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Foods Other than Gluten that May Cause Stomach Upset


I recently joined a Celiac Support Group that welcomes both the newly diagnosed and those who have been dealing with the ups and downs of a gluten-free lifestyle for some time. One very common scenario, even among veterans, is despite being careful with your diet, you still experience abdominal cramping and other signs of GI distress.

Most celiacs are well aware of the need to avoid both obvious and hidden sources of gluten. But there is always the threat of accidental exposure, either through a new food that has snuck in some of the offending protein or by cross contamination where your formerly clean food has touched another containing gluten.

After experiencing pain, indigestion, diarrhea or other distressful symptoms, the first thing we do is diligently review the past few hours and the foods we ate. But what if you truly haven’t been glutened? What if there is some other food you may be sensitive to? Here are some foods that may have caused the distress:

Damage to your small intestine may cause you to experience abdominal pain and diarrhea after eating lactose-containing dairy products, even though they don't contain gluten. Once your intestine has healed, you may be able to tolerate dairy products again. However, some people continue to experience lactose intolerance despite successful management of celiac disease.

Inulin is a starchy substance that is not only found in wheat, but also onions, bananas, leeks, artichokes and asparagus. It is also used as a food additive to improve taste or increase fiber. Inulin (unless sourced from wheat) is gluten free, but for those who are sensitive, it can cause digestive upset.

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Sulfites are a group of sulfur-based compounds that may occur naturally or may be added to food as an enhancer and preservative. Although sulfites are no longer used on most fresh foods since a 1986 ban by the FDA, they still can be found in a variety of cooked and processed foods. They also occur naturally in the process of making wine and beer. The FDA estimates that one out of 100 people is sensitive to the compounds which can develop at any time during life.

Examples of food that may contain sulfites include soup mixes, canned vegetables, pickled foods, dried fruit, snack foods (potato chips, trail mix), and some juices. Look for these ingredients when avoiding sulfites: sulfur dioxide, Potassium bisulfite or potassium metabisulfite, Sodium bisulfite, sodium metabisulfite, or sodium sulfite

Sugar Alcohols
Artificial sweeteners are notorious for leading to digestive troubles. Sorbitol, for example, has a laxative effect which occurs as the ingredient draws water into the large intestine, stimulating bowel movements. Other sugar alcohols include Erythritol, Glycerol (also known as glycerin or glycerine), hydrogenated starch hydrolysates, isomalt, lactitol, maltitol, mannitol, and xylitol.

Other causes
Perhaps your GI distress is not due to a particular food sensitivity at all. Remember that there are other causes for stomach pain and diarrhea as well. Try to rule out the possibility of food poisoning, for example. Consider the size of the meal you just consumed (large meals can cause pain, bloating, gas, etc.). Also, you may also just be the unfortunate carrier of the latest stomach bug that is going around.

Keeping a food and symptom journal is the best way to determine what works for you and what does not as a celiac.

Mayo Clinic – Complications of Celiac Disease, Lactose Intolerance
Kathy R. Niness. Inulin and Oligofructose: What Are They? J. Nutr. July 1, 1999 vol. 129 no. 7 1402S-1406s
WebMD: What is Sulfite Sensitivity?
American Diabetes Association: Sugar Alcohols