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I Follow A Gluten-Free Diet, But These Sneaky Ingredients Are Not Good For My Gut

List of Gluten Free Foods
Image by mbg Creative / Various, iStock
September 14, 2021

When it comes to packaged foods, gluten-free options have come a long way. If you have access to a grocery store stocked with gluten-free options, you can likely find a fair share of pastas, breads, and baked goods galore. Still, those who are gluten-intolerant or gluten-sensitive may peer at ingredient lists, just to be sure there aren't any sneaky players tiptoeing into the gluten-free aisle. 

New York Times bestselling author Danielle Walker is one of those people: On the mindbodygreen podcast, she shares some of her gluten-free "watch-outs"—ingredients that may earn the gluten-free stamp of approval but can trigger her gut flare-ups (she was diagnosed with an extreme case of ulcerative colitis). 

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Let us be clear: Not everyone will be sensitive to these ingredients—these culprits are simply what Walker has found does not work with her body (and seem to exist in a lot of gluten-free products). If you're curious—and perhaps still experience discomfort when indulging in gluten-free snacks—here are her top "watch-outs": 

1.

Corn-derived ingredients 

"My body does not like anything corn-derived, and that's a massive ingredient in a lot of gluten-free things," she says. For example, high-fructose corn syrup is derived from cornstarch, and it can add a sweet flavor to gluten-free baked goods. Technically, it's free of gluten, but the ultra-processed ingredient still does not work for Walker—so she would consider it watch-out No. 1. 

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2.

Xanthan gum

Xanthan gum is a common thickener (used in sauces, beverages, and powders), and it's often manufactured from soy, corn, and wheat. However, this added ingredient can cause bloating and gas in some people, including Walker: "Xanthan gum is not great for my body," she says. "It causes bloating, swelling, and pain in my abdomen almost immediately." 

3.

Potato starch 

Potato starch is a common ingredient found in plenty of gluten-free baking flours (and it's often a substitute for cornstarch). It's more of a controversial watch-out: Many actually find the resistant starch to be gut-healthy—which just goes to show how everyone's bodies are different and that you should stick to what works for you personally. 

For Walker, it's not that potato starch is especially irritating, per se, but it wasn't permitted for her gluten-, dairy-, and legume-free diet. "With the way that I was eating, most of the other gluten-free ingredients were also not permitted," she explains, which includes potato starch powder. 

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4.

Tapioca

Tapioca starch is another common gluten-free staple—and one that Walker tends to avoid. Again, not because she has had any specific issues with it but because she followed a specific carbohydrate diet that did not permit these kinds of ingredients (this diet typically eliminates starches). "There's a lot [of watch-outs] used in gluten-free diets because they have to try to mimic the texture of wheat and gluten," she says. 

The takeaway. 

Not everyone will find these gluten-free ingredients irritating—but for Walker, these are the sneaky ingredients to watch. In any case, it's a message to investigate what your body is trying to tell you, even if a product is technically gluten-free. 

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