Caroline Shannon-Karasik’s AfterGlo

Three common gluten-free lifestyle mistakes

By Caroline Shannon-Karasik

Whether you are following a gluten-free lifestyle because you have celiac disease – like yours truly – or you have chosen to go sans gluten simply because you feel better, the truth is there are still a lot of misconceptions about what a healthy gluten-free lifestyle looks like.

Sure, we’ve all heard people make the common mistakes:

“So, you can’t have wheat, right?”

Well, I can’t have wheat, but I also can’t have rye, barley, triticale and oats that aren’t gluten-free certified.

“But a little won’t hurt …”

Yes, it will. It will hurt very badly and I can tell you all about my time spent in the bathroom if you would like.

“So, no carbs then?”

Not exactly. In fact, I love carbohydrates, but I just have to get them from potatoes, fruits, vegetables, rice and other gluten-free grains instead.

Truthfully, not one of those questions sent our way by our friends, family and inquisitive co-workers is ill-intended. Instead, people often just don’t have all of the information they need to fully understand a gluten-free lifestyle – and that’s OK. That’s why we’re here to help them suss out the details.

But guess what? Even though you’ve done your research, you might be making a few mistakes of your own, too. Here are three of the most common ones I see from people who are maintaining a gluten-free diet, and how to fix them.

1. Thinking a “gluten-free” label means the food is a health superstar.

This might be news to you, but I’m going to let you in on a little secret: The food industry has caught on to the rise in the need for gluten-free products and they are finding ways to put their products in your hands – healthy or not. What that means is a gluten-free label does not necessarily equal a healthy food item. In fact, gluten-free junk food is exactly that – junk food with a gluten-free label. That means even gluten-free cookies, cakes and other specialty items should be regarded as a treat, just like the desserts and snacks of your glutenous past. In fact, the rules for maintaining a healthy gluten-free lifestyle are the same rules I would apply to any healthful lifestyle, albeit with a few necessary adjustments (e.g. no wheat). I often recommend people start out with one-ingredient food items in order to get a better understanding for the everyday foods they can safely consume on a gluten-free diet. This includes fresh vegetables and fruits, poultry, fish, rice, potatoes, beans and more. All of these foods are not only naturally gluten-free, but healthy, meaning they should be the types of foods that make up the bulk of a gluten-free lifestyle.

2. Forgetting gluten is more than just wheat.

Remember the point I made above about wheat being only one of the gluten-containing proteins you should eliminate from your diet if you are maintaining a gluten-free lifestyle? Was that news to you? I can’t tell you how many seminars I teach where people who have told me they are gluten-free will later raise their hands and say, “So, wait? Gluten is more than just wheat?” It is, my friends. And that’s why it’s so important to not only know what gluten is, but the many names by which labels like to disguise it as an ingredient. Check out the Celiac Disease Foundation’s Website ( for a list of words that can be found on a label – including triticum vulgare, caramel color, secale cereale, natural flavor, semolina, malt and modified food starch – and indicate there is, or may be, gluten in a product.

3. Ignoring personal care products, medicines, supplements and spices.

That’s right, while these items might seem like innocent parts of everyday life, they are, in fact, some of the biggest offenders when it comes to accidental ingestion of or cross-contamination with gluten. Even though you aren’t eating lipstick or toothpaste, both of these items are being used on or in the mouth, making it easy for gluten to find its way into your system. It’s important to even watch for lotions, shampoos and other personal care items, even though the verdict is divided on whether or not they cause a reaction in those of us who are sensitive to gluten or have celiac disease. But I say, why take the risk? With mainstream companies, like Suave or Dove, offering gluten-free items, it won’t cause your budget to take a hit. Plus, some people with eczema that has occurred as a result of issues with gluten – my younger brother being one of them – have also found they have less skin reactions when they avoid personal care products with gluten ingredients.

Another seemingly small, but oh-so-important place gluten likes to hide is as an ingredient in medicines and supplements. Talk to a pharmacist or doctor about your sensitivity or intolerance, so they can make a recommendation for a safe product. When it comes to spices, become a pro at looking for those ingredients that can indicate gluten is used in a product, especially blends that are made from more than one herb or spice. The same goes for over-the-counter drugs – read labels! It’s time to turn on your super sleuth skills and be on the lookout for gluten ingredients.

I’m curious: What were some of the hidden sources of gluten you discovered upon embarking on a gluten-free lifestyle?

Caroline Shannon-Karasik is the author of The Gluten-Free Revolution and a certified health coach. She is also the author of the popular gluten-free blog, Her writing and recipe development has been featured in several publications, including, VegNews, Kiwi and REDBOOK magazines. Caroline lives with her husband Dan and four adopted cats in Pittsburgh, Penn. Caroline can be reached at

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