It’s easy to make mistakes when trying to follow a strict, gluten-free diet. Gluten is, after all, lurking everywhere. In this post, I’ll share the 10 most common gluten-free diet mistakes you’re probably making. This post contains affiliate links. Please see my disclosures.
If you’re following a gluten-free diet, it’s likely you are making a few mistakes that might be sabotaging your chances of fully benefiting from the lifestyle change.
Implementing a gluten-free diet is tough, but sticking to it is tougher.
While the gluten-free diet gets easier with time, it’s never easy. In fact, it can be a constant challenge for the 20+ million of us living a gluten-free lifestyle due to celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.
For me, the gluten-free diet has been life changing. I’ve put in the hard word to heal my body and put my symptoms into remission. It has helped me rid of my painful bloating, embarrassing gas, weird tongue sores, unexplained red bumps on my arms (keratosis pilaris), dark circles under my eyes, and bouts of low energy.
However, eating gluten free isn’t for the faint of heart.
You must be all in if you want it to work. You can’t be mostly gluten free. You must be serious about it. There’s no room for cheating on your gluten-free diet yet alone making any mistakes.
I put this list together of the top 10 gluten-free diet mistakes you’re probably making. I hope it helps you see the most common errors people make when it comes to the gluten-free diet. If you think the gluten-free diet isn’t working for you, this list may reveal why.
1. Judging Food Based on Looks
For many years, I had no idea that licorice was not gluten free. It looks innocent, right? I mean, it doesn’t look like a piece of bread or bowl of pasta.
However, the main ingredient in licorice is wheat flour. All you have to do is read the label to find that out.
This is why you can never judge a piece of food based on the way it looks.
Gluten is hidden in many foods that don’t look like they contain gluten from chicken broth, spices, and BBQ sauces to salad dressings and gummy bears. Just because it looks gluten free doesn’t mean it is. Read my article, 10 Surprise Products that Contain Gluten, to find out more foods that surprisingly contain gluten.
2. Assuming a Gluten-Free Menu Actually Means It’s Gluten Free
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 contains gluten – wrong! Rice is gluten free. Another server insisted that farro was gluten free (it’s not).
Never take your server’s word.
Instead, ask questions about what’s in the dish, how it’s seasoned, and ask your server to check ingredient labels and discuss your “allergy” with the manager and whomever is preparing your food.
Always be on the lookout for cross contamination too – this is the biggest gluten-free diet saboteur. Just because a food item is gluten free doesn’t mean it didn’t come in contact with gluten along the way.
3. Over Indulging on Packaged Foods
Gluten-free packaged foods are often loaded with sugars, inflammatory oils, corn and soy products, and all sorts of other white refined grains and starches. Just because something is labeled “gluten free” doesn’t mean it’s good for you.
In fact, loading up on packaged gluten-free foods will most likely keep you sick and cause weight gain, too. If you really want to heal your body from the ravages caused by gluten, it’s time to clean up your entire diet beyond gluten free.
4. Thinking a Little Gluten Won’t Hurt
Many gluten-free eaters think that a little gluten won’t hurt them, but I promise you, even a little gluten can undo all the progress you’ve made. Don’t do it!
If you have celiac disease, even a crumb of gluten can launch an autoimmune attack in your body and make you feel lousy. If you have gluten sensitivity, a little gluten will fire up the inflammatory flames in your tummy.
All the symptoms you’ve worked hard at extinguishing will suddenly reemerge, sometimes with a vengeance.
Remember, eating “just a little” gluten can and probably will hurt you, not to mention that it puts you at risk of accumulating other autoimmune diseases, cancer and early death.
5. Not Properly Vetting a Product for Gluten
Gluten goes by many names so it’s important that you properly vet every single item you put in your mouth.
Most people know gluten is found in wheat, rye, barley, spelt and sometimes oats, but many don’t know it’s hidden in ingredients like yeast extract or brown rice syrup.
I have three of resources you can refer to to help you sniff out gluten in products.
First, read my article, Everything You Need to Know about Gluten-Free Labeling Laws to ensure you understand what “gluten free” means when you see it on a packaged good.
Second, download my 100 Alternative Names for Gluten cheatsheet. It lists 100 names gluten may go by and can help you decode potential sources for hidden gluten beyond wheat, barley and rye.
Third, read my article, Is It Gluten-Free? Decoding 20 of the Most Confusing Ingredients and Products. This article is loaded with information on some of the most confusing products such as maltodextrin and alcohol.
The best way to avoid gluten, however, is to eat as naturally gluten-free as possible. Load up on lean meats, fatty fishes, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and nuts and seeds.
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 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.
I have two sources that will be most helpful to you.
First, read my article about which lip balms are safe. Second, I created an article that list which beauty and cosmetics are certified gluten free. 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.
You can read more about how to decode medication labels, and the FDA’s pharmaceutical labeling guidelines, in this article.
7. Cross Contamination
Your food cannot touch gluten, period.
In a restaurant, this means you can’t pick the croutons off your salad or remove the bun from your burger and be okay.
It means your food can’t be handled or cooked on the same surface as food that contains gluten. For example, it means your pizza cannot touch the same surface in the oven that a gluten-containing pizza touched. It means your fries can’t be fried in the same fryer as the breaded chicken fingers. It means your gluten-free bread cannot be toasted in a toaster used to toast wheat bread.
At home, it means your food must be labeled and kept separate as to not be handled by the gluten eaters in your house.
Things like tubs of butter, mayo jars, peanut butter and jelly containers, toaster ovens, waffle irons and colanders can become home to itty-bitty bits of gluten. For example, someone may dip their knife in the tub of butter, spread it on their gluten-y bread, and then dip the knife in the tub of butter again leaving gluten bits behind.
I recommend storing your clearly-labeled food on a dedicated shelf in your pantry to prevent gluten-y hands from touching your precious gluten-free foods. Read more tips to setting up your gluten-free kitchen in this article.
8. Not Meal Planning
Meal planning is essential for gluten-free eaters for several reasons.
For starters, it’s important to eat at home as much as possible to avoid eating gluten, even if by accident from cross contamination. No one will prepare your food in the way it needs to be prepared but you.
Additionally, it can be tempting to order in a pizza, or make a sandwich with regular bread if that is all you have in your house. With a plan, all these foods are oh-so-tempting.
Create a meal plan for yourself so you know what you’re eating each day for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks (don’t forget the snacks!).
Need help coming up with a meal plan? You can download my dedicated gluten-free meal plans for inspiration.
9. Giving Up Early Because It’s Not Working
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. Most of us have been eating foods that have been damaging our bodies for 20+ years, so giving up after a week, or even a month, is premature at best.
It’s important that you give the gluten-free diet a fair shake as it can take months, even years, to reverse disease in your body. It might also take the gluten-free diet in addition to another lifestyle change to manage your symptoms completely.
For example, if you’re simply swapping regular pizza for gluten-free pizza, or regular donuts for gluten-free donuts, how are you really cleaning up your diet and healing your body? Remember, a product bearing a gluten-free label does not automatically mean it’s good for you.
Sometimes you have to eat gluten free and make other changes to your diet as well, like limiting your consumption of sugar, checking for other food sensitivities, taking a probiotic, and/or eating more anti-inflammatory foods (a great way to do this is via juicing).
Remember, it will more likely than not take more than just eliminating gluten from your diet to reclaim your health.
10. Not Getting Help From an Expert
Many people try to eat gluten free and fail. It’s often because they don’t know how to properly implement or maintain the gluten-free diet for the long haul and/or they lack support from someone who can truly help them.
Working with a health and/or nutrition professional will not only help you jumpstart your gluten-free diet, but also it will help you learn techniques and tricks for maintaining your gluten-free diet for life.
If you’re looking for someone to help you transition to a gluten-free diet, connect the dots between your diet and health, create a meal plan that works for you, and/or help you learn how to maintain your gluten-free diet on a day-to-day basis, please consider working with me.
I’m a nutrition coach specializing in helping people with gluten disorders. I also have celiac disease, which makes me uniquely qualified to help you as I know the challenges you’re facing day-in and day-out.
What mistakes have you seen people making when it comes to following a gluten-free diet? Please share in the comments below. 👇
Please take a moment to read some of my other top articles:
- 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?