How to Manage Accidental Gluten Exposure
Even with utmost caution, accidental gluten ingestion is something many individuals with celiac disease experience one time or another during their gluten-free (GF) journey. In more severe cases, digestive rest may be needed. If you find yourself in this situation, here’s what you need to know to get back on track in no time.
Be kind to yourself.
After accidental gluten exposure, complex feelings of worry, anxiety, and exhaustion can pair with gastrointestinal (GI) distress, equating to an overwhelming situation. Give yourself space to heal by focusing on laying low and getting more sleep than usual (adults typically require 7-9 hours per night.) This will help your body heal from within and get you back in a healthier mindset for the days ahead. Taking time to incorporate calming practices like reading, listening to inspiring podcasts, or mediating is also useful for quieting the mind – and placing a hot pack on your tummy may bring additional comfort as well.
Write in a food journal.
Keeping a detailed record of what you’re eating and drinking, as well as how you feel afterwards, can be extremely helpful for many reasons. First, it provides a record of what you may and may not be able to tolerate as your digestive system recovers. Next, it helps you pinpoint exactly where cross contact may have occurred. For example, you might realize you introduced a new restaurant into your typical rotation right before you started to feel sick. Or perhaps you discover you don’t feel well after consuming dairy. This type of log will help you discover those “ah-ha” moments and prevent other episodes of GI distress down the road.
Start slow with hydration.
When experiencing nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea, the last thing you want to do is think about food – but it’s imperative to take small steps to avoid dehydration and/or electrolyte loss. Begin with sucking on ice chips and then introduce other easy-to-handle liquids like bone broth (which provides more protein than traditional broth), warm tea, apple juice, electrolyte beverages, and even gelatin.
Living Well Eating Smart Tip: Be wary of medication claiming to ease the burden of gluten exposure, since no such treatments currently exist.
Introduce foods that are easy to tolerate.
As you feel comfortable introducing solid foods again, start by incorporating options that are lower in fat and fiber while avoiding foods with strong odors. Experiment with foods like applesauce; baked or poached chicken breast and fish; eggs; GF soup; potato and sweet potato; rice products like rice, rice cereal, and rice cakes; and GF toast and crackers. Lean turkey burgers, yogurt, and bananas are other nourishing options to start with. If you still feel as though you’re not getting adequate nutrition through food sources alone, a GF nutritional supplement beverage can help fill in nutrient gaps.
Communicate with your healthcare team.
Even if you think you’ll rebound quickly, it’s important to notify your healthcare team of your current health status. Your doctor may need to monitor your lab values, prescribe medication, and even request a visit with a registered dietitian to prevent prolonged episodes of inadequate food intake. Some reactions to gluten exposure are more serious for certain individuals and close follow up care may be needed.
Because exposure to gluten is something both newly diagnosed and seasoned individuals living with celiac disease face, consistent support is key for maintaining a safe, enjoyable and nourishing meal plan for years to come.