In this article, I share the top 10 gluten-free diet mistakes people with celiac disease and gluten intolerance make that sabotage their health and diet. This post contains affiliate links. Please see my disclosures.
Following a strict gluten-free diet is hard to do and easy to mess up. And while following a gluten-free diet gets easier with time, it’s never an easy task. In fact, sticking to a gluten-free diet is a constant challenge for the 20+ million people living with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity.
In this article, I share 10 of the most common gluten-free diet mistakes I see people making that not only sabotage their gluten-free diets but also sabotage their long-term health.
Mistake #1: Judging Food Based on Looks
You cannot determine if a food contains gluten just by looking at it. Licorice, for example, looks gluten free, but it contains wheat flour and a lot of it. Soy sauce looks like it should be gluten free, but it, too, contains plenty of wheat.
Gluten is hidden in many foods that don’t look like they contain gluten including chicken broth, spices, BBQ sauces, salad dressings, and even innocent little gummy bears.
Mistake #2: Trusting Gluten-Free Menus and Servers
A large number of restaurant workers don’t really understand what gluten free means. I had a server once tell me I couldn’t eat rice because it contained gluten, yet anyone on the gluten-free diet knows that plain rice is gluten free. Another server insisted that farro was gluten free (it’s not).
My friend even ordered hot and sour soup after a server told her it was gluten free, but guess what, the menu didn’t mark the item as gluten free and the server got it wrong. And yes, my friend was very sick after eating that soup. Lesson learned!
This is why it’s essential to always ask questions about what ingredients were used to create the dish as well as how it was prepared (fried, sauteed, etc.). If your server is unsure of something, ask him or her to discuss your meal with the manager and chef.
Gluten cross contamination is rampant in restaurants with 1 in 3 restaurants meals testing positive for gluten despite the dishes being labeled gluten free.
The Allergy Amulet and Nima Sensor are portable gluten-detecting devices that empower you to test your food for hidden gluten before you eat it, albeit, these devices only test the small portion of food you put into the test capsule, not the entire dish.
Mistake #3: Overindulging in Packaged Foods
Gluten-free packaged foods can be loaded with sugars, inflammatory oils, corn, and soy products, along with white refined grains and starches that spike your blood sugar. And unfortunately, many gluten-free grains are not fortified with vitamins and minerals like wheat-based products. This means that just because a product is labeled “gluten free” doesn’t mean it’s necessarily good for you.
Eating packaged foods in excess may do more harm than good, leading to weight gain, bloating (aka, gluten belly), and chronic illness.
The truth is, if you want to heal your body from the ravages caused by gluten, it’s time to clean up your diet beyond ditching gluten. This means eating naturally gluten-free whole foods when possible and only supplementing with packaged foods on occasion.
Mistake #4: Thinking a Little Gluten Won’t Hurt
Many gluten-free eaters think that a little gluten won’t hurt them, or they somehow justify eating gluten “just this once because it’s my birthday.” However, even a little gluten will undo all the progress you’ve made to heal your body, so don’t do it.
If you have celiac disease, a crumb of gluten can launch an autoimmune attack in your body and make you feel sick to your stomach (literally). If you have gluten intolerance, a little gluten will fire up the inflammatory flames inside your tummy. All the symptoms you’ve worked hard to put into remission will suddenly reemerge, often with a vengeance.
Remember, eating “just a little” gluten can and probably will hurt you, not to mention putting you at risk of accumulating other autoimmune diseases, cancer, and early death. Read Why You Should Never Cheat on the Gluten-Free Diet for more details on how even a little gluten can and will hurt you.
Mistake #5: Not Properly Vetting a Product
Gluten goes by many names so it’s important to properly vet every single food for gluten before you put it in your mouth.
While you may know that gluten is found in wheat, rye, barley, and sometimes oats, you may not know that it’s hidden in ingredients like yeast extract or brown rice syrup. You may also not realize that a product can be wheat free but not gluten free, and vice versa. Confusing, right?
These resources can help you sniff out gluten in products:
- Read What Gluten-Free Labeling Laws and Certifications Really Mean to ensure you understand what “gluten free” means when you see it written on a packaged product. Many “gluten-free” products actually contain trace amounts of gluten that can add up to a significant amount throughout a day of eating.
- Download my 100 Alternative Names for Gluten cheatsheet. It lists 100 names for gluten and can help you decode potential sources for hidden gluten beyond wheat, barley, and rye.
- For deciphering alcohol for gluten, read my article, Guide to Gluten-Free Alcohol.
Overall, the best way to avoid gluten is to eat as naturally gluten free as possible and eat at home. Load up on lean meats, fatty fishes, gluten-free whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, and plenty of nuts and seeds.
Mistake #6: Not Vetting Beauty Products or Medications
Research indicates that shampoos and beauty products that contain gluten cannot be absorbed by the skin and therefore won’t harm someone with celiac disease. This means you can touch gluten; you just can’t eat it (although you should definitely wash your hands after touching gluten).
However, if there is a risk of ingesting the product, such as the case in lipsticks, lip balms, lotions, sunscreens, toothpastes, and hand sanitizers, then you must use products that do not contain gluten.
There are several lip balms that are certified gluten free, along with several popular lip balm brands that contain wheat germ. One cosmetic brand I use, recommend, and know is certified gluten free is Red Apple Lipstick.
Medications also must be vetted for hidden gluten, as researchers found that 18 percent of drugs contain gluten as an inactive ingredient. This means almost two out of 10 drugs may contain gluten. Make sure the very pill made to help you get better doesn’t end up making you sick!
Mistake #7: Not Taking Cross Contamination Seriously
If you’re serious about following a gluten-free diet, it’s important to know that your food cannot, at any time, come in contact with gluten. This means you can’t remove croutons from a salad or a bun from a burger. This means you can’t eat French fries, no matter how tempting, if they were cooked in a shared fryer used to cook gluten-containing foods like chicken nuggets. It also means you cannot eat products that contain oats unless you know for sure that they’re gluten-free oats.
At home, it means you must have a dedicated air-fryer and pasta strainer, as well as your own tub of butter and peanut butter jar. These items can easily be contaminated when shared with gluten-eaters in your home.
Read the following articles to help you take gluten cross contamination more seriously:
- What is Gluten Cross Contamination?
- Setting Up a Gluten-Free Kitchen
- Do Convection Ovens, Toasters, Microwaves, and/or Air-Fryers Pose a Gluten Cross Contact Risk?
Mistake #8: Not Planning Ahead
You must always plan your meals and food situation ahead of time to avoid being hungry or tempted by gluten foods.
When traveling, always carry plenty of gluten-free snacks because you never know when you’ll be able to find safe gluten-free food next.
At home, plan your meals ahead of time. Meal planning is easy to do and can help you stick to a budget and eat well. Read my 9 Meal Planning Tips for People with Celiac Disease and Gluten Sensitivities.
Mistake #9: Giving Up
Too often, people give up on their gluten-free diet without giving it a full and fair shake. They may go gluten free for a week and feel no different, so they give up. They don’t realize that they’ve been eating foods that have been damaging their gut for decades, and it’s going to take more than a few weeks – or even years – to feel better.
However, going gluten free isn’t always a rosy experience, and there are some dangers to the gluten-free diet to be aware of so the gluten-free diet improves your health and doesn’t make you sicker in the end.
You may also need to go beyond gluten free by looking at the role of food sensitivities, stress, poor eating habits, sugar, and other lifestyle factors that may be sabotaging your chances of healing your body. It’s also important to take some supplements, including probiotics, to encourage your gut and whole body to heal.
Mistake #10: Not Getting Help
Many people go gluten free without the support they need to get gluten free right. Be sure to work with a health coach or qualified nutrition professional to help you do gluten-free right. I recommend hiring a certified gluten-free practitioner or any of these nutrition professionals listed on my website.
Please take a moment to read these related:
- 5 Dangers Associated with the Gluten-Free Diet
- Everything You Need to Know about Gluten-Free Labeling Laws
- Are Spices Gluten Free? A list of spices brands
- Is There a Cure for Celiac Disease?
- 7 Ways to Recover from an Accidental Gluten Exposure
- 12 Interesting Facts about Celiac Disease
- 10 Facts Your Doctor Doesn’t Know about Celiac Disease and Gluten Sensitivities
- What Causes Celiac Disease and Can It Be Prevented?
Good For You Gluten Free says
I don’t know enough about sunflower oil to be an expert, but it’s not “bad for you.” Here are some thoughts on oils in general https://www.goodforyouglutenfree.com/gluten-free-cooking-oils-101/
Donida Wheeler says
Hi Jenny, can you please touch on Sunflower oil, because I’m a bit confused as I’m new to getting clean, no dairy and gluten free. A friend informed me that sunflower oil is bad for you.
Big mistake for me has been to move into a retirement center without positive assurance about gluten free living. I think I’m getting sicker every month after 10 months of this. Yikes, How could I have been so naive? Now what?
Good For You Gluten Free says
I don’t have a list but the main brands are fine. You can look on each company’s website for details.
Can I ask about toothpaste? How do you know which ones are safe. I can’t seem to see an ingredient list on any of them
Dried beans. Check your label. Rinse them before cooking if you dare make them.
Andrea Laurene says
ooh I have a long list, as a very sensitive celiac. I agree with many comments here (soy sauce, kissing someone who as ingested grain or beer, etc).
medications can have hidden gluten or corn (an inflammatory food which bothers me).
caramel color can contain gluten or corn and it’s in a TON of food and bev. I avoid all colas and ginger ale due to caramel color and read all food labels. maltodxtrine can also be an issue.
I also avoid all grain alcohol, even though it’s supposedly GF due to distillation, but I still feel extremely sick if I drink it.
wood in the kitchen, such as spoons or cutting boards. wood can adsorb the gluten and expose you later, even if you’ve washed the item. we use plastic, metal, or marble in our house. sponges can also be a problem if they’ve touched gluten.
I’ll just add: if you’re going to a group meal (like Thanksgiving), every single person must wash their hands after touching gluten. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched someone contaminate something GF because they didn’t wash their hands. I started bringing my own plated meal to heat up at these gatherings, but that can lead to tensions, so be prepared if you go this route.
Jenny Finke, Integrative Nutrition Coach says
Yes soy is hard to avoid too Ug.
Maria Santiago says
I’m not only gluten free but soy free and can’t believe how many products have soy, it’s very hard to avoid. Reading EVERY label is so hard but worth it to feel good.
Michelle CK says
I was diagnosed a little over 3 years ago with celiac and these are all good pointers.
My biggest “a ha” food that I never would have thought had gluten was fake crab that’s used in sushi! Also called crab salad. But it’s not crab. It’s white fish that is mechanically pressed together, bonded with flour, and colored. Gross when you think about it. Sashimi and nigiri for me now. Or I order special rolls without the K – rab (my nickname for fake crab) and ANY sauce that is brown isn’t allowed on the roll. Because the other big who knew was that soy sauce is made from wheat. So any brown sauce is suspect and for good reason. Thank goodness for Tamari! I make a lot of GF Asian inspired recipes and have been pretty successful replicating all my old favorites.
Bottled water?!? Oh man!!
Great tips! It was so hard for us when first going gluten free because you’re right – who would guess that licorice has gluten…or lipstick and other makeup? I’ve even seen bottled water with gluten it in from the flavoring. There’s a need for lots of caution.
No thanks you stupid idiots says
If you are truly celiac then the above comments should be redundant to you. You need to read every single ingredient before it enters your mouth. Gluten free is not a diet fad, it’s a medical condition. Know your facts.
I’m so sorry you’re going through that. Sounds like you need to nurture your gut health with probiotics, anti inflammatory foods, no gluten, and low to no sugar. Could also be candida or h pylori. Hugs to you.
I have been sick for a year and I mean really sick. It all started after an antibiotic induced gut infection. I was told it’s IBS and take the over counter peppermint pill. Never worked. It has gotten so bad I would be in bed after I ate and during the afternoon. I’ve just now figured out what is wrong I want to thank for your blog and insight into a debilitating sickness. I don’t know if I have Celiac, my guess is I have serious gluten intilerance.
So much to learn!
Again thank you so much!!!!
I would like you and others to know that Shampoos, cream etc can effect someone with celiac diease. I get a rash all over my body if gluten is in my shampoo and other products.
I sometimes get rashes on the inside of my wrists from touching bread etc.
Washing after touching gluten is SO important.
Thank you for the rest of the information
Yes that is a good addition to the list!
Love this list! A other thing for people to consider is drinking after someone, especially kids who could have glutinous crumbs on their mouth! (Even kissing your significant other after eating could pose harm ?)