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Why don't you just eat gluten free?

Updated: Nov 4, 2022

When you have Celiac Disease, it is often not as easy as just eating gluten free foods. Although a food may be gluten free, it can often contain traces of gluten from handling or manufacturing. Packaged foods may have ingredients that contain gluten or are derived from gluten.

Cutting board surrounded by loaves of bread.  In the middle is wheat flour with the words Gluten Free spelled out.  In the upper corner, there is an open flour sack with a scoop inside.  Something to make someone with Coeliac disease very uncomfortable.
How do you avoid gluten?

What is gluten?

It is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and triticale. Gluten is found in breads and pastas, but also in many other foods. Sauces, gravies, beer, malt vinegar, licorice, gummy bears, and fries may contain gluten. Manufacturers in the United States are not required to label foods for gluten, so it is often a scavenger hunt to figure out what foods have gluten in them. As someone with Celiac Disease that means reading every label very carefully. Beyond the ingredients list, you also need to check for how products are manufactured. Ingredients may encounter gluten during the manufacturing process. This means that sometimes a naturally gluten free food will pick up gluten as it is produced making it unsafe for someone with Celiac Disease.

How does gluten transfer?

To illustrate how easily gluten can transfer, think about the last time you made a sandwich.

Two slices of bread on a white plate

You get out 2 slices of gluten bread and spread some mustard and mayo on the bread with a knife. You open the package of turkey and place 2 slices on the bread. You then add your lettuce and tomato to the bread and cut the sandwich in half. Now think about making 2 sandwiches. You would repeat the process, but just make 2 sandwiches, easy, right?

Now, make a gluten free sandwich at the same time you make a regular sandwich.

Sandwich on a plate with a knife hovering over the sandwich

check the labels and ingredients on the mustard and the ham as well. Many fancy mustards often have gluten in them, so it is always an ingredient to check. You also need to check the turkey to make sure it doesn’t have any natural flavors in it. Natural flavors often contain gluten.

Turkey Sandwich sliced in half sitting on a white plate

You verify that the ingredients are safe, but you can’t go ahead and make the sandwich yet. You need to make the gluten free sandwich on a clean plate, you need to use a clean knife and you should wash your hands before handling any of the ingredients in the gluten free sandwich. Just touching the gluten bread and handling any of the ingredients will cause them to contain gluten. That is called cross contact. Finally, the condiments you use either need to be in squirt bottles or they must be new jars that have not been had a knife from gluten bread touch the condiment. If you spread mayonnaise on a slide of gluten bread and then get another spread of mayo with the same knife, that mayonnaise in the jar now contains gluten.

This is how gluten can spread throughout a manufacturing process, and how food can become unsafe in restaurants. This is why I have a gluten detection dog to keep me safe.

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