After your diagnosis, you were told to follow a gluten-free diet and that your recovery would begin.
Everything should be fine now, right? Not so fast! Although gluten-free diets are critical for people with celiac disease and gluten intolerance, there are serious nutritional drawbacks to a gluten-free diet.
Since so many grains used today are fortified with B vitamins, gluten-free diets can often cause deficiencies.
B vitamins are a family of water-soluble vitamins that are often added to processed wheat-based foods in the fortification process but are rarely added to gluten-free food. B vitamin deficiencies may arise in some people who are not consuming gluten-based foods any longer.
Here we will discuss the B-vitamin deficiencies you are at risk of developing due to eliminating these fortified grains from your diet.
Folic Acid or Folate (Vitamin B9)
This vitamin is best known for its critical role in the neurological development of the fetus. Folic acid deficiency in pregnant women is a major cause of neural tube defects such as spina bifida, but this nutrient is needed by people of both genders and all ages.
Folic acid is necessary for cell production, including the production of RNA and DNA. It is integral to red blood cells in particular, and critical to preventing anemia. Folate is the synthetic form of this vitamin, which is added to many processed foods but to very few gluten-free foods.
You can fortify your diets with folic acid by eating leafy greens, beef liver, lentils and beans, citrus fruit, asparagus and avocado. You should also consider taking a supplement such as a prenatal vitamin for women or a multivitamin that contains folate. Supplementation is especially necessary for women of childbearing age.
Thiamin (Vitamin B1)
This is absolutely crucial to nervous system function and the proper utilization of carbohydrates for energy. It is often used to treat diarrhea and other gastrointestinal ailments as well as to improve appetite, so it may have extra relevance to people with celiac disease. Deficiency can cause serious neurological damage.
It is added to many processed foods and flours but rarely found in any significant amount in gluten-free packaged foods. It is present in B-complex supplements or any multivitamin that contains the full spectrum of B vitamins. Dietary sources for people on a gluten-free diet include tuna, sunflower seeds, navy beans, black beans and dried peas.
Niacin (Vitamin B3)
Niacin is known to regulate cholesterol levels (increasing HDL, or “good cholesterol”). It is also critical to adrenal function and hormone production as well as the production of energy in our cells.
Niacin has been added to wheat flour based products for many years to prevent pellagra, a niacin-deficiency syndrome with serious physical and psychiatric symptoms. Niacin can be toxic in doses that are too great, so only take within the recommended limit.
Niacin is found in multivitamins and B-complex supplements. Chicken, dairy, legumes, nuts, tuna, beef, turkey, halibut and venison are among the best dietary sources.
Riboflavin (Vitamin B2)
Vitamin B2 is used by the body for many different processes within our cells, from energy metabolism to protein metabolism. Deficiency is not uncommon and can include many painful and unsightly symptoms in the skin and mucous membranes, among other things. It is added to many foods, including much wheat flour, pastas, energy and fruit drinks, and more. Food sources include venison, yogurt, mushrooms, milk, spinach and soybeans.
The great news is there are ample gluten-free sources of all of these nutrients! People on gluten-free diets are well advised to make sure they are meeting the recommended daily allowance for each of these critical nutrients, which are lacking in many gluten-free diets.
If your gluten-free diet is based around unprocessed or minimally processed foods and contains ample whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes, dairy, nuts and lean proteins, you may find that you can meet your needs without supplementation. For anyone else, including people whose bodies are still healing from the long-term damage of celiac disease, a multivitamin that contains a B-vitamin complex may be well worth consideration.