its debut in a variety of foods–even foods you may not typically expect. 

Gluten-intolerant individuals experience adverse reactions when consuming gluten including stomach pain, bloating, or diarrhea. Oftentimes, this is perceived as gluten sensitivity; however, there is a distinct difference between gluten intolerance and celiac disease. As a dietitian, it’s important to recognize these differences so you can best help your clients.

Here’s everything you need to know about gluten intolerance, celiac disease, gluten ingredients to avoid, and how to create a gluten-free meal plan for your clients. 

What is gluten?

Gluten is a protein commonly found in a variety of grain and wheat products such as wheat, barley, rye, and triticale. Furthermore, gluten serves as a binding agent, allowing food to maintain its shape. 

Although gluten is a naturally occurring protein, it is often added to foods during processing in order to provide added texture and shape. Many people are also intolerant or sensitive to this protein, which can result in various symptoms that range in severity.

Interestingly, studies have found that 65% of American adults think gluten-free foods are healthier, and 27% choose gluten-free products to aid in weight loss.

Differences between celiac disease and gluten intolerance

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease in which the body is unable to absorb or digest gluten, with symptoms including iron deficiency anemia, depression, elevated liver enzymes, neuropathy, and headache. While symptoms may vary from person to person, everyone who has celiac disease is at risk for long-term complications.

So, what is gluten intolerance? Also known as gluten sensitivity, gluten intolerance is a condition in which the body is unable to tolerate gluten, and can manifest as someone feeling sick, bloated, or gassy after eating gluten. 


Is there a blood test for gluten intolerance?

Blood tests for gluten intolerance are currently unavailable due to poor evidence and accuracy. However, antibody blood tests used for diagnosing the celiac disease can help determine whether or not your client has either celiac disease or gluten intolerance. 

In other words, if your client receives a negative result for celiac disease, it is more than likely they may have gluten intolerance. 

A gluten-elimination diet is also used to diagnose gluten intolerance. Therefore, if symptoms subside on the gluten-elimination diet, this may also indicate and affirm your client may have gluten intolerance rather than celiac disease. 

What are the signs and symptoms of gluten intolerance?

This intolerance may cause a variety of signs and symptoms that affect your clients’ quality of life. Here are a few of the most common signs and symptoms of gluten intolerance.

  • Abdominal pain
  • Irregular bowel movements 
  • Nausea or vomiting 
  • Headaches 
  • Fatigue 
  • Joint/bone pain 
  • Red, itchy skin

Although symptoms of gluten intolerance and celiac disease are similar, it is important to understand the difference between the two, and the actions to take to help alleviate these issues when consuming gluten. 


How long after eating gluten do symptoms start?

Research suggests that the onset of symptoms related to eating gluten can occur as soon as an hour, or even take as long as a few days. As a dietitian, it is important to have your clients self-monitor their symptoms to help manage their condition, whether it be celiac disease or gluten intolerance.

Who should stay away from gluten?

Those who either have a known diagnosis of celiac disease or gluten intolerance should stay away from gluten. Individuals with celiac disease should keep a lifelong, strict gluten-free diet to avoid worsening symptoms and damage to the intestines

However, those with gluten intolerance may not need to follow as strict of a gluten-free diet. Gluten intolerance has the potential to resolve after a few years; however, if symptoms persist, it is best to remove gluten from the diet.

Gluten ingredients to avoid

Whether your client has an intolerance to gluten or celiac disease, it is important that they are aware of gluten ingredients to avoid. Here is a list of gluten-containing ingredients celiacs can’t have


  • Barley 
  • Wheat (bran, germ, & scratch)
  • Bulgur 
  • Couscous 
  • Durum 
  • Spelt 
  • Farro 
  • Farina
  • Rye 
  • Panko 
  • Semolina
  • Triticale

Foods & beverages:

  • Pasta or cereals derived from wheat
  • White or sourdough bread
  • Crackers 
  • Granola bars
  • Baked goods 
  • Flour tortillas 
  • Soy Sauce 
  • Malt vinegar 
  • Beer 

Best gluten-free foods to add to a meal plan

Although a gluten-free diet can be quite restrictive, plenty of naturally gluten-free foods can be added to any meal. Here are a few gluten-free food options to add to a meal plan:

  • Eggs
  • Fruits & vegetables 
  • Lean meat 
  • Beans & legumes 
  • Seeds & nuts
  • Low-fat dairy 
  • Rice (white, brown, & wild)
  • Quinoa 
  • Amaranth 
  • Buckwheat 

With so many ingredients to avoid, making and preparing meals can be challenging. Here are two easy gluten-free recipe ideas (Quinoa Veggie Bowls and Cauliflower Couscous) to consider including on a gluten-elimination diet.

How to create a gluten-free meal plan for clients

When creating a gluten-free meal plan for clients, it is important to consider all food groups, and include a variety of different, nutrient-dense foods. In addition, it may be beneficial to include substitutions for certain foods, so that your clients have a choice with their meals, and are also aware of what they can and can’t have. 

Don’t know where to start when creating a meal plan for your clients? With Nutrium’s meal plans and templates, you can easily create a week’s worth of a variety of individualized, gluten-free meal plans to meet the needs of your client. Check out Nutrium’s meal plans and templates here to get started on meal planning!

Frequently asked questions about gluten

Can I suddenly become gluten intolerant?

There is no timeline for developing gluten intolerance. Some people develop gluten intolerance at a young age, whereas others do not show signs or symptoms of gluten intolerance until later in life. Therefore, gluten intolerance can develop at any age


Can people with Celiacs touch bread?

Yes, people with celiac can touch bread. Although celiac disease is considered a gluten allergy, it does not mean an allergic reaction will occur when people with celiac have skin-to-skin contact with bread or other gluten-containing foods. Touching bread will not cause adverse reactions such as damage to the intestines, or cause celiac disease symptoms to worsen. Damage will only occur when gluten is orally ingested. 


What is a gluten belly?

Gluten belly, also known as wheat belly, is a common phrase that refers to stomach swelling after eating gluten as a result of bloating. Along with bloating, one may also develop symptoms such as stomach pain, flatulence, or irregular bowel movements.


Is dextrose gluten-free?

Dextrose is a natural sweetener that is commonly derived from corn or tapioca. Since corn and tapioca are gluten-free ingredients, dextrose is also gluten-free.


Does peanut butter have gluten?

Peanut butter is a gluten-free product; however, peanut butter may be processed in a facility that contains wheat. Because of this, there is an increased risk of peanut butter being cross-contaminated with gluten. Therefore, you must educate your clients to read the ingredient label on food products. 


If your client is experiencing adverse symptoms when consuming gluten, they may have a gluten intolerance. Informing your clients about gluten intolerance, raising awareness about gluten-containing foods versus gluten-free foods, and creating gluten-free meal plans will help combat symptoms and discomfort associated with gluten intolerance, and ultimately improve your client’s health and health wellness. 



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