The Gluten-Free Diabetes Diet

'Gluten free' sign at pavement cafe
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Gluten is a protein you find in various kinds of grains. It helps food keep its shape, basically acting like a kind of glue to keep the food together. But some people can't eat anything that has gluten.

And if you're a diabetic, that means you need to eat foods that are gluten-free as well as foods that help your blood sugar levels. It's not easy to follow a gluten-free diet that also works for diabetes. But if you've been diagnosed with either celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, plus either type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes, that's what you'll need to do.

'Diabetes' spelled out on a white plate
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Reasons to Avoid Gluten

Doctors recommend you go gluten-free if you have celiac or non-celiac gluten sensitivity. If you have celiac disease, eating foods with gluten damages your small intestine. And even though non-celiac gluten sensitivity won't damage your small intestine, you still experience the same celiac disease symptoms like brain fog, stomach pain,  diarrhea, constipation, bloating, headache, and a rash.

People with type 1 diabetes are more likely to have celiac disease. Those with both a gluten-related condition and diabetes need to control their blood sugar and keep gluten out of their diets.

The bad news is that some of the foods you'll find that are safe on the gluten-free diet are unhealthy for someone who has diabetes. Making a mistake on your gluten-free diet can affect your blood sugar management. This can potentially cause problems with your diabetes.

The good news is that learning to manage both conditions through your diet can improve your health. But there's no doubt that juggling the two diets at the same time is a challenge.

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Foods that Contain Gluten

Unfortunately, there are many foods out there that contain gluten. It's important to carefully look at food labels before you eat something.

Here is a list of the main grains that contain gluten:

  • wheat
  • barley
  • rye
  • triticale (a mix between rye and wheat)

Here is a list of just a few common foods that contain gluten. Talk with your doctor or dietician to find out more :

  • bread and pastries
  • imitation meats and seafood
  • pasta
  • cereal
  • granola
  • cookies
  • crackers
  • potato chips/tortilla chips
  • processed meat like hot dogs and lunchmeat
  • flour tortillas

Gluten-Free Grains

If you're gluten-free and have diabetes too, you may be thinking that there are no grains safe for you to eat. Fortunately, there are gluten-free grains that you can eat as alternatives to gluten. Some gluten-free grains are:

  • Quinoa
  • Buckwheat
  • Amaranth
  • Millet
  • Buckwheat
  • Sorghum
  • Certified gluten-free oats
  • Teff

Other Substitutes

So how do you swap out common gluten-filled foods with lower carb gluten-free substitutes? You can do this by trying simple things such as eating nut-based flours like almond or coconut flour.

Instead of pasta, eat zucchini spirals. They're commonly found in the frozen food section, or you can get a kitchen tool to create your own from fresh zucchini. If you're craving pizza, using gluten-free ingredients like cauliflower crust can help satisfy your urge while protecting your health.

Developing a Meal Plan

When you require a gluten-free eating lifestyle and you have diabetes too, it's important to work with a dietician to develop a meal plan for your unique needs. Dieticians can help you identify the foods and drinks that are safe to include in your eating plan. When you go shopping, eat out, or cook at home, you'll have the tools you need to stay healthy. The right meal plan, especially one that provides enough fiber through vegetables, allows you to receive the nutrients you need.

Managing Blood Sugar

If you have celiac disease, watch your blood sugar levels. Celiac disease damages your small intestine, keeping your body from absorbing the food you eat. When you begin the gluten-free diet and your small intestine begins to heal, you'll start to absorb nutrients again. This can temporarily affect your blood sugar, so pay closer attention to your blood sugar levels.

Your diabetes test results may temporarily get worse. As your body absorbs more nutrients, you may gain weight and have a higher cholesterol level. One study found that diabetes blood test hemoglobin A1C levels rise when kids with diabetes and celiac disease eat gluten-free. Your new gluten-free-diabetic diet will help you keep your weightcholesterol, and blood sugar under control.

Talk to your doctor to learn how to manage your blood sugar while also following a gluten-free diet. This will make sure you are doing everything you can to provide your body with the food it needs to manage your celiac disease/non-celiac gluten sensitivity and diabetes.

Gluten-Free Foods to Avoid

Eating gluten-free is necessary if you are living with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity. But there are some gluten-free foods you should think about avoiding. Foods containing refined carbohydrates are unhealthy, even if they're gluten-free.

Even though calorie counts are similar between gluten-y and gluten-free products, gluten-free baked goods are higher in carbs. That's because manufacturers add sweeteners to make up for the missing gluten. Look for lower-carb gluten-free products.

Handy Gluten-Free Treats

It's important to keep carb snacks on hand to treat low blood sugar levels. Try to stick with snacks that contain no more than 15 grams of carbs. Always pack a gluten-free snack in case your blood sugar drops.

It’s easier these days to find gluten-free foods at fast-food restaurants and convenience stores, but they’re not as plentiful as other kinds of foods. And when your blood sugar drops, you have a greater chance of accidentally eating something with gluten. So bring something like a gluten-free-labeled energy bar or some nuts.

A Word From Verywell

Eating gluten-free and effectively managing your diabetes through diet can seem scary. But it can provide you with many health benefits as you grow older.

One last tip: If you do have both diabetes and celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, consider setting up an appointment with a dietitian who has expertise in both diets. They can help you with meal planning and make sure your meals are nutritious and safe for you to eat.

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Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Biesiekierski JR. What is gluten?: What is gluten? J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2017;32 Suppl 1:78-81.

  2. The good news is that you don’t have to go grain-free. Mayoclinic.org. Published March 18, 2021.

  3. Kupper C, Higgens LA. Combining Diabetes and Gluten-Free Dietary Management GuidelinesPractical Gastroenterology. March 2007:68-83.

  4. Kupper C, Higgens LA. Combining Diabetes and Gluten-Free Dietary Management GuidelinesPractical Gastroenterology. March 2007:68-83.

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