It’s Coeliac Awareness Week so I wanted to write a post about what it’s like being coeliac and vegan and if it’s difficult. Coeliac disease is an autoimmune condition that causes the body to react to gluten, which is found in some grains like wheat, rye and barley. It can cause serious problems but can be treated by removing gluten completely from the diet. Some non-coeliacs avoid gluten too for various reasons.
You may have noticed that all of my recipes happen to be gluten free (or can be gluten free if using gluten free alternatives to pasta or flour, etc.) I have coeliac disease so all the food I make is gluten free, but I don’t talk about it on my blog much, seeing as it’s not a health blog, it’s about being vegan, which is not just a dietary choice to me. I also don’t think that gluten is bad for everybody, just some people.
Some vegans might want to avoid gluten because they have coeliac disease or for other reasons. A lot of people ask me if it’s difficult to be vegan and on a gluten free diet. Some people are concerned that it would be too difficult to be vegan and gluten free, or say that they can’t go vegan as they are already on a gluten free diet and they think it would be too restrictive or even impossible to do.
Adjusting to Being Gluten Free and Vegan
I was diagnosed with coeliac disease four years ago. I had to laugh as I was already vegan and thought “just what I need, to have to avoid more food”. Also I had just put some bread in the toaster when I found out, so that was a bit annoying! I want to take this opportunity for a little vegan brag, because it can be common for coeliacs to be low in iron, vitamin B12 and other nutrients but my blood tests showed that I wasn’t deficient in anything. For those who think a vegan diet is low in vitamins and iron, take that!
I had been vegan for 8 years so was well used to being vegan, and had to adjust to being gluten free too. I did make a few mistakes, like eating seitan accidentally on holiday (that’s like mostly made of gluten!), but overall I found it very easy to adjust to.
Some people have a harder time adjusting to being gluten free. It can be a big change for people. And it can take time to learn what foods contain gluten. Being vegan could make it a bit more difficult in ways. Some gluten-free foods might not be suitable for vegans, like gluten free bread is more likely to contain milk or eggs than regular bread, and it makes it harder to find food in restaurants. But in some ways it could make it a bit easier, since we usually know what’s in our food and are used to reading labels.
I soon got used to it. I figured out the types of bread, biscuits and other foods that I can eat, and I learned what restaurants I could eat in. There is so much food out there other than animal products and gluten. It really isn’t as restrictive as people might think. The food can even taste really great.
Many vegan foods happen to be gluten free, and vice versa. Some people who avoid gluten, also avoid dairy, eggs or other allergens, so many of the foods I already ate were gluten free anyway.
I discovered BFree bread, which is suitable for vegans and free from gluten and all major allergens. Alpro plant milks, yoghurts and desserts are mostly gluten free, as are many other brands of plant milks. Tesco and Aldi have a few kinds of biscuits that are gluten free and suitable for vegans. Tesco even have vegan and gluten free ice-creams in cones! Some Nãkd bars and other snack bars are gluten free and suitable for vegans. Other snacks like some of the Foods of Athenry range are vegan and gluten free. Some brands of crisps are vegan and gluten free. Most gluten free pastas are suitable for vegans, as are many of the gluten free breakfast cereals. A lot of vegan meat substitutes are made of gluten, but there are some products available that are vegan and gluten free like Dee’s vegan sausages and burgers. Health food shops have loads of vegan and gluten free products and people working in them are usually very helpful and knowledgable.
Also many vegan foods are naturally gluten free like fruit and vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, and some grains like rice, quinoa, millet, buckwheat and oats (if coeliac, use certified gluten free oats in case of cross contamination).
It sometimes makes eating in restaurants more difficult as it restricts the options more, but nowadays restaurants have to display allergy information, which make it easier for those of us with special dietary requirements. Even if there aren’t any options on the menu, most places will be able to adapt dishes or make something that isn’t on the menu, a vegetable stir fry with rice, for example. Some places are still not accommodating and that can be a pain, but that could be a problem even if you are only gluten free. I’ve learned what restaurants are easy to find food in, and tend to stick to them. Eating in a new restaurant can be a bit stressful but I’ve gotten used to asking about options or looking the menu up online first and most people are really nice and helpful about it. Vegetarian and vegan restaurants, especially health food type places, often also cater for coeliacs so they usually have options. Indian, Chinese, Thai and Japanese restaurants are usually easy to find vegan and gluten free options in. More and more restaurants are adding vegan menus and gluten free menus nowadays and they often overlap.
There’s also the problem that gluten free food can be expensive and specialist vegan food can sometimes be expensive too. However it’s not always necessary to buy special gluten free and vegan products. Instead you could try to stick with cheaper naturally gluten free vegan food like rice, potatoes, beans and veggies, whenever possible. There are also some cheaper options like the Aldi, Lidl and Tesco own brand ranges of free from foods. A vegan diet can actually be a lot cheaper than a non-vegan diet so that helps.
As for health, being gluten free and vegan doesn’t have to make it harder to be healthy or get all your nutrients. Foods like rice, potatoes and gluten free bread and pasta will provide all the carbohydrates that you need. Gluten free products can sometimes be lower in fibre than regular products, but vegans usually get loads of fibre from vegetables. Coeliacs can have difficulty absorbing iron and vitamin B12, etc. but a vegan diet can provide loads of iron from dark green veg, nuts and beans, and vegans usually take B12 supplements anyway. Some people might say that coeliacs should eat a lot of dairy products to get calcium, but there are plenty of vegan sources of calcium. I saw a registered dietician when I found out I had coeliac disease and she said it was fine to be vegan and I could get plenty of calcium from vegan dairy alternatives, green leafy veg, tahini, almonds and other sources. Some gluten free products are quite processed so it can be healthier to avoid overly processed foods and choose healthier ones or naturally gluten free food.
Yes, it can sometimes be difficult to have a gluten free diet, and being vegan can make it that bit harder. But it’s definitely not impossible. Once you learn what foods you can eat and get used to it, then it can be totally doable.
You can find out more about coeliac disease here.