The UCSF-John Muir Health Jean and Ken Hofmann Cancer Center at the Behring Pavilion is now open.  LEARN MORE >

Gluten is a protein in grains such as wheat, barley, and rye. For people with celiac disease, gluten can cause intestinal inflammation and interfere with the absorption of nutrients. A gluten-free diet excludes gluten as a food source and is the only treatment for this condition.

Celiac Disease

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder of the digestive system. For people with celiac disease, the inflammation gluten causes destroys the lining of the small intestine.

When someone with celiac disease eats food that contains gluten, their immune system damages the tiny, fingerlike protrusions in the small intestine (villi) that absorb nutrients from food. As a result, a person with celiac disease can become malnourished, no matter how much food they eat, if the food contains gluten.

Gluten Foods

If you have celiac disease, you should always avoid eating foods with gluten, such as:

  • Barley
  • Bulgur
  • Durham
  • Farina
  • Graham flour
  • Kamut
  • Matzo meal
  • Rye
  • Semolina
  • Spelt
  • Triticale
  • Wheat

Many products contain gluten even if the ingredients don’t directly list wheat, rye, or barley. Unless labeled gluten-free, you should also avoid:

  • Beer
  • Bread
  • Candy
  • Cakes and pies
  • Catsup
  • Cereal
  • Cookies
  • Crackers
  • Croutons
  • Gravy
  • Malt
  • Mayonnaise
  • Modified food starch
  • Oats (which is sometimes contaminated with wheat)
  • Pasta
  • Processed lunchmeat
  • Salad dressing
  • Soup
  • Soy Sauce

It is necessary to thoroughly read food labels to identify hidden forms of gluten. If a label has a questionable ingredient, avoid it.

Gluten-Free Foods

People with celiac disease can still eat a wide variety of foods. Many grocery chains and health food stores now carry gluten-free foods. If you have celiac disease, you can eat:

  • Amaranth
  • Buckwheat
  • Cornmeal
  • Fresh meats, fish, poultry that are not breaded, coated in batter, or marinated
  • Gluten-free flours (rice, soy, corn, potato, bean)
  • Hominy grits
  • Most dairy
  • Polenta
  • Potatoes
  • Pure corn tortillas
  • Quinoa
  • Rice
  • Tapioca
  • Vegetables

If you’re not sure whether a food is gluten-free, check the product’s food label or ask the manufacturer directly.