I’m Not Eating Gluten So Why Do I Still Have Symptoms? (Part 1 of 4)

I’m Not Eating Gluten So Why Do I Still Have Symptoms? (Part 1 of 4)

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First, I want to congratulate you for investing in your health in such a great way by choosing to eliminate gluten from your diet. Next, for being so diligent at making the extra effort it requires to eat gluten-free (GF).

You wonder why in the world should you still have nasty symptoms if you are doing so well avoiding gluten.

This series of articles will cover 4 reasons why your symptoms may still be manifesting:

  1. You are unknowingly ingesting gluten
  2. You have additional food or food additive allergies
  3. You have additional food or food additive sensitivities or intolerances
  4. There are factors other than food that are contributing

It is for some of the reasons above we cannot assume it is only gluten and that each person’s symptoms may be a manifestation of different root causes. This is why I am so adamant that each person is unique and should be treated as such. It is critical to be diligent and leave no stone unturned. It is only when the underlying reasons are uncovered that addressing and resolving them can occur. If you are dealing with autoimmune and other chronic conditions, many times there are various root causes contributing to your symptoms.

In this article, we will dive into how you may be unknowingly or unintentionally ingesting gluten – I call this glutenized. It is not a word in the dictionary yet but I think it may be some day and I am not the first person to use it. I mean think about it, how many words are in the dictionary today that were not years ago?   Ok, let’s get back to topic.

Here are 4 ways you may be glutenized:

  1. Cross-contamination from food or food prep areas
  2. Consuming processed/packaged foods that are not certified gluten-free
  3. Personal care or household products
  4. Medications and supplements

Cross-Contamination From Food and Food Prep Areas

Great! You have removed gluten from what you are eating, but is it really completely out of your diet?

There are various ways you can have cross-contamination from food:

  • Cutting boards, cookware, and small appliances you use for your food preparation have gluten on them from gluten containing foods prepared using them. Even if an item has been thoroughly cleaned, even a few crumbs can be lurking somewhere and getting into your food. If possible, have separate items for GF food prep.
  • If you are preparing for others foods that contain gluten, are you thoroughly washing your hands before touching your mouth or preparing food for yourself?
  • Your pantry and refrigerator may be culprits. If it is not possible for your home to be entirely gluten free, I would recommend you have specific areas in the pantry and refrigerator for your food. Anything else in your space should be off-limits. Think about this example. You have left over food containing gluten in the refrigerator and the container leaks. It happens to leak just somewhat into your gluten-free food. Boom! You are now set up to be glutenized. Another example is you have cereal on the shelf in the pantry and one of the kids spills the bag. Some of the cereal lands on your GF item. No, they didn’t get into your food but when you pull your item out of the pantry, you clean the spilled cereal off and now you have gluten on your hand. You then forget to wash your hands and prepare your food that now has been glutenized.
  • Countertops, handles, and other kitchen accessories are other areas that may cause cross-contamination to your food. If you or someone else in your family prepares food with gluten, doesn’t thoroughly clean up, touches these areas, you touch them and don’t thoroughly wash your hands, you may unknowingly be contaminated. You may touch your mouth or prepare GF food while having gluten residue on your hands.
  • Pet foods, treats, other edible items are another contributing factor to cross-contamination. If your pet items are not GF, be as careful when handling them as you are with any other food in your home that is not GF.
  • When eating out, cross-contamination can occur the same ways it can at home. Because you are not in your own home and do not have control over the environment, eating out can be much more challenging. With the right understanding and tools, it can be done successfully. This topic is for an article on its own so stay tuned for that.

Consuming Processed/Packaged Food That is Not Certified Gluten Free

Foods that are certified GF must meet strict standards for GF safety. According to the Beyond Celiac organization, “it assures consumers that there is third-party oversight confirming the legitimacy of the manufacturer’s gluten-free processes and claims.” For more details on gluten free labeling, review this FDA article.

Here are just a few of the certified GF symbols that exist, as there are many.

Unless an item is labeled GF, there is a high likelihood that it is not GF. If a food is not certified GF, eat at your own risk. Some foods may seem harmless because it is obvious they do not have any gluten containing ingredients. An example would be a can of olives with the only content being olives, water, and sea salt. What we do not know is other potential cross-contamination that could have occurred to the product before it was packaged. When in doubt, do without.

If you insist on consuming an item that is not labeled GF and you believe it could be, do not hesitate to contact the manufacturer. You can even do an Internet search, as there is significant content available on foods that are and are not GF. There are items that are GF but are not labeled as such. One of the reasons for this is because there are extra costs to obtaining the certification label and some manufacturers do not want to take that extra step.

Also, many foods contain gluten as an ingredient but rarely, if ever is the word “gluten” in the ingredient list. Gluten is used as a binder and to provide specific textures in many unsuspecting foods. This includes candy, sauces, condiments, soups, processed meats, seasonings, distilled spirits and beer, pickles, oats, and more. To avoid confusion, oats are a naturally GF grain, but they are highly cross-contaminated when being harvested and processed for packaging. Always buy GF oats/oatmeal. Many items masquerade as gluten on food labels (this is not an exhaustive list).

  • Artificial color
  • Baking powder
  • Caramel color/flavoring
  • Citric acid (can be fermented from wheat, corn, molasses or beets)
  • Coloring
  • Dextrins
  • Diglycerides
  • Emulsifiers
  • Enzymes
  • Fat replacers
  • Flavorings
  • Food starch
  • Glucose syrup
  • Glycerides
  • Hydrolyzed vegetable protein
  • Maltodextrin
  • Modified food starch
  • Natural juices
  • Stabilizers
  • Starch
  • Vegetable protein
  • Wheat starch

Personal Care and Household Products

You wonder “how in the world can I be glutenized from personal care and household products?” Let me explain. Many body care products, cosmetics, and other personal care items contain gluten. Yes, what we put on our skin, including gluten, is absorbed. Currently, though, the understanding is that gluten would not be able to cause damage the same as when we ingest it internally.

We can ingest it from personal care and household items by:

  • Putting non-food type items in our mouth such as mints, gum, toothpaste, mouthwash, and oral health care.
  • If we use cosmetics, especially lipstick or lip balms, that can easily make its way into our mouth.
  • When we use a personal care or household product, have it on our hands/fingers, and we touch our mouth before thoroughly washing our hands.
  • Even if we wash our hands thoroughly it may not help. If we touch our body part that has an item with gluten, then touch our mouths not realizing we should have washed up well before doing that.

You can see it is much easier to use GF personal care and household items then try and constantly remember what you touched and whether you washed up well




Medications and Supplements

Prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) medications and nutritional supplements all have the possibility of containing gluten unless labeled GF. These items can have various fillers and excipients that may contain gluten. It is important to consume these items only if they are labeled as GF unless you are confident the manufacturer has documented them to be GF.

Here is a comprehensive resource for medications and OTC drugs.  The Celiac Disease Foundation also has another resource to support information about gluten in medication.

The Beyond Celiac web site is a great resource about gluten and living GF. Although it makes much mention about celiac disease (CD- gluten allergy), it also applies to Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS- sensitivity or intolerance to gluten).


Look out for the next article on food and food additive allergies that may be a reason you are still having symptoms even though you have removed gluten from your diet.  Contact me if you want some help determining what may be causing your symptoms.





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