Have you tried gluten free?
If you’re still struggling with the symptoms of an (autoimmune) thyroid condition such as Graves’ disease or Hashimoto’s, you may have gotten this suggestion.
And I think it’s a great suggestion.
There’s a lot of literature out there on the role of gluten in autoimmune disease. There’s a strong link between autoimmune thyroid disease and Celiac disease. And many more have a gluten sensitivity. I wrote about this earlier here.
If you fall into one of these two categories and you’re serious about recovering your health, going gluten free is a must.
Unfortunately, going gluten free can be quite challenging. Especially, at the beginning.
It’s common to make mistakes. And that wouldn’t be all that bad. Except for the fact that as a result, many people give up on the gluten free diet. Because why would you continue if it doesn’t seem to do much for your health, right? The truth is that many ditch the gluten free diet without having ever tried it properly.
Does this sound like you? Have you unsuccessfully tried a gluten free diet?
If so or if you’re still considering seeing what gluten free can do for you, this post is for you.
It’ll give you the most common mistakes on a gluten free diet and what to do to avoid them. So that you can actually find out what gluten free could do for your health.
Let’s dive in.
1. Eating gluten free most of the time
For people that know they have Celiac this one seems obvious. It’s not okay to eat gluten every now and then. As mentioned earlier, there’s a link between Celiac disease and autoimmune thyroid conditions. In addition, there are many with a thyroid condition that have a gluten sensitivity. And for those people, it’s also not okay to eat gluten every now and then.
They should avoid gluten entirely. 100%!
Because if you have an autoimmune thyroid condition and a gluten sensitivity, eating gluten can aggravate the autoimmune attack. And this may keep your immune system firing at your thyroid gland.
This is explained by the molecular mimicry phenomenon. I explained this phenomenon here.
Gluten expert Dr. Tom O’Bryan said here the following about eating gluten if you have a gluten sensitivity. “After eating a cracker, the size of 1/8 of a thumbnail, this can cause an inflammatory response in your body for 6 months.”
That’s a very small quantity which can keep your immune system in overdrive for a long time.
In other words, make sure to eat gluten free all of the time. And to do this, also avoid the following mistakes.
2. Not realizing gluten can hide in many things
Common foods that contain gluten (the one found in wheat, rye and barley) include pastas, breads, pastries, cookies, cakes, cereal, granola, pancakes, waffles, breading, croutons, crackers, beer, and flour tortillas.
Additionally, many foods may contain hidden gluten. These foods with hidden gluten typically include soups (flour used as thickener), salad dressings and marinades, French fries (batter may contain wheat flour or there may be cross contamination from other fried foods), potato chips, processed (lunch) meats, soy sauce (made with fermented wheat), burgers (especially in Europe), licorice, and stuffing mixes.
Besides gluten hidden in food, they may also hide out in medications and supplements. I believe it’s definitely improved over the years through education of both sides, consumers and producers. Still, it’s worth your time to check all the meds and supplements that you’re taking for gluten. And if you don’t know for sure, give them a call. It’s simply too important to miss. Read more here and here.
Avoid hidden gluten by always carefully reading labels or checking with restaurant staff.
As for medications and supplements, avoiding gluten is easy. Most thyroid medications are gluten free. And many of the supplements, especially the higher quality ones, as well. You can likely easily substitute if you do happen to use medications or supplements with gluten.
3. Eating gluten free junk food
One of the biggest mistakes I see people make when they go on a gluten free diet is that they start to consume so-called gluten free junk food.
Instead of normal breakfast cereals, they eat gluten free breakfast cereals. Instead of normal bread, they eat gluten free bread from the gluten free section in the supermarket. Instead of a normal cookie, they eat a gluten free cookie. And so on.
Although these gluten free alternatives aren’t necessarily unhealthy, many are. Products in the gluten free section of your typical grocery store, commonly contain lots of sugar, GMO cornstarch or cornmeal, soy, and additives. Hence, not a health-promoting alternative.
Your body needs nutrient dense foods that contain lots of vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants, fiber, etc. Especially when it’s struggling health-wise. And these nutrient dense foods typically don’t come prepackaged.
Avoid these gluten free junk foods by shopping for nutrient dense, real food. This means fresh vegetables and fruits, pastured eggs, pasture-raised meats, wild-caught fish (watch out for iodine content if you’re hyperthyroid), nuts and seeds, and healthy fats like olive oil, coconut oil, and ghee. And try as much as possible to purchase organic or mostly organic.
4. Eating cross-contaminated “gluten free” food
Imagine the following. You’re going to a friend’s place for dinner. And especially for you, she has gluten free bread. Unfortunately, she cut the bread on the same cutting board as the normal bread and with the same knife. The bread may now be cross-contaminated.
The same thing often occurs in restaurants. For instance, fries that have been prepared in the same frying pan as other breaded foods.
And it can also happen at home. If family members haven’t chosen to accompany you in your gluten free adventure.
In these situations, beware! As I mentioned above, just a tiny bit of gluten-containing food is typically enough to keep the immune system in overdrive. Or to keep inflammation going. It’s therefore key to avoid any gluten.
To avoid getting gluten-ed at home is relatively easy. Educate your family and use clean prep boards, plates, knives, etc. When going to see friends, you may want to bring your own food. Or if they’re really open to it, explain the cross-contamination phenomenon.
As for restaurants, you may want to call ahead to see how they work around this cross-contamination issue. At a certain point you’ll likely know where it’s safe to go. I’ve even heard of fully gluten free restaurants. Unfortunately, there aren’t any in my town.
Another suggestion to avoid cross-contamination is to use a specific enzyme that helps to breakdown gluten proteins before they arrive in the intestinal track (where they typically wreak havoc).
These supplements aren’t meant to protect you while eating a full normal pizza or bowl of pasta. They’re only meant to protect you in case of cross-contamination. I always like to bring a bottle in my purse to restaurants and friends. Just in case. Here’s a suggestion (I’m not an affiliate) if you’re looking for one.
5. Eating foods that cross-react with gluten
Are you meticulously following a gluten free diet for a while without seeing any improvements whatsoever?
If this is the case, you may be eating foods that are so-called cross-reacting with gluten. Cross-reactive foods contain proteins that are similar to gliadin, a protein in gluten. When eating these foods, your immune system may perceive it the same way as gluten. And react to this food as well.
This often happens with dairy products. Casein, a protein in cow’s dairy is similar to gliadin, a protein in gluten. Other common cross-reactive foods are oats, yeast, corn, rice, millet. You may experience cross-reactivity with just one food or more.
How to avoid this?
The first option is to get tested. Cyrex Labs Array 4 Gluten-Associated Cross-Reactive Foods can do this for you. This will give you answers black on white, which can be helpful for compliance reasons. However, it’s an expensive test. And although a reliable test, the chance remains that you receive a false positive or a false negative outcome.
The second option is to do an elimination type diet. Remove these 6 foods, as well as gluten of course, from your diet for a period of about 3 months. These 3 months will give your body time to heal. After this period, you can introduce one food after another and carefully observe any symptoms you may experience.
What I like about an elimination diet is that your body doesn’t lie. It will always tell you the truth. However, your reaction may be very subtly felt (whereas still causing substantial inflammation in your body). In this case, you can easily miss it. And you have to act very precisely to get to a clear picture of any potential cross-reactivity going on.
If you find out that you’re in fact reacting to one or more foods, keep these out of your diet. And like gluten, keep them out 100%!
Ready to try (again)?
I really hope so. Because when done right, going gluten free can be your single best lifestyle intervention.