All the best tips on how to avoid accidental gluten exposure and prevent getting glutened, including the one thing that has contributed to many of our own personal accidental glutenings… and what to do about it!
Like a thief in the night, lurking in the shadows… of the grocery aisles containing pastas, breads, cereals, dressings, and candies – GLUTEN looks to strike within your intestines. So what do you do? Cower in fear? NO. You take action.
Here’s how! 😉…
How to Avoid Accidental Gluten Exposure & Prevent Getting “Glutened”
Become Familiar with ALL Sources of Gluten
It seems obvious that one of the first things you should do to avoid gluten is to avoid all foods that contain gluten!
But is it that simple?
Not so much. Gluten can make it’s way into many food items you wouldn’t expect (even if they are naturally gluten-free) by cross contamination, food additives, and manufacturing processes.
And it’s not just food, but everyday products like cleaning supplies and toothpaste! Depending on your sensitivity, even gluten exposure from these items can cause issues.
So, rather than feel unprepared, educate yourself on all possible sources of gluten. The list I link to below does seem overwhelming at first, but once you put it into practice, it becomes easier to recognize what contains gluten and what doesn’t.
Here’s one of the most comprehensive lists I’ve found of all sources of gluten (both hidden and not): Hidden Sources of Gluten
Beware the “gluten-free” labels… they can be misleading.
This is the area of the gluten-free world that has contributed to many of our accidental gluten exposures throughout the past decade.
So, forgive me, but I am going to spend some time on this one to help you avoid the same issues we’ve (unfortunately) had to learn from.
First, they’ll try to get you by labeling something as “wheat-free”. As you probably already know, wheat is not the only food that contains gluten. So unless you have a wheat-only allergy (which some people do), then this label is not helpful for you if you are trying to avoid gluten.
But here’s the kicker…
Even if an item says “gluten-free” or “made without gluten-containing ingredients”, it does not necessarily mean it’s actually gluten-free.
The “gluten-free” labels on foods is not highly regulated, and therefore a manufacturer can misuse the label.
Let me give you an example…
See the label on this package right here. It says “Made with Gluten-Free Ingredients“.
But if you flip it over to the back, you’ll notice under the ingredients that it says: “Processed in a facility that also processes peanuts, tree nuts, milk, soy, and wheat.“
Given that it’s processed in the same facility as wheat, there is a chance for cross-contamination and not necessarily a guarantee that the item is truly gluten-free.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been accidentally glutened by this type of situation.
Sometimes the products are totally fine, and the processing in the same facility isn’t a big deal, but other times, the food does get contaminated.
So, to be safe, we now primarily buy products with a certified gluten-free label, which means the products have gone through third-party testing and have been certified as gluten-free, even if it is manufactured in the same facility as wheat or gluten.
In the example above, the “Made with Gluten-Free Ingredients” label was NOT a third-party tested certified gluten-free label (to my knowledge).
There are different U.S.-based certification agencies for gluten-free foods, and they differ in how much gluten is allowed in a product to be certified as gluten-free. Some allow up to 20 ppm (parts per million) while others are as low as 5 ppm.
We’ve never had a problem with any of the certified gluten-free foods, so it does not seem to make a difference for us if its 20 ppm, 5 ppm, or somewhere in between. But this can depend on someone’s sensitivity level, so it is something to watch for, especially if you are new to a diagnosis and still learning about your individual sensitivity level.
Here are some of the most common gluten-free certification agencies within the U.S. and their labels/logos to look for on packaged food items. The application and audit process for all of these agencies differ, so I included the links to their websites if you’re interested in learning more.
Gluten-Free Certification Agencies and Logos
Gluten-Free Certification Organization (CFCO)
Established gluten threshold: 10 ppm.
Label: The label recently changed, but we still see quite a few products with the old label. Below are both.
National Celiac Association & the Gluten-Free Food Program (GFFP)
Established gluten threshold: 5 ppm
- National Celiac Association: nationalceliac.org. (This is a great resource for anyone with Celiac Disease, especially newly diagnosed.)
- Gluten-Free Food Program: glutenfreefoodprogram.com. They also have a handy gluten-free food finder.
Established gluten threshold: 5 ppm
Label: It can be in teal or solid black.
MenuTrinfo certifies food products, but also facilities such as kitchens, restaurants, and bakeries, so this might also be a logo you find on a facility’s website or brochure.
ACS United States
Established gluten threshold: 20 ppm
National Sanitation Foundation (NSF)
Established gluten threshold: 20 ppm
Paleo Foundation Grain-Free Certification
Established gluten threshold: 10 ppm
Note* – this certification applies to all grains, not just gluten.
Scope Out Before Eating Out
If you are going to be eating at a restaurant, be sure to scope it out and see if they offer gluten-free menu options. Some restaurants offer no, or very few options, and this is a very good sign that it’s probably not going to be the safest place to eat.
But, if they do have options, then there is more work to be done before committing yourself to a meal!
Nowadays, many restaurants have websites, and when determining if a specific restaurant is going to take care of your gluten-free needs, there are 3 places to look:
- FAQ section
- Allergen/nutrition section
You may find the menu includes some gluten-free offerings but the fine print is where you determine if they are actually gluten-free and safe to eat.
For example, the item listed on the menu might be naturally gluten-free but then you find out in the FAQs that they fry it in the same fryer as gluten-filled items, which is one of the easiest ways to cause cross-contamination and introduce gluten into your food. Despite the cross-contamination, some restaurants will still label the contaminated item as gluten-free.
So, answering the following questions, either through the website or by calling and speaking with a staff member, is really vital in determining your glutening risk factor.
Questions to Ask
- Does the restaurant (and staff) know what gluten is? If so, ask them to explain what it is and what major foods it’s in. (You’ll be surprised at some of the answers).
- Is the restaurant aware of the difference between a gluten allergy and a gluten sensitivity?
- If gluten is used at the restaurants, what precautions and measures are taken to reduce the risk of cross-contamination?
- Does the restaurant offer gluten-free fryers and/or other areas of the kitchen dedicated to gluten-free food preparation?
Remember, many people don’t even know what gluten is. So if a chef’s or manager’s response is “I think, that maybe, yes… I think it’s gluten-free, probably?” it’s a MAJOR MAJOR RED FLAG! DO NOT ENGAGE!
Take Precautions When Eating at Someone Else’s House
Out of all situations, this seems to be the most complicated when avoiding gluten because it can result in hurt feelings and awkward conversations depending on the dynamic of the relationships involved.
But, want to know the easiest way to avoid gluten at someone else’s house who doesn’t avoid gluten? Bring your own food. It gives you total control of what is in your meal and how it was prepared.
We also find that many hosts, especially if they are hosting a big group, appreciate this gesture as it relieves a lot of pressure since they no longer have to worry about accidentally causing a gluten reaction.
But, as easy as this sounds, it doesn’t always go over well.
While some hosts really appreciate you bringing your own food, others are the exact opposite and really, really want to make you a meal and may even take great offense to you bringing your own food.
Others will make you a gluten-free meal without asking you first, assure you it’s gluten-free, and then expect you to eat it.
While these situations are well-intended, the risk falls totally on you and can result in accidental glutening.
Here are some tips to help navigate these potentially awkward situations:
- Clearly communicate (kindly), from the beginning, that you take your gluten-free diet seriously, and that even just a small amount can give you a reaction.
- Explain the labeling conundrum (as explained in the section above about certified gluten-free labeling), and that all packaged foods used in the preparation of a meal must contain certified gluten-free labels or you will not feel safe eating the meal.
- Ask for the recipe, as well as a list of all the food items that will be used to prepare the meal, including the brands, so you can personally check for the safety of each food item.
- If the recipe includes things you know aren’t gluten-free, or are difficult to find gluten-free, suggest replacement options, or suggest other recipes.
- Give tips on how to avoid cross-contamination, such as washing the dishes and utensils before using them, using a specific set of utensils just for the gluten-free meal, and preparing the food in a different area of the kitchen if gluten-filled ingredients are going to be used in another recipe.
- Offer to help make the dish alongside the host.
- If a host makes a gluten-free dish without consulting with you first, ask him or her to walk you through the steps of how the meal was prepared, what was used, etc. before determining if you feel comfortable eating it.
- Use digestive enzymes and possibly a gluten detector/sensor. More below.
Use Digestive Enzymes Before Any and All Questionable Meals
Any time you don’t prepare your own food, digestive enzymes supplements specifically formulated to help breakdown gluten, or any food that you have sensitivities to, are crucial!
These can REALLY help offset any reactions from accidental glutening.
These are the chewable digestive enzymes we use because they include a protease enzyme called DPP-IV, which helps break down gluten specifically, as well as many other enzymes to break down a host of other foods. You can also buy them in capsule form.
*Just a note that these enzymes are formulated using egg, so beware if you have an egg sensitivity or egg allergy.
Consider Using a Gluten-Detector/Sensor
If your lifestyle includes a lot of travel and/or eating out, then a gluten detector/sensor is a handy tool to bring along to catch gluten before it enters your system.
I do not personally use one, so I cannot give any recommendations, but here is an article that compares 3 of the most popular gluten detectors and their pros and cons.
I also find this review on the Nima Gluten sensor helpful, too. The Nima sensor seems to be the most popular one I see people using.
Prepare Your Accidental Glutening Toolkit
I wrote a whole post about what to do if you run into an accidental gluten exposure situation, and one of the steps is to prepare an “Accidental Glutening Toolkit” filled with natural and effective remedies to help stop short-term and long-term glutening symptoms.
Click to read: Emergency Guide to Accidental Gluten Exposure and Ingestion
What to Do if You Keep Getting Glutened But Don’t Know Where It’s Coming From
This is exactly what happened to me. While I saw some minor improvement after removing gluten completely from my diet, I didn’t really feel all that better, and felt like I was constantly getting glutened no matter what I did.
To read more about that experience, check out my post: Conquering Celiac Disease: Why a Gluten-Free Diet Didn’t Fix Me.
From that experience, I learned about the biggest culprit:
Did you know there are foods that are naturally gluten-free but are still similar enough to the gluten protein that your body still attacks them? Or that there are other foods you may be sensitive to that give you the same reaction as gluten?
So, if you are absolutely, 100% confident that there are no hidden sources of gluten in your diet, and you’ve check the labels and you’ve reviewed your entire diet with a fine-tooth gluten-free comb… then it might be time to consider other foods you are sensitive to.
For many people with Celiac Disease, myself included, it seems dairy, oats, and corn are some of the hard-hitters. Oats, especially, are easily contaminated with gluten (so watch the packaging and labeling), but are also made up of proteins very similar to gluten.
To learn more about glutening and cross-reactivity, this article is an informative resource.
While some food sensitivity tests are helpful, the jury is still out on whether or not they are accurate. A more accurate way to find your unique food sensitivities and cross-reactive foods is to use an elimination diet, like the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) diet.
Using an Elimination Diet to Find Food Sensitivities
An elimination diet like the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) diet removes many potentially cross-reactive and inflammatory foods at the beginning, and then slowly adds back in each food one-by-one to help identify reactions easily.
It’s one of the best tools we’ve ever used for our autoimmune healing, but is a lot easier to do when you have the proper support, and also use a health diary/journal to keep daily notes.
The following blog posts can help get you started on the right foot:
It all comes down to a few basic things:
Accidental glutening always seems to happen at the most inconvenient times, like at a wedding, special event, or while traveling. But, there is hope!
It all comes down to a few basic things to avoid gluten exposure and reactions:
- Education on where gluten likes to hide and linger.
- Reading and looking for the right labels.
- Doing some research ahead of time and asking questions before eating a meal you did not make yourself.
- Using some extra tools, like a gluten detector and digestive enzymes just in case.
- Digging a little deeper into other possible food sensitivities if you are still experiencing symptoms.
If you follow these precautions, you will give yourself a safety net capable of catching all the glutens before they get to you.
LIKE THIS POST? SHARE IT AND SAVE IT TO YOUR FAVORITE PINTEREST BOARD!
Hey there! I’m Frank, co-founder of Healthy Habits Reset. My wife, Anna, and I have battled our respective autoimmune diseases for over a decade. We have fumbled through and eventually learned that REAL mental and physical healing requires you to be your own advocate, to think for yourself, and to determine what information works for YOU.
We created this blog to teach everyone how to use the resources and tools available to make the best personal decision surrounding any health, faith, and lifestyle choice.