Are Low-Carb Meals and Snacks Gluten Free?

Large Bowl of Authentic Ramen: Sliced Pork, Green Onion, Mushrooms, and Hard-Boiled Egg (No Noodles)
Low-carb meals and snacks are not always
wheat and gluten free!

The gluten-free community isn't very happy right now.

As those in the entertainment world continue to announce that they are going gluten free -- not because they have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, but because they want to shed a few pounds -- we have a horde of groupies and those who have heard that gluten-free diets are great for weight loss deciding that ditching the gluten is an important way to gain better health.

Unfortunately, these gluten-free dieters are not totally committed to living gluten free. Many feel it's fine to indulge once in a while, which has caused a lot of confusion and misconceptions.



Even within the low-carb community, there are many who feel they are eating gluten free just because their diet is low in carbs.

Not so. 

Low-carb meals and snacks are not automatically gluten free. Staying away from gluten is far more difficult than just giving up the carbs.

The Gluten-Free Protocol is Complex

The gluten-free protocol is far more complex than the media proclaims. It's extremely difficult to root out all sources of gluten from the diet. Gluten hides in weird places, and if you're living in a home where you're the only one who's eating low carb, odds are high that you're getting contaminated with gluten in ways you might not have realized.

Eating gluten free isn't as simple as giving up breads and other starches. The main components of a low-carb lifestyle can be literally overflowing with gluten.

While serving your family brown rice or a sweet potato with a low-carb meal won't necessarily contaminate your meat, salad, and veggies -- unless the salad dressing has gluten ingredients or you dumped a can of chicken broth into that rice -- gluten can hide in your cookware, utensils, and small kitchen appliances.

Experts believe that the dishwasher is able to blast away most of the gluten, everything except for what might get stuck in:
  • holes
  • seams
  • cracks
  • scratches
  • old grease stains
Bread and Jam with Tons of Bread Crumbs on Counter
Bread gets bread crumbs all over the counter

However, bread crumbs are always a flight risk on the counter or at the table. They get all over everything. Just check out your silverware drawer. If you haven't washed it out in a while, it's probably loaded with bread crumbs you didn't realize were there. 


Also, watch the next time someone makes a sandwich on the counter. 

This really hit home for me when I made hubby's sandwich for work on a paper towel, just to check out the idea. I thought people were just making it up.

Nope. 

I couldn't believe how many bread crumbs there were on that paper towel after I was done. While it might sound corny to be afraid of breadcrumbs, the amount of gluten in a single breadcrumb is mind blowing.

Also, pay attention to those with bread in their hands who are talking at the dinner table. Crumbs from that slice of bread will fly all over the table and into your food. Plus, anything you breathe in, such as pasta steam, can end up in the back of your throat, swallowed, and then digested. That can be problematic for those who are wheat sensitive.

Despite what many people think, it's not over-the-top or paranoid to protect your body from unnecessary suffering. Reducing or eliminating the systemic inflammation caused from the accidental ingestion of gluten is simply more tedious and complex than the average low-carb dieter realizes.

Low-Carb Foods are Not Always Gluten Free


Most low-carbers are so focused on the carb restriction aspect of the diet that their top priority is to search the store shelves for products with the lowest carb count, rather than products that are gluten free. 

For example:
  • Most brands of soy sauce are made with wheat.
  • Almond milk might have barley added as a flavoring enhancer.
  • Nuts can be processed on the same equipment as foods made with wheat.
  • Most brands of canned or boxed chicken or beef broth have barley flavoring added.
  • Bob's Red Mill brand of Xanthan gum is grown on wheat starch.
  • Frozen vegetables can be packaged on the same machinery as products made with wheat.
  • Fresh mushrooms are often grown in wheat straw beds and must be thoroughly washed, not wiped.
  • Spices, seasonings, and salad dressing mixes can contain wheat.
  • Some brands of coffee are contaminated with gluten during harvest or processing.
  • Many teas are not safe either.
Yet, low-carb dieters continue to say that a low-carb diet and a gluten-free diet is the same thing. The two diets are not even close, although a low-carb diet can certainly be made gluten-free compliant.


A standard low-carb diet restricts the number of carbohydrates you eat, due to their impact on blood sugar and insulin levels. 

Carb restriction has nothing to do with eliminating low-carb sources of gluten. Wheat protein and wheat protein isolates (wheat starch) are not high in carbs, so they are used liberally throughout the low-carb products industry. Low carbers also add wheat protein and other gluten ingredients to their recipes on a regular basis.

While a whole foods diet will go a long way toward eliminating the gluten, living without gluten isn't as simple as printing out a list of foods and manufacturing brands to avoid. Few dieters give up all of their condiments, sauces, salad dressings, and drinks in order to make them at home, so going gluten free is more more complex than simply switching to a hard-core Atkins Diet.

Living Without Gluten Requires You Replace Most of Your Kitchen Stuff


Do you have a separate place in the kitchen to prepare your low-carb foods that no one else in the house ever touches? 

Do you store your low-carb foods on a separate shelf in the cupboard and refrigerator, preferably a top shelf? 

If not, your food is likely to get contaminated with gluten, especially if you don't wash your hands before you touch your food -- every single time. 
Most low-carb dieters are not used to thinking this way. They don't have to. Avoiding carbs isn't as difficult as avoiding gluten.

Colander with Spaghetti Draining: It's Now Contaminated with Gluten
I've yet to hear one single low-carb dieter talk about having to give away 90 percent of their kitchen tools, small appliances, and cookware to eliminate all sources of wheat, barley, and rye contamination from their kitchen.

Even among die-hard low-carb dieters that talk about tossing out everything in their cupboards that isn't low carb because they need their family to go low carb with them, I never hear anyone complain about having to replace all of their:
  • scratched or non-stick cookware
  • cast-iron pans
  • metal baking pans and sheets
  • plastic storage containers
  • sponges and green scratch pads
  • wood or scratched cutting board
  • wood, plastic, or vinyl spoons
  • serrated knifes and can opener
  • toaster, food processor, electric mixer
  • serving utensils with holes or seams
  • colander for draining foods
and a whole lot more -- all because they're contaminated with carby foods.


Gluten is Also in Personal Care Products and Non-Food Products


Neither do low-carb dieters go through all the non-food items in the house to double-check on their gluten content. 

Gluten can be found in tons of non-food products like shampoo and conditioner, makeup, and body lotion. Fabric softener always contains wheat. That's why it has the ability to keep your clothes soft.

While some celiacs and those with gluten sensitivity don't react to the gluten in non-food products, many of us do

Gluten is sticky.

It's almost impossible to wash off, especially when it gets into cracks and crevices. It easily passes from door knobs (when's the last time you washed those door knobs?), kitchen counter, and serving bowls to your hands to your mouth.

While some celiacs are dramatically opposed to many of these potential contamination ideas, due to a lack of scientific research to back them up, most of these same celiacs are either still sick or complain of consistently getting glutened. 

It wasn't very long ago that their beloved Dr. Fasano, a world-renown celiac-disease expert, was turning patients away from his clinic, telling them that gluten sensitivity did not exist.

Experts are just that: experts. 

They are not infallible.

And those who insist on scientific evidence coming forth before they'll check something out for themselves often do more harm, than good. 

Visit any gluten-free forum, and you'll find hundreds upon hundreds of personal experiences testifying to the ease with which one can be glutened by non-food products and potential contamination situations. Yet, super-sensitive celiacs are quick to be attacked by those who think they know better. 

Personally, hugging someone who has used a wheat product on their hair is all it takes for me. I don't have to actually use the product myself to end up in the bathroom for the rest of the day. 

A Low-Carb Gluten-Free Diet Takes a Lot of Awareness


For the typical dieter, a low-carb gluten-free diet takes a lot of awareness and more work to pull it off than the average person is willing to do. That's why we have so many gluten-free by choice individuals muddying the waters of the restaurant industry.

Cheeseburger in a Kaiser Roll
Low carb dieters can simply eat the burger
and toss the roll. Gluten-free dieters
cannot do that because bread crumbs will
get all over the meat.
When a low carber wants to stop at Wendys for a bacon cheeseburger or at Burger King for a Double Whopper, they can simply toss the bun and just eat the cheese, meat, and pickles if the restaurant gets the order wrong. 

If their salad comes with croutons, even though they asked the server to leave them off, they can simply scoot the croutons to the side of their plate and go on enjoying the food. 

That's perfectly acceptable behavior for a low-carb diet. 

Those on a gluten-free diet, however, cannot do any of those things without getting violently ill. Those mistakes will put a few bread crumbs into the food you're eating, adding a trace of carbohydrates, but more than enough gluten to set off a nasty autoimmune response in those intolerant of gluten.

For me, there's no going out for a thick, juicy slice of medium-rare prime rib, a side of green beans, and a salad any more. 

Trusting others to make my food for me is far too risky. 

Besides, all of the steak houses in our neck of the woods have told me that if I want to eat there, I have to order the steak, salad, and veggies plain with no seasonings and no salad dressing. 

We have started buying Flat Iron cut steaks at Smith's grocery when we want a steak now. Much cheaper to cook it ourselves anyway.

We also attend almost no family gatherings for the same reason. It's too easy to get contaminated. While that offends my baby sister, who believes I have a fear complex, the last time I hugged her after she'd just chowed down on a plate of cookies, I had neuropathy and diarrhea for two weeks.

For a lot of people, going gluten free is like playing house. 

They hear it's good for the belly or it will give them more energy, so they give it a whirl. 

Problem is, they are not truly gluten free, so they may or may not see improvement. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity is a wide spectrum with each individual manifesting a different set of symptoms as well as a different tolerance threshold. A lot of the potential damage can go unnoticed, since gluten isn't just about digestive issues.

The cold, hard truth is that people with digestive issues are few compared to the number of celiacs and gluten intolerant individuals who experience other internal damage. Nerve damage is a biggie, so the problem with low-carb gluten-free diets isn't that low carbers aren't trying to do what's best for their damaged metabolic system and digestion. 

It just that most low carbers believe they are already on a gluten-free diet, when they clearly are not.

Benefit of a Low-Carb Gluten-Free Diet


How to go gluten free is more complicated than what can be addressed in a single blog post, but the benefits of a low-carb dieter learning to do it correctly could be tremendous. 

Like dairy and soy, any food sensitivity that goes uncorrected is going to produce systemic inflammation that can interfere with weight loss, as well as contribute to additional insulin resistance and higher blood glucose levels.

Why?

Because immune reactions in the body tend to shut down systems that are not life threatening. 

Resources (energy) are re-routed to combat the invader, the allergen or gluten fragment that was tagged by an HLA gene for destruction. The body typically uses glycogen (glucose) to do that. 

So, if you're on a high-fat diet, you'll feel exhausted, and weight loss will stop, only occurring if the resources needed to fight the so-called enemy are in very short supply.

In other words, you have to drastically lower your calories and fats to see any significant fat loss if your body is consistently under attack. 

Eliminating all traces of gluten from the diet, if gluten is problematic for you, will stop the need for the body to go on the attack.

I'm positive that is why the Kimkims Diet, when I tried it years ago, was so successful for me.

Smoked Turkey Breast Sliced on a Platter
Because the Kimkins Diet only allowed whole, natural foods,
and very few condiments, it eliminated all forms of gluten and dairy.
Kimkins eliminated all forms of wheat, barley, rye, dairy, and soy. There was no incoming gluten, dairy products, or grains for the body to react to. 

It wasn't that there was something magical about that plan. 

And no, I didn't listen to her warped idea about eating only 500 calories a day, although that's what the HCG diet is based on, and no one screams about that.

Since I mostly ate:
  • chicken or turkey breast
  • pork loin
  • tuna
  • eggs
  • lean hamburger meat
  • protein shakes
along with a salad or veggies (with a pat of butter), it accidentally eliminated everything that I was personally sensitive to. The lower fat content of the diet -- notice that I said "lower" fat content and not "no" fat content -- also allowed my intestinal issues to calm down. 

Most digestive problems that people with celiac disease experience are due to fat malabsorption, so for me, that diet worked wonders, but that's because I have celiac disease. Someone else might not experience the same results I did.

Find Your Own Sweet Spot


The bottom line is that it's worth your time to become self-educated in what your body can and cannot tolerate. Listening to others or parroting the party line, just because that's what everyone else is doing, can be quite harmful.

I learned that lesson when I attempted to do what I thought was Nutritional Ketosis. The high-fat content of that diet wasn't appropriate for my particular food intolerance and metabolic defects, which might be why a lot of celiacs still don't feel well on a typical gluten-free diet. 

A standard gluten-free diet can be quite high in both fat and carbs. However, cutting down on the protein sent my already malnourished body into a deeper state of panic.

The lesson learned is that it doesn't have to be one or the other. There are more alternatives than a very high-carb diet versus a very low-carb diet. Finding your own sweet spot when it comes to carbs and fats is the key to better health, not imitating what worked for someone else.

If you're interested in learning more about a low-carb gluten-free diet, and what that would actually consist of, leave a note in the comments, and I'll do a series of posts to help you out.




Other Gluten-Free Articles and Resources

My 30-Day Gluten-Free Experiment
Gluten-Free Results from My 30 Day GF Experiment
How Food Sensitivities Affects Inflammation and Insulin Levels

I also have two blogs on gluten-free living and cooking if you're interested. However, when I started these blogs, the focus was not on very low-carb dieting. I was eating moderate carbs then. While many gluten-free folks do turn to low-carb diets and lower carb diets because they are easier, readers at those blogs range from zero carb to high carb, so in the past, I've kept the articles focused on gluten instead of carbs.

Now that my blood glucose control has deteriorated to the level of being borderline diabetic, the focus of these blogs will be changing in the near future:

Super Sensitive Celiac blog - For those more sensitive to gluten than the average person with celiac disease. I tackle the unique problems and trials trying to navigate grocery shelves and live in a world that's overloaded with gluten. There are almost NO resources for those who react to "up to 20 ppm" gluten-free foods, so the blog shares my personal experiences, as well as what I've learned.

Affordable Gluten Free blog - This blog is devoted to gluten-free cooking and baking. I will be reviving it as soon as we move to Texas in a couple of weeks. I do intend on posting lots of lower carb and low-carb recipes there, along with cooking tips, product reviews, and how to use healthy gluten-free foods.

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