Adopting the gluten-free diet can significantly improve your health if you suffer from celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, but it may also account for certain vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Some research indicates people following the diet get too little of certain nutrients, especially some B vitamins, vitamin D and calcium.
A small study from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center found that more than 92% of those studied didn't get enough vitamin D, more than 85% didn't get enough folate and nearly 82% didn't get enough calcium. According to the study, vitamin B12, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, and iron were also deficient. Another study conducted in Sweden looked at 30 adult celiacs who had been following a gluten-free diet for eight to 12 years. The researchers tested blood levels of a variety of nutrients, including ferritin (iron), calcium, zinc, folate, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12. The study found that 37% of the participants were low in vitamin B6, 20% were low in folate, while 10% were low in both B6 and folate.
Nutritional deficiencies are quite common in the overall population, not just in those eating gluten-free. However, gluten-free grain products aren't fortified with vitamins and minerals the way conventional grain products are and this may account for some deficiencies. Some people who follow a gluten-free diet may also adopt a dairy-free diet, which might be another factor to consider behind the vitamin D and calcium deficiencies found in the study.
In conclusion, your risks of some nutrient deficiencies, namely B vitamins, vitamin D, calcium and iron may be somewhat higher if you're gluten-free (especially if you're also dairy-free), but you should be able to offset those deficiencies through careful eating and by using supplements. If you're concerned about your nutritional status, I would strongly suggest that you incorporate a high-end multivitamin and mineral supplement such as Ortho-Core, and seek the assistance of a skilled healthcare provider well-versed in the assessment of nutritional deficiencies.
Have you gone gluten-free due to various symptoms? Share your journey with us in the comments below!
Coeliac UK. Research on the nutritional adequacy of the gluten-free diet.
Hallert C. et al. Evidence of poor vitamin status in coeliac patients on a gluten-free diet for 10 years. Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics. 2002 Jul;16(7):1333-9.