This article about 7 Ways to Recover from an Accidental Gluten Exposure contains affiliate links. This post is NOT a substitute for medical care and is for informational and entertainment purposes only. Avoid gluten and never use these treatment options as an excuse to eat gluten, even just a little.
We’ve all been there.
We’re eating at a new restaurant (or even a restaurant we know and love) and it happened. We accidently ate a piece of gluten. Gulp!
Unfortunately, it happens to the best of us.
Even with all the careful attention we take to ensuring no gluten crosses our lips… getting glutened can still happen.
It can happen due to our own mistake (“Doh, I should have asked before I ate that,”), our own oversight (“I should have used my Nima Sensor to do a quick check first”), or truly unknowingly, which happens when there is cross contamination, restaurant error, or insufficient product labeling, for example.
Let’s just say, gluten happens.
That’s why I’ve been asked on several occasions about what I do when I’ve been accidentally glutened. Gluten-free people want to know how they can quickly rebound from an accidental gluten exposure without experiencing the cascade of ill-effects.
Everyone experiences a different reaction when they are accidentally glutened. Some experience severe indigestion, bloating, gas, or urgent diarrhea, while others experience headaches, skin breakouts or fatigue. Some unlucky sufferers experience a combination of these devastating symptoms.
While it’s best not to eat gluten, if it happens, don’t panic, especially if you’ve been gluten-free for a while. Your body has had time to heal and your intestinal lining is likely in much better shape than it was when you used to eat gluten.
In fact, the intestinal lining is similar to your skin, which is the largest organ in your body. When you get a cut on your finger, after a few days the skin completely turns over. New, healthy tissue has replaced the once damaged tissue. The small intestine, too, turns over every 5-7 days. This means if you accidentally consume gluten, you can rest assured that your intestinal lining will flip and forget it in a few days.
However, while the damage might only cause a small set back in your long-term health, the initial symptoms of an accidental gluten exposure can be too much to bear for many sufferers of celiac disease and other gluten disorders.
What Do You Do When You Accidentally Eat Gluten?
I asked my gluten-free Facebook community to share their best tips for handling an accidental gluten exposure. I’ve captured what they told me below, along with some personal information and other research on the topic.
It is important to NEVER consume gluten when you’re on a gluten-free diet, not even a cheat day. I’ve written extensively about why you should never cheat on your gluten-free diet on my blog. The remedies below are for accidental exposure only and should never be used as an excuse to eat gluten, nor a remedy for careless eating.
Also, be sure to implement these strategies as soon as you realize you’ve been glutened – don’t delay! The chances are the more quickly you get in front of it, the better and faster your recovery will be in the end.
(1) Hydrate Like Crazy
After an accidental glutening, drink a lot of water. This will help flush your system and help you eliminate whatever you ate or drank more quickly.
Drinking plenty of water is especially essential if you experience diarrhea after consuming gluten. It will help you replenish the lost water and ensure you don’t get dehydrated.
I also recommend adding a squeeze of lemon to your water. Lemon is very alkalizing to your body, helping you more quickly restore your body’s natural ph balance.
Another herb to consider adding to water is ginger. Ginger is a natural anti-inflammatory herb known to aid in digestion. A warm tea with lemon and ginger may help settle your stomach and settle the inflammatory fire inside you.
I also recommend drinking unsweetened coconut water as a natural remedy. Coconut water helps to naturally replenish electrolytes as it contains sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium and phosphorus. Plus, it’s not loaded with sugar like other heavily marketed electrolyte beverages.
(2) Consider Digestive Enzymes Supplements
Our bodies already produce a plethora of digestive enzymes naturally. These enzymes help break down and improve the absorption of food.
Today you can purchase supplements to inflate the number of digestive enzymes in your body and aid in the breakdown of food. This can be particularly helpful in people with digestive diseases.
I do not personally use digestive enzymes supplements. I also do not recommend digestive enzyme supplements for long-term use as you do not want your digestive system to become dependent on them; rather you want to use them sparingly and train your body to continue to produce its natural digestive enzymes.
However, in times of an accidental glutening, a digestive enzyme supplement may provide some relief from the symptoms.
There are many digestive enzymes available, but one that many people have recommended to me is called GlutenEase, which is marketed as a digestive supplement to be taken ONLY during accidental gluten exposure. GlutenEase contains dipeptidyl peptidase (DPP-IV), which is a form of “protease,” an enzyme that assists in the breakdown of gluten and gliadin proteins.
GlutenEase and other digestive enzymes should NOT be used as permission to eat gluten again. It’s only to be used in aiding your body in its recovery from an accidental gluten exposure. (I do not endorse GlutenEase – the best course is to avoid gluten.)
(3) Take Activated Charcoal
I have personally never taken activated charcoal, but when I asked my gluten-free community what they take after an accidental exposure to gluten, it was made clear to me that many gluten-free people already know about and take activated charcoal.
Activated charcoal is used to treat poisonings or drug overdoses. Toxins bind to the charcoal, which helps the body rid of unwanted substances (although its toxin-absorbing properties have been used for medicinal and cosmetic purposes, none are scientifically validated).
Given that activated charcoal is used as a gastrointestinal absorbent to treat overdoses and poisonings, many people take activated charcoal to treat excessive gas and to neutralize diarrhea, offering potential relief to some of the digestive symptoms that result from an accidental glutening.
However, there are NO studies that validate the use of activated charcoal in helping it bind to gluten or even relieving symptoms from gluten exposure. I recommend you talk to your doctor before you take activated charcoal so he or she can help you understand the potential side effects.
(4) Rest Up
While you might be kicking yourself for accidentally eating gluten after all the hard work you’ve put in to be gluten-free, go easy on yourself. Remember, we all make mistakes, even veteran gluten-free eaters like me have made a mistake or two (or ten!).
Stay close to home when you’ve been glutened and rest up. Stressing about something out of your control will only make you feel worse and stress may compound your symptoms. This, too, shall pass and tomorrow is a new day to get it right.
(5) Rest Your Digestive System
While recovering from an accidental gluten exposure, it’s key to eat cleanly until symptoms pass (remember the BRAT diet?). Allow your digestive system time to rest and recover by eating easy to digest foods like broths, rice, bananas, gluten-free crackers, and tea (with lemon and/or ginger) to help settle your stomach. Avoid overeating.
Avoid rich and hard-to-digest foods. Similar to gluten, dairy contains a hard-to-digest protein called casein. Don’t make your digestive system work hard at a time when it has been compromised. Eat only easily digestible foods and liquid broths until you recover.
I also found apple cider vinegar to be helpful in settling my stomach, but that is only anecdotally what I felt worked for me after a recent accidental glutening. (Read: My Daily Apple Cider Vinegar Shot Challenge)
(6) Add Beneficial Bacteria to Your Gut
Did you know that 80 percent of your immune system is located in your digestive tract or gut? That’s why if you suffer from any sort of digestive disease, you must always be repopulating your gut with beneficial bacteria as if your health depends on it.
I tell all my health coaching clients that they should talk to their doctor about taking a high dose of probiotics daily (I recommend about 50 billion CFUs for maintaining good gut health). However, in times of accidental gluten exposure, I recommend doubling up on probiotics, taking one dose in the AM and the second dose in the evening, to give your gut health an extra boost in times of crisis. (Read: The Benefits of Probiotics)
(7) Don’t Let It Happen Again
While no one is perfect, there are measures you can take to prevent an accidental glutening. I like to say, “When I know better, I do better.” Use this as your mantra too.
Here are my tips for going the extra mile and deterring future gluten exposures:
- If you suspect the accidental glutening came from a food item you still have on hand, like a packaged food or leftovers, test it with your Nima Sensor. This way you know if that seasoning/condiment/food was the perpetrator.
- Before you eat a meal at a restaurant, always disclose the seriousness of your food allergy/intolerance to your waiter. Use firm language like, “I cannot eat gluten, it’s serious for me, not a fad diet.”
- Also, when eating out, order items that have the best chance of being gluten-free and the least risk of cross contamination (i.e. avoid pizza and pancakes unless the restaurant has specific measures in place for safe GF practices).
- Always test a small sample of your food with a Nima Sensor, just to be sure. While this measure is an important step, remember that the Nima Sensor is not foolproof and cannot detect gluten in fermented foods (beer, soy sauce), nor does it test the entire dish, only a small sampling. (Read: 13 Things You Need to Know about the Nima Sensor)
- Always read ingredient labels before eating anything… and when in doubt, don’t eat it. It’s just not worth it. Just because something looks gluten-free, doesn’t mean it is gluten-free. Just because you enjoyed a product in the past doesn’t mean the ingredient list hasn’t changed. Be mindful of everything that crosses your lips as if your health depends on it (which it does!).
The moment when we realize we ate something we shouldn’t have consumed can be a terrifying experience for us strict gluten-free eaters. If an accidental glutening happens to you, you’ll be armed with the information and tools you need to bounce back more quickly.
Remember, these above options will only help to relieve the short-term symptoms associated with an accidental gluten exposure. These tips are not to be used as an excuse to eat gluten nor does it address the long-term ill-effects eating small amounts of gluten, which can negatively impact your long-term health and prognosis.