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Accidental Glutenings

For those of you who have read my first posts about my journey into celiac-discovery, you’ll remember the renewed energy I found when I went gluten-free and basically ate nothing but whole foods at the start of this year. That was obviously amazing for someone who had been exhausted for months. However, despite staying on a gluten-free diet and not ever once cheating (except for accidental glutenings and restaurants who’ve apparently never heard of cross-contamination), I’ve noticed a thin veil of fatigue slowly creeping in for the past several weeks/months. Not nearly as bad as before going gluten-free, but bad enough for me to take notice and realize something isn’t quite right.

I wondered if it had anything to do with my low iron levels, but I recently went back for my follow up blood test and my iron is back in tip top shape. That made me consider other potential intolerances, but I hadn’t cut out anything but gluten at the beginning of the year and had never had any issues. The only difference really was that I had slowly incorporated gluten-free packaged foods throughout the year.

I began to worry about having some kind of intolerance to sugar, as packaged foods, whilst being gluten-free, tend to have a lot of sugar. This was worrisome because I have a big sweet-tooth. Not as bad now that I try to eat whole foods as much as possible, but I thought that would be devastating if I couldn’t eat sugar any more. Much like gluten, there’s sugar in everything. Like, everything. But in my gut (no pun intended) I still felt that the culprit, in some way, was gluten. It was sneaking in somehow. I knew the symptoms and to me, this felt too much like a glutening.

Now up until now, for me finding food that were gluten-free generally meant looking at the ingredients on the package. And, of course, if something says it’s processed in a facility that also processes gluten, I stay away from said item like the plague. But what about packaged foods that have no gluten in the ingredient list, and have no warning about where they’re processed? Those must be safe, right?

Wrong, apparently.

During an overnight shift, as I was heating up my lunch in the microwave, I noticed a basket of chocolate bars that some coworkers were selling as a fundraiser. Amongst them, what had become my favorite in recent months: Reese’s peanut butter cups. I had checked the label several times, but on a whim I whipped out my phone and googled “are reese’s cups gluten free”.

Imagine my surprise when the first result said clearly “Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are not gluten free.” Looking back I’m fairly certain my jaw literally dropped. And I recalled an evening, weeks earlier, when I had found individually wrapped cups at the grocery store for a ridiculously cheap price, and I had eaten a ridiculous amount. Like, not 4. Not 7. Not even 10. More. Let’s just leave it at that.

Suffice to say, my mind began to race. I had assumed I was very sensitive to gluten and cross-contamination, but this was eye-opening. Apparently, they were tons of packaged items out there sneaking around with their hidden gluten. It was no wonder I was getting symptoms again. Just because a packaged food was not made with gluten ingredients did not mean it was celiac-safe due to cross-contamination happening in facilities and restaurants. I could no longer assume things were gluten-free. I had to be sure.

From then on, aside from whole foods such as fresh fruits, veggies and meats, I made sure everything I ate was certified gluten free, or I did research or called the company. And to my relief, the fatigue disappeared once more. I was once again cleared to eat sugar, thank goodness.

That was until the beginning of this week, when I got glutened. I was shocked, I had been so vigilant! On our way to the movies one evening, as I got in the car and buckled up, I suddenly felt that nagging ache in my left shoulder, a sure sign of gluten for me. I mentally went through what I had eaten that day; no gluten I could think of.

I didn’t think much more of it until the next morning when I woke up and the joint pain was much worse; worst that it had ever been even before I went gluten-free. And then I remembered: the yogurt cup.

At work the preceding day I had grabbed and Oikos Greek Yogurt cup as part of my lunch. I should’ve researched it thoroughly to make sure it was safe, but I slipped into my old habit of simply reading the label. It’s yogurt, I told myself. Surely there isn’t gluten in yogurt.

Except, as mentioned earlier, gluten is in everything. Envelope glue, cooking spray, lunch meat, medication, communion wafers, beer, you name it. EVERYTHING. I went to my trusty friend google and found the following information:

Dannon yogurt. Dannon offers a huge variety of flavors and styles of yogurt. Unfortunately, the company does not consider its products to be gluten-free, since “the natural system for stabilizing flavor might contain ingredients derived from gluten sources.” The same statement applies to Oikos Greek yogurt, since it’s made by Dannon.

(http://celiacdisease.about.com/od/GlutenFreeSnacks/a/Gluten-Free-Yogurt.htm)

Huh. Well that explained it.

It basically ended up being a reminder that I have to be very, annoyingly careful about what I eat, just like a lot of you out there. Oh well, we’re all in this together, and eventually, labeling will keep getting better and hopefully these accidental glutenings while become a thing of the past. Until then, remain vigilant my friends!