As someone with celiac disease, it can be easy to focus solely on gluten when it comes to food intolerance or sensitivity. However, gluten is not the only food that causes problems, and often times people have gluten intolerance combined with one or more other food intolerance.
If you are having digestive problems not solved by being gluten free, consider looking for other food culprits. The top eight food allergens are clear possibilities, although an allergy is not the same as an intolerance or sensitivity. Allergies can include digestive upset as well as itching, swelling, life-threatening anaphylaxis, and more. (Read more about food allergy symptoms at Mayo Clinic.)
Whether it’s a true allergy or an intolerance, many people react to the top eight allergens. According to the FDA they include:
Top 8 Allergens
3. Fish (e.g., bass, flounder, cod)
4. Crustacean shellfish (e.g. crab, lobster, shrimp)
5. Tree nuts (e.g., almonds, walnuts, pecans)
I’m going to touch on a couple of these, but I’d also like to draw your attention to other foods or components of foods that can cause digestive problems – specifically gums and sulfites.
Problems with milk are very common among people with celiac disease or gluten intolerance. People with celiac disease in particular may be lactose intolerant (due to intestinal villi damage), although it is common in the general population.
Casein is a milk protein that many people are allergic to. It can cause reactions in people that are similar to gluten. Children on the autism spectrum are often put on a gluten and casein free diet.
My experience with milk
I decided to eliminate dairy from my diet because I read that gluten and casein could be a trigger for Hashimoto’s thyroid disease. After I eliminated dairy, I found that when I accidentally ate a small amount I had itching on my torso. I had this itching on and off for years and never knew the cause.
Whey is another milk protein. I had hoped that casein was my only problem and tried eating foods that contained whey. When I didn’t get any itching, I thought I was good to go and even bought some whey protein powder to add to smoothies.
It took a little time to figure it out, but I was indeed reacting to whey. It didn’t make me itch, but it made me very sleepy. That’s no good!
I do make clarified butter which has the casein and whey removed leaving only the fat. I have also eaten products that contain milk fat and not had problems.
For a while I was able to eat goat cheese, but eventually that made me begin to itch also.
You’ve probably all heard about people dying from an anaphylactic reaction to peanuts. That’s the reason that many schools are peanut or nut free. A peanut allergy (as well as other allergies) can be very serious – life or death kind of serious. So don’t ever complain about not being able to send peanut butter and jelly to school or not having peanuts on an airplane.
But peanuts can cause digestive problems too. I first became aware of this fact when I met my husband. In recent years I found that I sometimes react to peanuts. It took me a while to figure out because sometimes I can eat peanuts (or peanut butter or peanut oil) and be just fine. And other times it can send me running to the toilet. But it’s happened enough times that I’m sure they are a problem more often than not, and I completely avoid them.
Gums were not on my radar (except chewing gum) until I went gluten free. Xanthan gum and sometimes guar gum is often added to gluten-free foods to help hold them together. They help take the place of gluten which acts as a binder in baked goods.
Earlier this year, one of my boys discovered he was having digestive reactions to gums. That was when my eyes were opened to how many different gums there are and how many foods they are used in. He seems to react to any kind of gum including but not limited to xanthan gum, guar gum, gum arabic, cellulose gum, and locust bean gum.
This son is not gluten free, and I was surprised to find that many times gums are used in wheat breads and other products. They are almost always found in salad dressing. The only brand I have found without any gum is Tessemae’s which is delicious. It’s not easy for me to find, though, so I often make homemade salad dressing for him (like Dijon Vinaigrette or Ranch).
My sister introduced me to sulfite sensitivity. It took her a while to figure out that sulfites were causing her digestive problems. Sulfites are tricky because although sometimes they are added to food, they can also be naturally occurring in foods (like onion and garlic). It’s also not something that my sister has to avoid totally (like gluten) but it can have a cumulative effect and she needs to watch how much she is taking in.
She does totally avoid some foods that are high in sulfites like most dried fruit and wine. But with other foods she limits it. When I made butternut squash soup for her this fall, I used Pacific Foods organic chicken broth which contains onion and garlic. She knew she could tolerate the broth, but I did not use any onion in the soup like I normally would because that would be too much for her.
Figuring it Out
I have mentioned a few problem foods here, but I know there are many more. Sometimes people just don’t know what to look for as the source of their digestive problems. If that’s the case for you, it could be that you are still getting trace amounts of gluten, especially if you regularly eat processed gluten-free products or eat out frequently.
But if you’re sure that it’s not gluten, take a look at other foods and ingredients in the foods you eat. Keeping a food journal where you record what and when you eat as well as when you have digestive problems can be very helpful. It allows you to make connections between the foods you eat and your reactions.
Healing the Gut
Identifying what foods are causing you problems is the first step to feeling better, but wouldn’t it be great if you didn’t have issues with those foods at all? Many people use the GAPS diet to help children with autism, ADD, and more, but because it does that by healing the gut, it’s useful for anyone with food sensitivities.
I have not personally done the GAPS diet, but I know people who have, including my sister who has done the diet in recent months and seen big improvement in her sulfite sensitivity.
Warning: Some people say (maybe the book’s author) that the GAPS diet can cure celiac disease. Personally, that is a risk I would not be willing to take, and I don’t recommend that you do either. I will never intentionally eat gluten again. And even if I did the GAPS diet and found that I could tolerate dairy, I think I would always limit it and only have dairy occasionally as a treat.
You can search for websites that have information and recipes, but the go-to resource is the book Gut and Psychology Syndrome by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride (affiliate link).
What food sensitivities do you have? Sharing them in the comments might help someone else figure out their problem.