6 Foods Your Body Thinks Are Gluten

June 13th, 2017

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6 Foods Your Body Thinks Are Gluten

This post was originally published in 2013 and has been updated based on new research.

Are you diligently following a gluten-free lifestyle; yet still experiencing symptoms of gluten exposure, such as brain fog, headaches, digestive issues, rashes, weakness, joint pain, swelling, or fatigue?

If so, it could be that you are eating foods that do not contain gluten but your body is reacting to them as if they do in process is called cross-reactivity!

Let’s talk more in depth about what cross-reactivity is, how to tell if it’s causing your symptoms, and what you can do about it.


What is Gluten Cross Reactivity?

Your adaptive immune system makes antibodies designed to target particular bad guys (antigens) that your immune system has decided are likely to do you harm. Once gluten gets tagged as an antigen (as it is in anyone with a gluten sensitivity), your adaptive immune system makes antibodies to seek it out and sound the alarm every time you ingest it.

Unfortunately, your immune system’s recognition system isn’t perfect; as long as a molecule’s structure is similar enough, your immune system registers it as an invader and attacks.

So while on the hunt for gluten, those antibodies can wrongly tag other proteins as gluten, if they recognize specific short amino acid sequences also found in gluten. Your immune system then puts up its defenses, flooding your body with inflammatory chemicals and ratcheting up your level of chronic inflammation.

This happens most commonly with dairy products, because casein, the protein found in dairy, is so similar to the gliadin protein found in gluten. In fact, it’s estimated that at least half of those who are gluten intolerant are also sensitive to dairy.

This process of cross-reactivity is also the same concept as the molecular mimicry phenomenon. In both cases your immune system confuses innocent sources as invaders and begins to destroy them; however in the process of molecular mimicry, it’s a part of your own body (such as thyroid tissue in those with Hashimoto’s) that is being misidentified as an invader and attacked.

For more information on how cross-reactivity and molecular mimicry contribute to autoimmunity and thyroid dysfuncion, check out my books, The Autoimmune Solution and The Thyroid Connection.


6 Foods that Cross-React with Gluten

These are the six foods that your body can confuse with gluten because of their similar protein structure:

  • Dairy products such as milk and cheese (Alpha-Casein, Beta-Casein, Casomorphin, Butyrophilin, Whey Protein)
  • Corn
  • Millet
  • Oats
  • Rice
  • Yeast

6 Foods Your Body Thinks Are Gluten

If you’ve been following the functional medicine or gluten-free community, you may recall that the list of foods believed to cross react with gluten used to be much longer. This was based on the fact that the primary lab test (based on research at the time) that was used to check for cross-reactivity previously included 19 foods. However, new and more conclusive information and research has emerged demonstrating that the list is actually much narrower and the current best practices for lab testing have been updated (more on that below).


How to Test for Gluten Cross-Reactivity

If you suspect that gluten cross-reactivity is causing your symptoms, there are two routes you can take to pinpoint which foods may be the culprit.

Option one is to use an elimination diet protocol and remove the above foods for at least two months to see if your symptoms improve. You’ll want to make sure you have healed your gut because you are often more sensitive to certain foods while your gut is leaky and your inflammation is high. Then, after two months you can reintroduce the above foods one at a time by eating each food three times a day for three days and monitoring to see if your symptoms return. If you do experience symptoms after reintroducing a food, you are likely experiencing cross-reactivity.

Lab testing is the second option. I recommend that all of my patients who have ditched gluten but have not gone grain, legume, and dairy-free take the Cyrex Array 4 gluten cross-reactivity test, particularly if they have any type of autoimmunity. I also recommend it for anyone who has eliminated gluten from their diet but is still experiencing gluten symptoms.

What to Do if You’re Experiencing Gluten Cross-Reactivity

If you determine that there are foods that are cross-reactive for you, you will want to permanently remove these foods from your diet. Remember, that even though the cross-reactive foods do not actually contain gluten, your body thinks they do, and they can cause just as much inflammation and damage as eating actual gluten. So you want to remove them entirely.

That last word, entirely, is important because recent research has shown that eating gluten (or gluten look-a-likes) can elevate your antibodies for up to three months, meaning that even if you only ate gluten or its cross-reactive foods four times a year, you would be in a state of inflammation year-round.


Reverse Chronic Illnesses So You Can Take Back Your Health!

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  • Jill, The Veggie Queen

    OK. So I am looking at the list and wondering what the heck I would eat? I am a vegan. It sounds to me like I’d be eating a lot of beans, quinoa and vegetables. Not sure that I could live on those foods alone. I feel best when eating carbs. Any thoughts?

    • That will be my next blog

    • Betul Yilmaz

      Its exactly the same here I’m vegan and mostly rely on green leafy veggies, fruits nuts seeds and legumes. Trying to eliminate the consumption of cereals and to some degree even legumes. After seeing your list I got to wonder how I could survive? Even potatoes :((

      • Again, if you don’t have an issue with grains or gluten, then this may not be the best fit for you. Every body is different and reacts to foods differently. You can survive off of starchy veggies, non-starchy veggies, healthy fats, nuts, seeds, and fruit.

    • If you feel better on carbs, then eat carbs. Everyone is different. This article is meant to help gluten-sensitive individuals, who still have symptoms after eliminating gluten.

    • Jennifer Pikey

      I’m with you on wondering what is left TO eat. A lot of times when my stomach hurts it feels better to eat some carbs. I am having a hard time with what’s good vs what’s bad for me. Then there’s getting my family to do it with me….

  • Madforltulips

    On the link for the lab..which tests to have to check for cross reactive culprits?

    • You want Array 4- Gluten-Associated Cross-Reactive Foods and Foods Sensitivity.

  • Rachel Magirck

    So… the image uses rice as an example of a Non-reactive food, but then rice is included on the reactive list! …is this another case of “depends on who you ask”?

    • Yes. Some believe that rice is not a reactive food, but I have seen patients who react negatively to rice, so I included it on the list.

    • Amy Perrin

      I think rice is rarely for problem for people, that is why it is always something one gives to a baby. I have a ton of dietary restrictions now, but still eat Basmati rice and am doing just fine.

      • Theresa

        I hope you’re careful where your rice is sourced. Rice from overseas (China) is loaded with arsenic.

        • Amy Perrin

          Theresa, my Basmati rice comes from India.

          • Kim Evans Reddmann

            Basmati rice from Arkansas is also very good. Lots of it is grown in my area and sold at health food stores. Very delicious! !

        • Jennifer Pikey

          Why does Chinese rice have arsenic?

    • Jennifer Pikey

      I noticed that. I saw the non reactive part and thought, “oh, I can eat rice!”, then it says no. I’m confused.

  • Kerrie Knapp

    Celiac disease, I had the same thing, dairy, soy, eggs, peanuts and a few others.. Chicken & beef began to make me sick and then it didn’t matter what I avoided. All foods were making me sick until I was recommended Betazyme by Nutritional Frontiers. Take 1 tab with every meal and finally can eat without getting sick.. Now if you’re like me you still have to avoid food allergies, gluten (due to celiac) soy, eggs & peanuts..
    Hope this helps someone out, I know I was on my last straw.

  • Anna Shook-Shockley

    What’s left except fresh fruits & veggies? Ugh

    • Everyone needs fresh fruits and veggies!

      • Jennifer

        True, however, I have oral allergy syndrome, and I am allergic to many fresh fruits, vegetables and some nuts (itching in mouth, hives, laryngitis, etc.) whereas, if the veggies/fruits are processed or cooked, I am not allergic… I am dairy free and gluten free (recently) but my allergies to fresh stuff seems to be getting worse…

  • Rob

    I am unable to have most fruits & vegetables, as well as a lot of other foods already : now having to lose gluten as well, what am I to survive on if things like rice & potatoes are also out?

    • This isn’t a list of things you absolutely have to avoid, this is a list of foods that could potentially be a problem if you are sensitive to gluten. If you do fine with these foods, that’s great! Also, as the gut heals, a lot of foods can be reintroduced.

  • hrtshpd

    Do you have a link to an actual study or is this all heresay?

  • manu

    I hear you all…I am vegan as well with gluten sensitivity plus oat and soy! As a MS student of Human nutrition and Functional Medicine and as a patient I can only tell you that Dr. Amy knows what she is writing about we just need to live with it. 🙁 Find out which is the offending food and give it up!

    • Yes and let’s not forget that there is a HUGE variety of plant foods you can eat as a vegan! It can be done 🙂

  • Lynn Thompson

    If chocolate cross reacts with gluten, does that mean raw cacao also cross reacts?

  • There is good news if you go to the primary source… I believe that Dr. Myers has simplified the findings so that people can look further into it and make individualized decisions. For example, in this specific study, “coffee” is actually instant coffee, and 3 different espressos and “imported” coffee did not have the same cross-reactivity. In fact, they had none. Similarly, the “chocolate” listed here was actually milk chocolate in the study. It makes sense that milk chocolate is cross-reactive since milk is. Cocoa itself and dark chocolate had no cross-reactivity. Furthermore, the authors state: “immune reactions against oat cultivar #1, sesame, buckwheat, sorghum, hemp, amaranth, quinoa, tapioca, teff, soy, egg, and potatoes were less than 1 SD above the mean of the ELISA background OD,” meaning that the reactions to those foods should not be considered statistically significant. See? The list is getting shorter! It is worth looking more closely into the actual research and deciding what resonates with your particular body before going off all of these foods cold-turkey.

  • hazyjane

    Hi Dr. Myers!
    I wanted to clear something up- not all 19 foods on Array 4 are gluten cross-reactors. If you look at the technical manual for the array, it breaks them into cross-reactors and foods that are commonly introduced on a gluten-free diet that may become sensitivities due to their consumption in the face of a permeable gut. There is a lot of misunderstanding about this.

    The currently identified list of cross-reactors are (per Nora Gedgaudas, who asked Cyrex directly):

    Rye, barley, spelt, Polish wheat/Kamut
    Cow’s Milk
    Alpha-casein and beta-casein
    Milk butyrophilin
    Whey protein
    Milk chocolate
    Baker’s Yeast
    Pre-ground and Instant coffee

    I hope this helps to clarify things!

  • Pixilated

    Dear Dr. Myers,

    As I read your article I was amazed at some of the strange misinformation.

    Firstly, wheat is wheat is wheat, and it doesn’t matter what strain it is, it is
    going to give a Celiac sufferer problems. What person with CD, in
    their right mind, would eat Polish wheat? The gliadin is present and
    that is forbidden to us.

    Regarding coffee ~ It was recently brought out in the news that problems with growing coffee have caused unscrupulous growers to add ground wheat and dirt to the pre-ground coffee. Based on that knowledge can we be 99.9 percent
    certain as to why the test subjects reacted to the pre-ground and instant coffee?

    If eating milk chocolate caused a reaction, and eating dark chocolate did not, might we then assume (based on your list) that milk was the culprit? Many of us are known to be lactose intolerant. As for me, milk and any milk product will produce very similar reaction to Gluten intolerance because I can’t digest lactose.

    In reading over the other comments it seems that quite a few of us really
    want to know about the rice. Is it a non-reactive agent or not? Please clear that up for us.

    And finally, prior to biopsy diagnosis of Celiac I had been allergy tested for everything. Turns out I was allergic to everything I loved to eat. Symptoms for food
    allergy were gut trouble and sinus issues. After I found out I had Celiac and healed my gut, I then reintroduced much of the food I had previously been allergic to. The great news was that out of over 100 foods I reacted to, I can now eat most of what was on my list of allergy inducing foods again. (Though peanuts, peaches, artichokes and carrots can still hurt me. Can’t win them all.)

    I am not trying to be a troll, but I do feel that more investigation is in order and some clarifications need to be made here.

    Thank you for clarifying,


  • Kelsi

    Just purchased the new Myer’s Way book, and am strictly following it (as well as the candida portion) but I noticed that so far nuts such as almonds and walnuts haven’t been specifically addressed. I know legumes aren’t supposed to be consumed but technically almonds and walnuts aren’t considered legumes – just peanuts. Are almonds walnuts and their products ok to consume?

  • Chris

    doing the 30 day protocol…..is it okay to drink decaf green tea and herbal teas? Also is dil and ashagawana ok? My doc has me dating a…drenal, that includes ashagawanda.