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People with coeliac disease have a higher risk of developing the bone disease osteoporosis. Osteoporosis means ‘porous bones’ and is a condition where the bones lose strength, usually due to lack of calcium. Before diagnosis, many people with coeliac disease would not have been absorbing enough calcium to keep bones healthy and this is one of the reasons why osteoporosis is seen more often. After diagnosis, if someone who is coeliac accidentally eats gluten it can mean that they also absorb less calcium. For these reasons it is recommended that all coeliacs have at least 1000mg of calcium everyday.
Some of the richest sources of calcium are dairy foods such as milk, cheese and yoghurt. Aiming to have 3 - 4 servings of dairy everyday will help you to reach the target of 1000mg per day (1200 - 1500mg for post-menopausal women and men over 55). 1 serving of dairy is: 200ml milk (full-fat, low-fat or skimmed); 1 pot of yoghurt, 28g of hard cheese such as cheddar or edam (soft cheese tend to have less calcium).
You can also pick up some extra calcium in almonds, sesame seeds, green vegetables and some soy-enriched products but remember that eating these foods alone will not give you all the calcium you need. If you can’t tolerate dairy foods speak to your GP or dietitian about calcium supplements.
Your body needs vitamin D to help it to absorb calcium. Even if you eat lots of calcium, you may not be absorbing it unless you are also taking enough vitamin D. Technically, we should get vitamin D from the sun, but sun levels are very low in Ireland, so many of us are low in vitamin D. Vitamin D is found in very few foods - salmon, eggs and fortified milks, but even eating these foods may not be enough so you may need a vitamin D supplement. Typically, we need about5 micrograms of vitamin D per day. Do discuss with your dietitian if you need to supplement your diet.