Cross-Reactive Foods: Gluten-Free Foods That Mimic Gluten and Make You Sick
Discovering if you are gluten intolerant, whether it’s from celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, is a very big step in regaining your health. Initially, it is common for patients to feel an incredibly positive change in their health when they initially remove gluten. To say they are happy and excited is an understatement. They feel they have finally discovered the missing link to optimal health
Too often, however, that initial euphoria wears off as symptoms return. The first reaction is to assume that gluten has somehow sneaked back into the diet. Labels are read more carefully and an increased awareness occurs in an effort to discover how and where gluten contamination is occurring.
In most cases, hidden gluten is not the problem. Those that are diligent in avoiding gluten are, for the most part, doing an excellent job. The frustration, then, leads to the question: if it’s not gluten, what is it? Why am I feeling sick again?
One major area that must be addressed secondary to a gluten intolerance diagnosis is the subject of crossreactive foods. These are foods that have a similar protein structure to gluten. To the less than healthy immune system, they are literally confused for gluten. This means that eating corn, as an example, can cause your body to react just as if you ate gluten.
Not fair! I agree, but let’s look at this more closely. The news is not as bad as it may initially seem and it could be the reason you’re not feeling well.
People being affected by cross-reactive foods feel they are getting “glutened” when they are not eating gluten. The patient suffering from cross-reactive foods is having, what is for them, a gluten reaction when no gluten is present.
For these patients, we run a blood test for these particular cross-reactive foods. What are they?Let’s take a look:
–Dairy products, specifically:
• Whey protein – This is the liquid portion of protein left over after making cheese.
• Casein, alpha and beta – These are two of the four main types of casein (milk protein) comprising 80% of the total protein in milk. The remaining protein is whey protein. (If you’re curious, the complete list is: alpha-lactalbumin, betalactoglobulin, serum albumin, and immunoglobulins.)
• Milk Butyrophilin – Butyrophilin is the major protein associated with fat droplets in milk. Research studies performed independently ofone another have suggested that ingestion of butyrophilin in dairy products from cows and goats may be a potential trigger for multiple sclerosis.
• Milk Chocolate – Note that a positive result does not mean chocolate is a problem, only dairy…whew!
– Rye, barley, spelt, and Polish wheat (all of which, of course, are known gluten-containing grains)
I know, it’s a long list. But it’s not as bad as it sounds. First of all, while all of these foods have the potential to cause a reaction, only a few are considered so truly cross-reactive in nature that a positive test means that you should avoid them for life, just as you would gluten. These five are dairy, rice, corn, millet, and yeast.
If any of the other foods show up as positive, it is considered a temporary situation. The handling is to remove the foods for three months while making every effort to heal the gut through the following process:
1. Removal of any potential pathogens (infections)
2. Boosting the good probiotics
3. Handling any nutritional or enzyme deficiencies
4. Balancing hormones
5.Addressing the presence of any toxins, such as heavy metals
After three months of the intensive healing program along with the elimination of the positive foods, the foods are then reintroduced one by one to gauge any negative reaction. Typically there is no problem as long as the patient has been abiding by the gut healing program as outlined.
But remember, if any of the five truly reactive foods are positive on the test, those foods are recommended to be avoided for life. At my clinic, we usually find that patients who react positively to any of the five usually have been suspicious of those foods and therefore the outcome of the test is not that surprising.
Frankly, when it comes to dairy products, I’m seeing that many patients fare better off without them, regardless of the test result. Dairy products are highly pro-inflammatory and therefore create much stress on the very system we are trying to heal, the immune system. They also affect the nervous system in a similar way to gluten which explains their addictive nature. If the very thought of giving up dairy products get you upset, you may very well fall into this addictive category. And lastly, the hormones used in our dairy products truly upset the human hormonal imbalance to a marked degree.
I would highly recommend a 30 day trial of a dairy-free diet to see how you feel. Unlike gluten, it’s not dangerous to reintroduce it. After the 30 day elimination, have some dairy and see what happens. You may be surprised to find that it’s not your friend! Worried about calcium? Don’t be. You can get much better and more absorbable calcium from dark green leafy vegetables, nuts, beans, and fruit.
I realize it may not be feasible for everyone to get tested for cross-reactive foods. While the test is great and makes knowing the specific positive foods pretty simple, you don’t absolutely need it to find out the same information. It may take a little longer but I believe we can still get the job done. Here are the steps to take:
1. Do you feel like you’re eating gluten, even when you’re not? If so, proceed to step 2.
2. Look over the entire list of cross-reactive foods (exclusive of the last four, which are obviously gluten) and see which foods you regularly consume. The point here is that you won’t be having a problem with something you rarely if ever eat.
3. Once you have the commonly eaten foods chosen, eliminate them for three months. If the thought of eliminating ALL of them is too overwhelming, I have a plan B. Go to step 4 for this. If you’re “game” for eliminating all of them, then proceed to step 5.
4. Eliminate the truly cross-reactive foods (dairy, corn, rice, millet, yeast) and any other two foods that you “live” on, meaning they make up a large part of your diet. Hopefully that’s more feasible for you. If it’s still too daunting, then just focus on the five truly crossreactive foods.
5. During the three months of elimination, strive for perfection. Just the way you avoid gluten, you need to avoid these foods as well. Also, strive to find a practitioner who can help you with the healing of the immune system, the balancing of hormones, and the elimination of toxins as mentioned previously. (If you need help finding a doctor, please feel free to contact me.)
6. Once the three months have elapsed, take the food that you have missed the most, but that is not one of the five truly reactive foods, and reintroduce it for three days. If you feel good, then reintroduce the next food.
7. Here’s the tricky step: since we don’t have a lab test to tell us if any of the five truly reactive foods are positive, you’re going to have to proceed carefully with them. Leave dairy last, but starting with any of the other four, reintroduce them as described above. Eat for three days before introducing another food. Do realize that a reaction can occur immediately or anywhere up to 3 to 4 days later. Be alert to how you feel. If you’re unsure if a reaction was truly caused by the food you’re reintroducing, eliminate it for 2 weeks and then try it again. If you get the same reaction, then you’ll know the food is the culprit.
8. Continue to reintroduce until you have gone through each food. As you can see, this takes some discipline. But it’s worth it if you’re needlessly suffering from a cross-reactive food.
At the clinic we’ve been working with our patients and cross-reactive foods for year. The technology to discover them is fairly new, but it can be a significant finding when it’s occurring. Eliminating cross-reactive foods can truly make the different between regaining your health and continuing to suffer.
Symptoms are your body’s only way of communicating with you. Listen to them, find a great clinician to hold your hand through the process, and good health will be yours. If you have any questions, I’m always here to assist.
Written By Dr. Vikki Petersen, DC, CCN