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.
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.
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?