A Gluten-Free Vegetarian Diet - dummies

By Margaret Clough, Danna Korn

For vegetarians, a gluten-free diet can be quite a challenge but with a little extra effort and care it can be done. The biggest problem for gluten-free vegetarians is eating away from home; in cafes or restaurants, at functions, or with friends where you may find your options severely restricted. All too often the only vegetarian choice on a menu will be pasta, of the gluten-containing variety of course!

Most people who make the choice to be vegetarian do so thoughtfully, aware that other protein sources must be found to replace the protein from animal products, and other sources found for some of the vitamins, minerals and fats not found in vegetables.

However, a diet that is both vegetarian and gluten-free (a vegiac diet) may create some additional issues. It can be lower in B vitamins, fibre and calcium than a regular vegetarian diet, so extra care and planning is needed to ensure the diet is balanced.

Here are some tips on what to include in a balanced vegiac diet.

  • Protein. Valuable protein sources include:

    • Legumes, such as kidney beans, borlotti and other beans, lentils and chickpeas.

    • Wholegrains, such as brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, teff and amaranth.

    • Nuts and seeds.

    • Tofu and other soy products (check these for gluten).

    • Eggs and dairy food if appropriate for you.

    • Whole or multigrain gluten-free bread.

  • Iron. If you’re newly diagnosed with coeliac disease you may not have been absorbing enough iron. Ask your GP to monitor your iron levels for a while to ensure that your gluten-free/vegetarian diet is providing you with sufficient iron. Supplementation is commonly recommended to correct deficiencies in those with newly diagnosed coeliac disease.

    Good sources of iron include legumes, cereals, nuts and seeds, and eggs. Vitamin C assists in the absorption of iron so include some of the following with your meals: capsicum, broccoli, spinach, citrus fruits, berries, mango, pineapple or pawpaw.

    Drink tea or coffee between meals rather than with them (tea and coffee limit the absorption of iron), and if taking an iron supplement avoid taking it with a glass of milk (calcium competes with iron for absorption).

  • Zinc. Good sources of zinc include legumes, nuts, seeds, wholegrain cereals.

  • Calcium. While dairy products are the best source of calcium, you can find calcium-fortified rice and soy milk in most supermarkets. A soy milk is more likely to have higher levels of protein than other non-dairy milks. Tofu, almonds, sesame seeds, dried fruit and green leafy vegetables are also good sources of calcium.

  • Vitamin B12. If you are eating dairy or eggs, these will provide you with vitamin B12, otherwise you may need to take a vitamin B12 supplement or find vegetarian products (like soy milk) that are fortified.

  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids. While some plant foods contain omega-3, these are only short-chain omega-3s. Long chain omega-3s (EPA and DHA) are also essential. Because these are only found in oily fish, you may choose to take fish oil, or look for algal-based supplements of long chain omega-3s.