Should people with celiac disease avoid cross-reactive foods?

After following a gluten-free diet you might be wondering if you need to worry about gluten cross-reactive foods.


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What is a Gluten Cross-Reactive Food?

The basic argument is that gluten cross-reactive foods are foods that have proteins so similar to gluten that the body gets confused and treats them as gluten. Thus, potentially triggering a reaction in you despite that food item being gluten-free.

When you have celiac disease, you body identifies gluten not as food but as a bad guy in your body. You immune system essentially adds gluten into it’s “database” as an enemy to watch out for. Then when you eat gluten, your body identifies it and launches an attack that can cause damage to your villi.

The argument is that our immune systems ability to remember and recognize gluten accurately is somewhat impaired. Essentially, our immune system can be confused by foods with similar proteins and thus, can launch a similar response against them.

Whether the science behind all of this is true is debatable, as so eloquently discussed in this article by the paleo foundation. Though there might be some weight behind them.


The Gluten Cross-Reactive Foods

  • Dairy Products
  • Oats
  • Brewers/Baker’s yeast
  • Instant Coffee
  • Chocolate
  • Millet
  • Soy
  • Corn
  • Rice
  • Potato
  • Teff
  • Hemp

These foods are those that are argued to be potentially gluten cross-reactive foods.


Do people with Celiac need to worry about Gluten Cross-Reactive Foods?

First of all, how do you feel after going gluten-free? Are you still having symptoms or are you improving? If your health is improving or improved, I wouldn’t even give these foods a second thought. If you find yourself asking “why am I not getting better?” then perhaps consider eliminating and reintroducing these foods back into your diet. Of course, always consult your health care team before making major changes to your diet. However, I’d like to note, that there is a good chance these foods have nothing to do with persistent symptoms. It’s important that you seek guidance from your health-care team and a dietetic professional when trying to better manage Celiac Disease symptoms.

While there is still a debate on whether or not these foods are truly cross-reactive, I do know one thing. If eliminating these foods makes you feel better, then do it. If you eliminate these foods and incorporate some back in and still feel fine, then keep eating them.

Honestly, when you’re just trying to find symptom relief, the why behind improved symptom management after eliminating these foods, doesn’t matter too much. Whether they make you feel better after elimination because they are cross-reactive or just because they are frequently cross-contaminated foods doesn’t matter at the end of the day.

What matters is that you find a diet that makes you feel happy, energized, and good.Ultimately, worrying about these foods depends on your body and your needs.


Want help optimizing your gluten-free lifestyle for health, weight-loss, or symptom management? Contact me for dietitian supervised care!

This is not to take the place of act as medical or dietetic advice. Please consult your health-care professional team when making any dietary changes to make sure they are right for you.



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