You know to order your burrito sans tortilla. You check the ingredients on food packages. You know soy sauce is typically suspect and you eat your sandwiches on gluten-free bread. You even know which restaurant chains serve gluten-free food. So why, then, are you still having symptoms of being “glutened”?
It’s time to take a look at where you might be getting accidentally exposed to hidden gluten.
Here are three immediate steps you should take to avoid cross-contamination…
- Use a separate toaster (or Toast-It bags).Placing your thoroughly gluten-free bread in a shared toaster exposes it to crumbs of gluten that have been baked onto the metal elements of the toaster from previous uses. This means that if your toaster has ever been used with wheat toast, and especially if it continues to be used by gluten-consuming members of your household or workplace, you are in danger of cross-contamination and all its symptoms. Symptoms of cross-contamination may include bloating, diarrhea, neurological symptoms, and more.The easiest way to mitigate this risk is by using toaster bags that keep your food from coming in contact with any food particles in the toaster. I recommend Toast-It’s reliable toaster bags.
- Use separate wooden cutting boards and utensils.Wooden cutting boards and utensils are incredibly absorbent. In addition to their natural tendency to soak up substances they are exposed to, they also develop small cracks over time that may not be visible to the naked eye and can harbor gluten. Every time you use a wooden cutting board or mixing spoon with gluten-containing ingredients, small amounts soak into the cooking implement. Later, when you use the same implement, your “gluten-free” food may become contaminated with small amounts of gluten. Even a small amount of gluten is too much!Switch to stainless steel, plastic, or silicone utensils and plastic or glass cutting boards. They are less absorbent materials and can be thoroughly cleaned. Smooth-surfaced, non-absorbent or less-absorbent materials provide fewer hide-outs for pesky gluten molecules and are therefore safer for use in a kitchen shared with gluten-eaters.
- Check the “filler” ingredients in your prescription medications, over-the-counter medications and supplements.It may seem like a no-brainer, yet so many seasoned celiacs forget that gluten can enter our bodies through several non-food sources. Even if your diet is strictly gluten-free, you could suffer symptoms of celiac disease if you don’t pay attention to the other things that you put in your body. Medications and supplements contain not only their active ingredients but fillers that make up the rest of the capsule or pill and may even help hold pills together. These fillers are sometimes a source of hidden gluten.One of the most common co-morbid conditions with celiac disease is an autoimmune condition called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, and there have been frequent un-announced formulation changes among thyroid medication companies that have resulted in large numbers of celiac disease sufferers suddenly reporting recurrence of their celiac symptoms. Various thyroid hormone replacement medications have used gluten-containing fillers on and off over the years. This is true with other medications as well.Gluten ingredients, and formulation changes, are both common in supplements, too. However, because they are treated as food products, most supplements are more reliable about claiming all their ingredients on the packaging, including allergens. For prescription medications, ingredient lists can be hard to obtain and are not required to be included on the medicine’s packaging. You or your pharmacist will likely have to phone the drug manufacturer to obtain allergen information. Check regularly with the manufacturer to make sure the formulation hasn’t changed to include gluten, especially if you are experiencing unexplained celiac symptoms.
Follow these three steps and you’ll be well on the way to avoiding some of the most common sources of contamination from hidden gluten. Keeping a gluten-free diet means being aware of more than just the food you put in your mouth, but also other things (like medications, supplements or lip products) that can enter your digestive tract and the environment in which your food is prepared.