Ottawa Public Health

Celiac and Gluten Free



We recently received a question on our Food allergies and intolerances blog asking us to  shed some light on celiac disease and eating gluten-free and how this condition differs from an allergy or intolerance. Eating gluten-free for someone with celiac disease is not a lifestyle choice -it is disease management.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease where the body responds to gluten by damaging the small intestine. Gluten is a protein found in many grains like wheat, rye, triticale, and barley.


The damage caused by gluten can lead to decreased absorption of important nutrients like:

  • Iron
  • Folate
  • Calcium
  • Vitamin D
  • Protein
  • Fat

Approximately 1% of Canadians have celiac disease. Diagnosis of celiac disease is done by a blood test and an intestinal biopsy.  If you begin a gluten-free diet prior to a biopsy, it can take longer to diagnose celiac disease.

What’s the difference between a wheat allergy and celiac disease?

In celiac disease, an individual’s body responds to gluten, a protein in grains. This immune system reaction leads to damage in the small intestine.

With a wheat allergy, your immune system reacts to the proteins in wheat. It does not damage the intestines, but rather causes other and sometimes harmful reactions. A wheat allergy is one of the top ten food allergens in Canada.

Diagnosis of Celiac Disease

Diagnosis of celiac disease means a gluten-free diet is necessary.   It is important to decrease the risk of:

  • Anemia
  • Osteoporosis
  • Other health problems

Gluten-Free Diet

Individuals with celiac disease must follow a gluten-free diet. This means avoiding all products with wheat, rye, triticale, and barley. When eating gluten-free, it is important to fill your plate with:

  • Lots of vegetables and fruit
  • Gluten-free Grain products
  • Milk and alternatives
  • Meat and alternatives

If you are eating gluten-free, it is important to read food labels to confirm the product is in fact gluten-free. If you are unsure, contact the manufacturer. The Gluten-Free Certification Program is a Canadian voluntary program by the Canadian Celiac Association to help identify gluten-free products.

For individuals consuming a gluten-free diet due to undiagnosed celiac disease symptoms, it is important to speak to your physician, as undiagnosed celiac disease can lead to other health problems.

Looking For More Information?

For more information about celiac disease and eating gluten-free, check out these resources:

Canadian Celiac Association
Eat Right Ontario  or call 1-877-510-5102 to speak with a Registered Dietitian


Author: Emily Campbell, Nutrition Intern

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *.