Since going gluten free 3 years ago I have made my share of mistakes leading to “glutenings.” Most of them were in my first 6 months post-diagnosis. I am sharing my list in hopes that I may prevent others from getting sick like I did. I am also sharing so that friends and family members of Celiacs may understand why their Celiac loved one may seem to be “paranoid” from time to time.
1. Shampoo: I had a bad case of brassy highlights and bought a “blueing” shampoo to use a few times a week to neutralize the brassiness. Lo and behold, I began to feel ill, and one morning, as I read the ingredients while in the shower, I realized that my shampoo contained hydrolyzed wheat protein. There is a lot of controversy about whether or not gluten can be absorbed through the skin, but in this case, I believe that a little bit of shampoo was probably getting into my mouth while I was rinsing my hair. I stopped using the shampoo and my symptoms went away. Problem solved. My lesson learned was to always read the ingredients in hair products before buying and using them.
2. Playdough: Yes, this seems obvious, but I honestly thought that if I washed my hands carefully after playing with it, that I would be safe. I had figured that as long as I didn’t actually eat the Playdough that I would be fine. I was totally wrong. If you’re a Celiac with kids, you cannot touch Playdough with a ten foot pole! Trust me.
3. Eating gluten free pizza at a pizza parlor that makes regular pizza: Looking back, it seems obvious that this was a bad idea, but I had confirmed with the kitchen staff ahead of time that there were no gluten ingredients, that the gluten free pizza would be made on a separate surface, that the flour used to roll out my pizza was gluten free, etc. I learned a lesson in cross-contamination.
4. Hand sanitizer: I was traveling for a work conference, through lots of dirty airports, subways, etc. in the middle of winter, so I used a lot of hand sanitizer. Unfortunately, I soon discovered that it had wheat amino acids in it. Like the shampoo incident, I don’t believe that I absorbed the wheat protein through my skin, but I used the sanitizer many times before eating, and thus, probably ingested trace amounts that built up in my system and made me ill.
5. Soup at an airport café: As most celiacs know, soups are usually unsafe. I was at an Au Bon Pain at a major airport (yes, a very poor choice of café for a Celiac) and was pregnant and starving. The soup was labeled as a gluten free white bean soup and there were ingredients listed, which were all “safe.” But it wasn’t actually safe at all. I am pretty sure that the ladle must have been contaminated by being dipped in some of the other soups, and then put back into the gluten free one. That was the last bowl of soup that I ever ate….
6. Making Christmas cookies: This happened shortly after the Playdough incident, but I was still in denial that I could get sick just from touching/handling wheat flour. My kids and I made dozens and dozens of cut-out Christmas cookies using regular flour. I washed my hands numerous times, picked dough out from underneath my fingernails, and obviously didn’t eat any of the cookies, but still got majorly glutened. Hence, the gluten free cut-out cookie recipe that I shared with you last week!
7. Trusting a “no gluten ingredients” label: This was my most recent glutening. We do not live near a Trader Joe’s but will often stop at one when traveling. I have always avoided any of their products that have the disclaimer that they are made on “shared equipment” with wheat because I know I am sensitive and react to traces of gluten. We bought and prepared a basic spaghetti sauce that was marked as “no gluten ingredients” and did not have the shared equipment warning on it. We ate it with rice pasta for dinner and I got sick (no one else in my family did). I contacted Trader Joe’s via email and they did write back that the sauce was made on shared equipment. I have learned to never make any assumptions about processed foods.
As time has passed I have learned how careful I really need to be to prevent getting sick. I wish that I knew at diagnosis what I know now, that being “gluten free” is not as simple as it sounds and to not take risks with the diet. For those of us with Celiac Disease, eating gluten free is not trendy or a “fad,” it is the difference between sickness and health. As the actress Jennifer Esposito, a Celiac, recently stated, “This disease is no joke.” I wholeheartedly agree.