Going Gluten-FreeAugust 28, 2012

What Do You Do If You Accidentally Ingest Gluten?

Food editor Beth Hillson grapples with that (hopefully seldom) reality of gluten contamination.

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Posted by Beth Hillson

[Updated January 29, 2016]

“Oops, I ate a wheat cracker,” Andrew wrote to us in a recent e-mail. I sensed the urgency in his tone:

“Hello, The other night I was at a dinner. They served cheese and crackers. They know I am gluten intolerant. They had gluten-free crackers and wheat crisps. I thought I was safe and did not think to ask until I consumed about four crackers. Uh-oh—what do I do?”

I know exactly how he feels. Don’t you? He couldn’t have worn a face of higher anxiety if he’d had a belt of dynamite strapped to his waist with a remote timer set to trigger it. What would happen and when would it take place? 

Getting “glutened” takes all the enjoyment out of socializing. Life’s complacency evaporates and in its place, an uneasy, gnawing sensation sets in. You know something physically unpleasant is about to happen and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Andrew offered two possibilities about what to do:

  1.  Regurgitate, or
  2.  Hold on and take the hit the next day.

“Is there another way to deal with the impending gluten reaction?” he asked.

Unfortunately, there is no antidote or morning-after pill to ease the symptoms from gluten exposure. Each person reacts differently and uses different techniques to ease the symptoms. Some people say they drink a lot of water. Some take digestive enzymes or lots of antacids. Crudely put, my 20-something metropolitan son says he takes a ‘s**t and a snooze’ and then feels better. 

I asked Andrew what he usually does when he ingests gluten. 

“So far, I just fret and wait for the happening,” he wrote. “But now you have given me ideas. I will drink lots of water and take digestive enzymes. See if they do anything.”

Then he added: “Lately, I have been craving glazed donuts.”

“NO!,” I screamed at the screen. “Don’t fall on your sword for gluten, my friend,” I typed. He wrote back to assure me that good sense will prevail. I am relieved.

I wish I could offer Andrew better advice. But despite all the improvements in the gluten-free marketplace, one thing hasn’t changed: We have to take the hit when we accidentally eat gluten. 

What do you do if you when you are "glutened"?