Why Going Gluten Free Sometimes Isn’t Enough

Today’s blog post is for those days when you feel like you do everything right and still end up feeling like your gut is far from happy. I blog a lot about my gluten free life but some people (like me) might find that while giving up gluten makes them feel a little better but it is only one piece of the puzzle. Since I blog about all kinds of gut issues, I know everyone is different.


But coeliacs; who should technically feel better after the removal of gluten from their diet, may find that they still struggle from stomach cramps and digestive symptoms on a strict gluten-free diet. It’s important to note that when giving up gluten, people with coeliac disease don’t feel instantly better. In some cases coeliac disease is non-responsive and symptoms can continue long after going gluten free. This can be due to other underlying conditions or refractory coeliac disease. This occurs in about 3-5% of people and means that the coeliac disease does not respond to the elimination of gluten

More likely, whether you are gluten free for being a coeliac or gluten intolerant, here are other common foods that might also cause you issues….


1.CARRAGENAN.  Carragenan is an additive that is often added to many free-from products like dairy free ice cream and drinks. Although often deemed more natural than many additives (it’s derived from seaweed) it has been linked to digestive issues. For example in an attempt to investigate a possible link to Inflammatory Bowel Disease- an animal study found that carrageenan caused gut ulceration in rats that were morphologically similar to those found in ulcerative colitis. Again, this is clearly an area that requires more research but it may be worth considering when keeping a food diary.


 2. SWEETENERS. Many sweeteners have a laxative effect and can make worsen diarrhea. Xylitol (often found in natural health food products), Aspartame (used in low calorie drinks) and Mannitol (which is also used for Small Bowel X-Rays!) are the worst culprits for this, so it is often best to avoid any foods advertised as ‘sugar free’ or ‘low calorie’ as these are often used as a replacement. Xylitol does carry a warning that ‘excessive quantites may have a laxative effect’ but often little guidance is given on to what ‘excessive quantities is!


3. NIGHTSHADES. Although many people with IBD and IBS report issues with nightshades, many others can eat them just fine. It is worth keeping track of common nightshades  (such as potatoes, tomato and peppers) when keeping a food diary.

4. DAIRY.  I did a whole blog post on dairy; explaining why many people find the need to exclude this alongside gluten. I know lots of coeliacs mentioned when I published it that they too struggled with dairy so there is definitely a link between these two!


Many people who are gluten free, also find dairy an issue. I explain more here .


5. COFFEE  Coffee is known to be a laxative since it increases gut peristalsis- the movement of food through the body. A review of studies into the topic of coffee and digestion  showed that some had proven the inflammatory nature of coffee while others had suggested it may have an almost protective quality in the gut. It’s an interesting study if you fancy a read.

6. ALCOHOL Alcohol can cause gut irritation for many reasons: side effects of medication can worse the effect or symptoms may increase due to the wheat (from beer) or sulphur dioxide (from wine). While alcohol in general is not conducive to a healthy gut environment, some patients may be able to do better with certain types of alcohol- although large quantities are often problematic whatever the type.


Many people with gut issues (particularly those with IBS) can struggle with onions and garlic, which can point to a problem with FODMAP. I have included more information about FODMAP on my blog post on the best diets for gut health but it is growing in recognition and often suggested by doctors for those with IBS or gut issues that aren’t responding to other forms of treatment.

Since 80% of the gut is in the immune system (and both coeliac disease and IBD involve a misguided immune response) many people with gut issues who are intolerant to one food, may find themselves sensitive many more.

This can be temporary- for example after a bad flare or bout of gastroenteritis- or permanent. Therefore, IBD and coeliac disease patients in particular, have a higher chance of being intolerant or allergic to foods that can cause a reaction. I have already talked about dairy and gluten but others include: soy, peanuts, egg and celery. As there are so many potential allergens, I would advise working with a dietician or Nutritional Therapist to understand how to monitor a reaction to them.


I hope this helped! Let me know if there are any more foods you think should be added to the list! Checkout more gluten free recipes and guides here.

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