5. It’s about more than just avoiding wheat.
Wheat isnít the only potential source of gluten in your diet. In fact, youíll need to cut out rye and barley completely (unfortunately, that means most†beer). Since oats are usually contaminated with wheat, youíll need to stick strictly to oats that are certified gluten-free.
Gluten also has a tendency to pop up in unexpected foods — so always read ingredient labels to check for potential gluten ingredients. Soy sauce, for example, is usually wheat-based. Some spice mixes use flour to prevent clumping. And lots of packaged foods use wheat as a filler.
Now, any product with wheat in it (at least in the U.S.), will have it clearly marked on the label as a potential allergen. The problem is that barley and rye are not recognized as major allergens, so ingredients derived from those grains may not be clearly labeled. It’s also not always obvious when prescription and OTV drugs contain wheat and gluten ingredients, so check with your doctor or pharmacist before taking any new medications.
One more thing: you canít always trust food labels. Foods labeled gluten-free might still contain traces of gluten that can make you sick — either because naturally gluten-free ingredients are contaminated during the manufacturing process, or because the level of gluten is lower than 20 parts per million. (While most people with celiac can tolerate this amount of gluten without a reaction, others will still become very ill from these trace amounts.)
There are plenty of databases online detailing which brands are known to be safe, so youíll want to do a little research before you start your diet. If youíre ever in doubt about a productís safety, call or email their customer support to ask if they can guarantee their product is gluten-free.
6. If you do keep gluten in your diet despite a celiac diagnosis, youíre risking your long-term health.
Untreated celiac disease is no joke. People who continue to eat gluten despite their diagnosis arenít just risking a little intestinal upset. Theyíre actually risking serious vitamin deficiencies, infertility, osteoporosis, lymphoma, nerve damage and bowel cancer. The good news is that once you go completely gluten-free, your risk of developing these serious illnesses is the same as the risk to the general population.
Thatís why itís so important to get an accurate diagnosis if at all possible — because if you’re merely gluten sensitive, you don’t have the same increased health risks as a diagnosed celiac. While you still probably don’t want to eat small amounts of gluten on a regular basis, you’re not risking the same kind of long-term health problems if you’re accidentally exposed to it. Which brings us to…
7. You need to constantly watch out for cross contamination.
Do you live with family members who are still eating gluten? Do you share a kitchen or break room at work? Then you need to be extra careful to avoid cross-contamination in the kitchen. Never cook gluten-free food in the same pot or pan as gluten-containing food, and never use a utensil on ďunsafeĒ food and then on gluten-free food. (For example, if you spread peanut butter on wheat bread and then stick the knife back into the jar for another scoop, you have contaminated the entire jar with gluten.)
Some of the easiest ways to accidentally contaminate your gluten-free food arenít what youíd necessarily think — shared kitchen sponges are probably the worst offender. Crumbs will get caught in the sponge and spread gluten over everything you wash, so always have a separate sponge for your own dishes, and wash any dishes which may be contaminated with gluten before using them.
You also need to know that thereís a lot of cookware thatís impossible to clean once glutenís gotten into it. Colanders, strainers, cutting boards and wooden utensils all have to go. Even nonstick pans with scratched lining might be hiding small amounts of gluten that are almost impossible to remove. Youíll need to replace these items or buy your own designated gluten-free cookware that you keep in a separate part of the kitchen.
Photo credit: Moyann Brenn via Flickr
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