Celiac disease: understanding the gluten-free diet



The only effective and safe treatment of celiac disease (CD) continues being strict exclusion of gluten for life, the so-called gluten-free diet (GFD). Although this treatment is highly successful, following strict GFD poses difficulties to patients in family, social and working contexts, deteriorating his/her quality of life. We aimed to review main characteristics of GFD with special emphasis on factors that may interfere with adherence to it.


We conducted a search of various databases, such as PubMed, Google Scholar, Embase, and Scielo, with focus on key words such as “gluten-free diet”, “celiac disease”, “gluten” and “gluten-free diet adherence”. Available literature has not reached definitive conclusions on the exact amount of gluten that is harmless to celiac patients, although international agreements establish cutoff points for gluten-free products and advise the use of clinical assessment to tailor the diet according to individual needs. Following GFD must include eliminating gluten as ingredient as well as hidden component and potential cross contamination in foods. There are numerous grains to substitute wheat but composition of most gluten-free products tends to include only a small number of them, especially rice. The diet must be not only free of gluten but also healthy to avoid nutrient, vitamins and minerals deficiencies or excess. Overweight/obesity frequency has increased among celiac patients so weight gain deserves attention during follow up. Nutritional education by a trained nutritionist is of great relevance to achieve long-term satisfactory health status and good compliance.


A balanced GFD should be based on a combination of naturally gluten-free foods and certified processed gluten-free products. How to measure and improve adherence to GFD is still controversial and deserves further study.

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Bascuñán, K.A., Vespa, M.C. & Araya, M. Celiac disease: understanding the gluten-free diet. Eur J Nutr 56, 449–459 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00394-016-1238-5

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  • Celiac disease
  • Gluten
  • Gluten-free diet
  • Adherence to diet