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Gluten: how much is okay?

My position is: gluten-free means ZERO gluten.

Yes, I’ve changed my mind.  When I wrote my first gluten book (“Are you gluten-sensitive? Your questions answered”) I thought that people who were gluten sensitive could eat gluten to as much as they can tolerate.  This is wrong.  Over the last 10 years I have done a lot more research – I realise that even a tiny amount of gluten is bad. Now I say “zero gluten for everyone”.

Let me tell you about Amelia.  She is 7-years-old, and came to our clinic when she was just 3. We diagnosed her as gluten sensitive, and she has been gluten-free for 4 years.

Bright red cheeks from gluten
She had bright red cheeks – it looked like they had been painted bright scarlet-red.  This worried her parents. She also had some eczema, and often got distressed at night with painful leg cramps.  Her blood tests showed high gluten antibodies, but no evidence of celiac disease.

My explanation of her bright-red-cheeks was that the gluten reaction was interfering with her autoimmune system that controls how your skin looks (pale, pasty, washed-out, blushed).  So she went on a 3-montdh trial of a gluten-free diet.  She responded very well!  Over the last 4 years gluten-free diet she has been usually been compliant. However, she says, “I get a sore tummy if I have too much.” She says that she gets a tummy pain the next morning.

How strict should she be?
She is tempted to sneak lollies now and then, which can be loaded with gluten.  She loves gluten-cookies and cakes. But she knows these make her tummy hurt.

Mum notices that she immediately gets “hyperactive, and extremely wound up and excitable” when she has even tiny amounts of gluten.  This in turn can upset her school work.  So mum is very strict with the gluten-free diet.

But dad is more relaxed about giving Amelia gluten.  Dad has the notion that he should keep on feeding her gluten, so that she will eventually develop tolerance.  In my experience this does not happen.  He is only making her unwell and putting her at risk for other gluten disease and maybe triggering auto-immune disease.

In my view Amelia should continue to have ZERO gluten.


At the Childrens Clinic | Allergy Centre, Christchurch, we can help you manage gluten problems and your gluten-free diet.