Whether it’s due to celiac disease, autoimmune disease, or simply a desire to eat better, more and more people are adopting a gluten-free diet. This can have a huge impact on your overall health, but only if you do it right.
If you haven’t removed 100% of the gluten in your diet, you won’t realize the full benefits and, especially in the case of autoimmune disease, you may continue to experience symptoms from very trace amounts of gluten.
Here are five of the biggest mistakes people make when going gluten free and how to avoid them:
1. Not learning which foods besides wheat contain gluten.
This is a really critical first step to going gluten free. You probably know that gluten is a protein in wheat, but it is also found in rye and barley, and oats can contain gluten because they are harvested on the same equipment as gluten grains. Remember the acronym "BROW" when reading labels; it stands for barley, rye, oats and wheat.
When you first decide to go gluten free, you’ll probably immediately realize that you need to eliminate wheat based foods like bread and pasta, but did you know that gluten is also found in soy sauce, licorice and artificial crab? Learn the common and not-so-common sources of gluten and read labels carefully.
2. Filling up on gluten-free processed foods.
Gluten free food products are everywhere these days, which certainly makes transitioning to a gluten-free diet more attainable for some people. However, these products are generally even less nutritious than their gluten containing counterparts. Breads, crackers, cookies and other processed foods contain high levels of starch and sugar that wreak havoc with your blood sugar and promote inflammation, and provide little in terms of nutritional value.
Also, these foods are not necessarily one hundred percent gluten-free; they can contain up to 20 ppm (parts per million) of gluten. This tiny amount is not enough to trigger a reaction from a single serving, but if you are eating large amounts of “gluten-free foods” like cereal, bread and pasta for every meal, you could be ingesting enough gluten to impair the progress of your gluten-free diet.
3. Not focusing on high quality gluten-free foods.
Many people come to a gluten-free diet because of a particular health issue. Instead of simply replacing gluten containing processed foods with gluten-free processed foods, put the emphasis on whole foods that are naturally gluten-free like meat, eggs, fish, vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds.
These foods help reduce inflammation (unlike high starch gluten-free foods which promote inflammation) and in conjunction with the elimination of gluten can have a huge impact on how you feel overall. If you have been unwell for a some time, your body may be deficient in micronutrients, so load up on healthy, naturally gluten-free foods to help replenish your stores.
4. Forgetting about personal care products, cosmetics, vitamins, supplements.
This might not seem as obvious to people who aren’t used to dealing with food restrictions, but it’s a common source of accidental gluten. Even though you aren’t eating them, personal care products and cosmetics can still enter the body. Be particularly careful with eye and lip products, as they sometimes contain vitamin E that is derived from wheat germ.
Check the labels on your vitamins, supplements and check with your pharmacist for ingredients of any prescription medication you take. Gluten is found in everything from iron supplements to headache medication, and it’s important to read the labels each and every time.
5. Not learning about cross contamination.
Before you first go gluten-free, it’s hard to imagine how little gluten it actually takes to trigger a reaction. Gluten-free foods made on shared production lines or prepared in the same kitchen as gluten containing foods run the risk of being cross contaminated with gluten. It takes as little as 50 ppm of gluten — about the size of 1/100 of a piece of bread — to trigger a reaction in people with celiac disease. To be truly gluten-free, food needs to be stored and prepared separately.
When first going gluten free, you’re going to need fresh condiments that are free of crumbs, a new toaster (if eating bread), new cutting boards and super clean cooking surfaces. Do not share food prep surfaces, cooking surfaces or utensils with gluten containing foods. When eating in restaurants, be sure to ask about their allergy protocol and don’t be shy about asking about ingredients in seasonings and dressings.
Now that you know the top five mistakes people make when going gluten-free, congratulations on your decision and good luck! You're going to love the way you feel.