With a lot of food sensitivities and intolerances, you can get away with having a little bit of the offending food. But, it’s not that way if you have celiac disease.
With celiac disease, you need to avoid ALL gluten. In fact, even ⅛ of a teaspoon of a gluten-containing food can be enough to damage your intestines. So with celiac, it’s really important to be diligent.
In our gluten-filled world, this is no small task. But it is possible. The most important thing is to be educated. When you know where gluten is, and more importantly where it isn’t, you can go through life avoiding it completely.
Here are my best tips for avoiding gluten if you have celiac disease.
There are certainly plenty of safe foods to eat that don’t sport the “gluten-free” label. But if you really want to be sure — and you don’t want to have to worry — look for that label.
Gratefully, the gluten-free diet has grown in popularity. More people have become aware of their need for gluten-free foods. Even people without celiac are discovering that they feel better when they go gluten-free. And that’s good news for celiac patients. The more people who go gluten-free, the more mainstream it gets. And then you have more gluten-free menus, products, and options.
The FDA regulates the “gluten-free” label. It’s an optional label that companies can use on their packaging only if they meet strict requirements. The FDA finalized this label back in 2013 because they wanted to ensure that celiac patients had foods they could eat with confidence.
If there are foods you want to eat that you can’t find labeled “gluten-free”, there are specific ingredients to watch out for.
The gluten-containing grains are a no-go for sure. Anything that lists wheat, rye, or barley should be skipped. But not every gluten-containing ingredient is as obvious. When you’re reading labels, avoid these foods as well:
? Malt — malt comes from barley. So avoid any ingredient that says “malt”, including malt flavor, malt extract, and malt vinegar.
? Brewer’s yeast — often derived from the beer-making process and contains gluten from the barley.
? Dextrin — sometimes made from wheat, this ingredient can add to the crispness of food, be used as a thickener, or in pills as a binder.
? Dextrose — a simple sugar that can be made from wheat.
When you’re reading labels, also be on the lookout for allergen warnings. If a product has any sort of a wheat warning on the label, steer clear! These warnings may use words like “may contain wheat/gluten” or “made on shared equipment with wheat/gluten”.
And don’t be fooled. Just because a product says it doesn’t contain wheat, doesn’t mean it’s gluten-free.
Cross-contamination occurs when a food that doesn’t contain gluten comes into contact with gluten from another food. This is a tricky one because it can make a naturally gluten-free food dangerous for people with celiac disease.
This can happen eating out, so be careful about eating naturally gluten-free foods at restaurants that also prepare foods that contain gluten. For example, many restaurants serve gluten-free or gluten-friendly pizza. But if the pizzas are prepared in the same oven or with the same utensils and wheat-based crusts, the gluten-free options can become easily contaminated. The FDA doesn’t regulate gluten-free foods in restaurants the way they do on packaged foods. So take that label with a grain of salt when it comes to dining out.
But while you don’t have control over what happens in a restaurant kitchen, you can control what happens in yours. Here are some ways to avoid cross-contamination in your home:
✅ Store gluten-free foods separately from any containing gluten. And make sure they are clearly labeled if you remove them from their original packaging.
✅ Have separate gluten-free appliances, butter dishes, and utensils. Yes, this may mean you need 2 toasters.
✅ Don’t double-dip or re-use. Be careful that you’re not spreading butter, peanut butter, or condiments with a contaminated knife or draining pasta in a contaminated colander.
✅ If you deep fry, don’t use oil that has already been used with products containing gluten.
✅ Be careful with non-gluten grains like corn and oats. Many of these are processed in such a way that they come into contact with wheat. Always look for the “gluten-free” label on these products.
There are foods that seem like they should be gluten-free, but aren’t. Watch out for gluten in foods like:
? Ice cream
? Deli meats and cheese — not all are gluten-free. And the ones that are may be sliced with equipment that isn’t.
? Soy sauce — most soy sauce contains wheat. Look for a gluten-free variety or switch to coconut aminos.
? French fries — Some restaurants use fries coated in flour to make them crispier. But even though potatoes are gluten-free, they may be fried in oil used on foods like fried chicken that contain gluten.
? Rice cereals — There are gluten-free varieties. But watch out for malt flavoring in anything not labeled gluten-free.
? Soups and sauces— Many soups and sauces are thickened with wheat flour, both in cans and in restaurants.
Food isn’t the only place where you can accidentally come into contact with gluten. Gluten can hide in unexpected places. So be careful of things like:
? Drugs and over-the-counter medications.
? Supplements — including vitamins, minerals, and herbal remedies.
? Cosmetics — Companies are not required to list ingredients on cosmetics. But they are absorbed by the skin, and in the case of lipsticks and lip balms, you may ingest them.
? Dental products.
? Play-Doh and some finger paints.
If you have celiac, trying to avoid gluten and manage your condition can be overwhelming. Your doctor can give you a diagnosis, but they may not have the time or expertise to help you navigate your illness.
I recommend finding a practitioner who can provide you with support, knowledge, and a personalized protocol. I specialize in working with patients who deal with stomach issues, digestive disorders, and illnesses like IBS and celiac. If you’re ready to get someone on your healthcare team who can help you deal with the day-to-day challenges that come with celiac and other disorders, click below to book a consultation. I’m here to help.