While there are various degrees of gluten sensitivity ranging from intolerance to Celiac disease, for those who do suffer repercussions when ingesting gluten, it only takes approximately 30 milligrams of gluten to induce a reaction. To put that in perspective, an average piece of bread contains about 5000 milligrams of gluten so a reaction could occur by eating roughly 1/164th of a typical slice of bread. Things have dramatically improved for those of us who must of necessity shun gluten but avoiding gluten is still a dangerous landscape to navigate, particularly when dining out or, surprisingly, when eating at a friend’s house.

So what’s the difference between these sensitivities?

Gluten Intolerance

Physical reactions to certain foods are common but some are caused by a food intolerance rather than a food allergy. A food intolerance can cause some of the same signs and symptoms as a food allergy, so people often confuse the two.

Gluten Allergy

A true food allergy causes an immune system reaction that affects numerous organs in the body and can produce a range of symptoms. In some cases, an allergic reaction to a food can be severe or life-threatening.

Celiac Disease

Celiac disease is a genetic life-long autoimmune disease, not a food allergy. A food allergy is a type 1 hypersensitivity and involves an immediate or near-immediate reaction. Celiac disease may involve a delayed reaction or no perceptible reaction at all. Even when you don’t perceive a reaction, however, internal intestinal damage occurs along with malabsorption of some nutrients. This inability to absorb nutrients is a contributing factor to osteoporosis in adults.

Fortunately, there’s a greatly increased awareness of gluten sensitivity, allergies and Celiac disease and all are now better publicized and accommodated. However, despite all of the many new and wonderful gluten-free products that are available, there are still hidden dangers that threaten the gluten-sensitive population. Where do they lurk?

Cross Contamination

Generally speaking if a restaurant lists an item on their menu as gluten-free, you can be reasonably certain that it is. However, if said restaurant doesn’t have a separate, gluten-free kitchen, there is always the risk of cross contamination from other foods cooked in or on the same grill, pot, etc. Hence, it is always best to inform your waiter and possibly the manager of your gluten sensitivity.

Home Cooked Meals

The situation I find most daunting in my efforts to avoid gluten, is enjoying a home cooked meal (that I haven’t prepared) with friends. My first stay-safe tactic is to inform the hosts of my gluten quandary. However, since gluten is used in so many unexpected products, (soy sauce, marinades and ice cream, to name a few, – I know, ice cream sounds illogical but it’s true), my second defensive move is to review the menu with my hosts or offer to bring my own pre-prepared food.

The Gluten Conclusion

After much trial and error, I’ve succeeded in becoming a Ninja Gluten Super-Sleuth so I’m now able to effectively protect my digestive tract and locate and enjoy many gluten-free goodies including, wait for it — gluten-free ice cream cones! Yes, fellow gluten abstainers, there really is such a thing!

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