vegan-celiac-dietitians
  • Alyssa Fontaine, RD
  • Jan 24, 2024

Being Celiac and Vegan: What you need to know

A Celiac Disease diagnosis can be daunting and the prospect of eliminating further foods from a vegan diet can be even more overwhelming. The good news? You are not alone. Celiac disease is considered one of the most common chronic diseases worldwide with as many as 1 in every 100-200 people in North America being affected. You CAN adhere to a plant based diet with celiac disease: it will require a little extra care and attention on your part to ensure you meet your nutritional needs, but it is possible. A registered dietitian  who specializes in plant-based nutrition can help you navigate the unknown, and provide evidence based answers to any questions you may have. 

Celiac-and-Vegan-Nutrition

Celiac Disease: A brief overview 

Celiac is an autoimmune disease. This means the body produces an immune response which damages the small intestine when gluten is consumed. The damage to the small intestine prevents the body from absorbing nutrients from the food eaten: this is known as malabsorption. There is no cure for celiac disease: a strict gluten free diet will help you manage symptoms, allow your body to heal and regain the ability to absorb nutrients properly. 

If you have a recent celiac diagnosis, you may have some nutritional deficiencies to address. Talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian about foods that are rich in the vitamins and minerals you may need. Some of the most common nutrient deficiencies  associated with celiac disease are folate, B12, Calcium, Iron and Zinc. .

Addressing nutrient deficiencies through a vegan/plant-based diet

Calcium:

As many people know, calcium is required for maintaining bone health; it also contributes to maintaining cell membranes. Because calcium is primarily found in dairy products which are not eaten by those following a vegan diet, it is a mineral to pay close attention to. If you have a recent celiac disease diagnosis, you may be at risk for developing bone diseases such as osteoporosis due to the inhibition of calcium absorption prior to starting a strict gluten free diet. 

Vegan sources of calcium include:

  • milk alternatives with added calcium
  • firm tofu with calcium salts
  • Fortified fruit juice
  • soybeans
  • temeph 
  • tahini
  • cooked leafy green vegetables including kale, cabbage, bok choy and collard greens 
  • broccoli 
  • chia seeds

Vitamin B12:

VItamin B12 is essential for DNA synthesis and cellular energy production. Grain containing products in Canada and the US are fortified with Vitamin B12. However, people with celiac disease are not consuming fortified grain products as gluten free alternatives are not required to be fortified in the same way. B12 is also found in dairy and meat products which are absent in the vegan diet. There are sources of B12 available to those choosing to follow a vegan diet; however, if you are vegan and have celiac l disease, you may be required to supplement with vitamin B12 in order to correct any nutritional deficiencies.  Here is an article that goes deeper into Vitamin B12 and its role in the body including vegan sources of B12. 

Vegan sources of B12 include:

  • fortified nutritional yeast –
  • fortified breakfast cereals
  • fortified non-dairy milk 
  • fortified vegan meats

Iron:

Iron is commonly found in animal products. It is also found in fortified grain products similarly to Vitamin B12. Iron plays an essential role in the body: it is needed for the transportation of oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body as well as maintaining energy levels through cellular processes. 

Vegan Sources of Iron include:

  • quinoa
  • molasses, nuts and seeds (almonds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds)
  • beans and pulses
  • soybeans (edamame), soy nuts
  • tahini
  • fortified breakfast cereals
  • dried fruit
  • green leafy vegetables 
  • tofu
  • lentils

The iron found in plant-based foods is known as non-heme iron. Non-heme iron is not as easily absorbed as heme iron, which is found in animal products. “Additionally, compounds like oxalic acid found in spinach and phytic acid found in whole grains, legumes, lentils, nuts and seeds can further impede iron absorption when consumed together. This becomes a problem for those who follow a vegan diet” (Fontaine)

Here are some tips to increase the absorption of iron:

  • The use of cast iron cookware (the iron from cast iron cookware leeches into the food as it is cooked ?iron fish)
  • consuming foods that are rich in vitamin C alongside iron rich foods to enhance absorption.
  • avoid taking calcium and iron at the same time because unlike Vitamin C, which improves iron absorption in the body, calcium inhibits it. 
  • avoid consuming caffeine alongside iron rich food sources as there is  compound in caffeine decreases iron absorption as well

Zinc:

Zinc is a micronutrient essential for the production of enzymes, proteins, and hormones which are needed for wound healing and immune function. There are a few nutrient interactions to be mindful of when thinking about zinc intake. 

  • iron can inhibit zinc absorption 
  • Zinc absorption is enhanced by consuming fruit hydroxy acids, organic acids, and amino acids with soulful or peptides containing cysteine
  • Soaking, fermentation and milling can enhance the bioavailability of zinc

Vegan sources of zinc include:

  • beans
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • cashews (other nuts)
  • chickpeas
  • Soy foods
  • Oatmeal
  • Fortified breakfast cereals 
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What is Gluten

Gluten is a protein found in the grains wheat, barley, rye and triticale. People often associate gluten with carbohydrates such as bread, pasta and cereal. These grains are often staples in a plant-based/vegan diet; however, safe, gluten free alternatives are available. 

Alternative grains that do not contain gluten include:

  • white and brown rice
  • corn
  • buckwheat (the name is deceiving but buckwheat is a gluten free grain and does not contain wheat) 
  • quinoa
  • flax
  • millet
  • sorghum
  • oats (look for certified gluten free oats if you have celiac disease)

Hidden Sources of Gluten to be Aware of in a Vegan diet 

Gluten as a binding agent

Some foods are vegan but they contain hidden sources of gluten such as wheat used as a binding agent in vegan meat alternatives. For example, Gardein and Beyond Meat, brands carrying many different meat alternatives use vital wheat gluten for textural enhancement in many of their products. Amy’s Kitchen  has hamburgers and other alternatives that are certified gluten free and vegan.  It is important to read labels carefully before purchasing any processed meat alternatives. 

Overall, If you choose whole plant-based foods that are naturally gluten free, you are less likely to encounter gluten containing additives. Having said this, there can be a place for vegan meat alternatives and other vegan products in a well balanced plant-based diet; just be sure to look for wheat, barley or rye in the ingredients. 

Textured vegetable protein

Textured vegetable protein or TVP is sometimes used to increase the protein content of plant-based foods. TVP comes in different varieties, some containing hydrolyzed wheat or other ingredients containing gluten. 

Mycoprotein

Mycoprotein (sold as Quoron) which is a protein derived from fungus found in some plant based meat alternatives often contain gluten. This appears in the form of wheat or barley malt extract. 

Milk Alternatives

Some vegan milk alternatives also contain malted wheat and barley extracts. 

Packaged foods

Some packaged products may include label warnings such as “may contain wheat” or “processed in a facility that also processes wheat” ; these foods would not be safe for a person with celiac disease to consume due to the risk of cross contamination. 

Soy Sauce

Soy sauce traditionally contains gluten so if you are looking for soy sauce to add flavor to your meals, be sure to read the label. Most gluten free soy is labelled as such. Some soy sauce manufacturers use flavor enhancers derived from animal products so be sure to check the ingredient labels for that as well!

Some Extra Information: 

Additionally, many people are combining gluten free and vegan diets to create delicious recipes that you can try at home! See our blog post about Vegan, Gluten free recipes and insights Here

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