Can I still eat gluten if I have gluten intolerance?

Eating gluten-containing foods won’t kill anyone with this type of food intolerance, but it’s better to skip them to avoid triggering undesirable symptoms.

Individuals who have gluten intolerance—more aptly called gluten sensitivity—experience a host of negative reactions when they ingest gluten. These reactions include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Anxiety
  • Bloating
  • Brain fog
  • Constipation and/or diarrhoea
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Skin rashes

It’s important to remember that these negative reactions do not pose serious health risks if all you have is gluten intolerance or non-coeliac gluten sensitivity. However, if you have coeliac disease—the auto-immune, lifelong disease that has the same symptoms as gluten intolerance—you must avoid gluten-containing foods at all costs because eating these foods will cause long-term damage to your health. 

For the purposes of this post, we will be focusing on gluten intolerance or non-coeliac gluten sensitivity. 

What to do when you accidentally ingest gluten

You may know that you are not supposed to eat gluten-containing foods, but the people who prepared your meal (e.g., the chef in the restaurant you’re dining in or the cook in your friend’s house) don’t.  So what should you do if you accidentally ate foods that contain gluten? 

  1. Don’t panic. We know this is easier said than done, but just remember that gluten is not a poisonous substance. Accidentally ingesting it won’t kill you. It won’t cause any serious damage to your villi (the finger-like parts of your small intestine) either. 

    Bottom line: There’s no need for you to panic when you accidentally ingest gluten. In fact, panicking might just make the situation worse.. 
  1. Drink a glass (or two) of water. This will help dilute and flush out the offending foods out of your body faster.
  1. Identify what triggered your symptoms. If you’re not sure which food(s) triggered any of your symptoms, don’t be afraid to speak up. Ask the server or manager of the restaurant you’re in or the host of the party you’re attending if they can share with you the ingredients of the foods you have eaten. This will help you know for sure which of the foods is the culprit. 
  1. Record it. List down the foods that triggered your symptoms in your food journal. This will help you remember the offending foods and with this knowledge, help lower your chances of eating them in the future.
  1. Address your symptoms accordingly. If you experience an episode of depression after ingesting gluten, talk to your friend or partner or listen to happy tunes. If you feel abdominal pain, apply warm compress on your stomach. If you have headaches or joint and muscle pain, consider taking over-the-counter pain medications. If you get skin rashes, try applying topical creams. Whatever symptom you experience after getting exposed to gluten, make sure you have the knowledge and supplies to address them properly.

Gluten-containing foods to avoid

Wheat, barley, and rye. You should know by now that these three grains—and foods including them or made of them—contain gluten, and are not ideal for you. But there are some foods that contain gluten that many people are not aware of, and it’s these foods that end up triggering these unexpected attacks.

To help you avoid making these mistakes, we’re sharing with you this list of foods that most people don’t know contain gluten. 

  1. Beer. The traditional formulation of this alcoholic beverage includes malt barley, which makes it a poor drink of choice for individuals with gluten intolerance. The good news is, these individuals can still enjoy the taste of beer, thanks to the trend of craft beers that use innovative ingredients apart from barley.
  1. Bouillon cubes. Certain brands of these tiny cubes use maltodextrin, which is a gluten product. Many packaged spice products also include maltodextrin, so make sure you read the label. You may also want to consider making your own bouillon cubes to be safe. 
  1. Gravy. Whether you make your own gravy at home or buy instant gravy products to save time, there’s a big chance that you’ll experience the nasty side effects of gluten either way. Why? Well, homemade gravy recipes require flour, and the ones you buy from the supermarket include this gluten-containing product too. If you really need to make gravy, consider using gluten-free flour variants like almond flour, buckwheat flour, or coconut flour. Cornstarch also works well as a thickening agent and is naturally gluten-free. 
  1. Hot chocolate. Ready-made hot chocolate mixes have a higher risk of gluten cross-contamination, as they are manufactured on machines that process wheat food products. If you really crave a cup of hot cocoa, it’s best to make them yourself from cocoa, milk, and your preferred sweetener. If you like drinking them with marshmallows, great! Mallows are gluten-free.
  1. Potato chips. Potatoes don’t have gluten, but the reason why this tasty snack made from this root vegetable appears on this list is because the chips available on the market usually include additives and flavouring ingredients with barley, wheat, or rye. Unflavoured potato chips should be the safer option, but you may also want to consider making your own potato chips from blue, sweet or Yukon Gold potatoes  just to be sure.
  1. Soups. Thick, creamy soups typically have wheat flour in them. So do soups that have pasta noodles (e.g., chicken noodles). Choose gluten-free soup products instead and read the ingredients list carefully. You can also make your own soups at home. Just skip the flour and use cornstarch or any other gluten-free thickener to make it more creamy. 
  1. Soy sauce. Sushi and soy sauce are inseparable… but if you are sensitive to gluten, then you’d have to drop the latter. Soy sauce is made of water, wheat, soybeans, and salt. An alternative for soy sauce is tamari, which is a Japanese sauce that is usually free of gluten. It is not as salty as soy sauce, but it offers an umami flavour. 

Better to avoid than tolerate

Traces of gluten can be found in foods that we eat everyday. If you’re not careful, you might end up eating foods or drinking beverages that contain gluten, and as a result, experience the symptoms that could have been avoided in the first place. Being diligent enough to read food labels and being creative enough to look for gluten-free options and use them in your recipes are, in most cases, all it takes to save yourself from the discomfort caused by negative physical and neurological reactions triggered by gluten-containing foods.

Our team can help you manage your gluten intolerance

Our accredited practising dietitians and accredited nutritionists have helped many Brisbane residents address and manage the symptoms of their gluten intolerance and other gut and bowel health conditions through tailor-fit dietary treatments and easy-to-follow lifestyle programs. To book an appointment with our professional dietitians and nutritionists, call us at (07) 3071 7405.