Cross Reactive Foods

Cross-Reactive Foods: Gluten-Free Foods That Mimic Gluten and Make You Sick

Discovering if you are gluten intolerant, whether it’s from celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, is a very big step in regaining your health. Initially, it is common for patients to feel an incredibly positive change in their health when they initially remove gluten. To say they are happy and excited is an understatement. They feel they have finally discovered the missing link to optimal health

Too often, however, that initial euphoria wears off as symptoms return. The first reaction is to assume that gluten has somehow sneaked back into the diet. Labels are read more carefully and an increased awareness occurs in an effort to discover how and where gluten contamination is occurring.

In most cases, hidden gluten is not the problem. Those that are diligent in avoiding gluten are, for the most part, doing an excellent job. The frustration, then, leads to the question: if it’s not gluten, what is it? Why am I feeling sick again?

One major area that must be addressed secondary to a gluten intolerance diagnosis is the subject of crossreactive foods. These are foods that have a similar protein structure to gluten. To the less than healthy immune system, they are literally confused for gluten. This means that eating corn, as an example, can cause your body to react just as if you ate gluten.

Not fair! I agree, but let’s look at this more closely. The news is not as bad as it may initially seem and it could be the reason you’re not feeling well.

People being affected by cross-reactive foods feel they are getting “glutened” when they are not eating gluten. The patient suffering from cross-reactive foods is having, what is for them, a gluten reaction when no gluten is present.

For these patients, we run a blood test for these particular cross-reactive foods. What are they?Let’s take a look:

Dairy products, specifically:

Whey protein – This is the liquid portion of protein left over after making cheese.

Casein, alpha and beta – These are two of the four main types of casein (milk protein) comprising 80% of the total protein in milk. The remaining protein is whey protein. (If you’re curious, the complete list is: alpha-lactalbumin, betalactoglobulin, serum albumin, and immunoglobulins.)

Milk Butyrophilin – Butyrophilin is the major protein associated with fat droplets in milk. Research studies performed independently ofone another have suggested that ingestion of butyrophilin in dairy products from cows and goats may be a potential trigger for multiple sclerosis.

Milk Chocolate – Note that a positive result does not mean chocolate is a problem, only dairy…whew!

– Millet
– Yeast
– Corn
– Rice
– Hemp
– Buckwheat
– Sorghum
– Teff
– Oats
– Amaranth
– Quinoa
– Tapioca
– Sesame
– Coffee
– Potatoes
– Eggs
– Soy
– Rye, barley, spelt, and Polish wheat (all of which, of course, are known gluten-containing grains)

I know, it’s a long list. But it’s not as bad as it sounds. First of all, while all of these foods have the potential to cause a reaction, only a few are considered so truly cross-reactive in nature that a positive test means that you should avoid them for life, just as you would gluten. These five are dairy, rice, corn, millet, and yeast.

If any of the other foods show up as positive, it is considered a temporary situation. The handling is to remove the foods for three months while making every effort to heal the gut through the following process:

1. Removal of any potential pathogens (infections)

2. Boosting the good probiotics

3. Handling any nutritional or enzyme deficiencies

4. Balancing hormones

5.Addressing the presence of any toxins, such as heavy metals

After three months of the intensive healing program along with the elimination of the positive foods, the foods are then reintroduced one by one to gauge any negative reaction. Typically there is no problem as long as the patient has been abiding by the gut healing program as outlined.

But remember, if any of the five truly reactive foods are positive on the test, those foods are recommended to be avoided for life. At my clinic, we usually find that patients who react positively to any of the five usually have been suspicious of those foods and therefore the outcome of the test is not that surprising.

Frankly, when it comes to dairy products, I’m seeing that many patients fare better off without them, regardless of the test result. Dairy products are highly pro-inflammatory and therefore create much stress on the very system we are trying to heal, the immune system. They also affect the nervous system in a similar way to gluten which explains their addictive nature. If the very thought of giving up dairy products get you upset, you may very well fall into this addictive category. And lastly, the hormones used in our dairy products truly upset the human hormonal imbalance to a marked degree.

I would highly recommend a 30 day trial of a dairy-free diet to see how you feel. Unlike gluten, it’s not dangerous to reintroduce it. After the 30 day elimination, have some dairy and see what happens. You may be surprised to find that it’s not your friend! Worried about calcium? Don’t be. You can get much better and more absorbable calcium from dark green leafy vegetables, nuts, beans, and fruit.

I realize it may not be feasible for everyone to get tested for cross-reactive foods. While the test is great and makes knowing the specific positive foods pretty simple, you don’t absolutely need it to find out the same information. It may take a little longer but I believe we can still get the job done. Here are the steps to take:

1. Do you feel like you’re eating gluten, even when you’re not? If so, proceed to step 2.

2. Look over the entire list of cross-reactive foods (exclusive of the last four, which are obviously gluten) and see which foods you regularly consume. The point here is that you won’t be having a problem with something you rarely if ever eat.

3. Once you have the commonly eaten foods chosen, eliminate them for three months. If the thought of eliminating ALL of them is too overwhelming, I have a plan B. Go to step 4 for this. If you’re “game” for eliminating all of them, then proceed to step 5.

4. Eliminate the truly cross-reactive foods (dairy, corn, rice, millet, yeast) and any other two foods that you “live” on, meaning they make up a large part of your diet. Hopefully that’s more feasible for you. If it’s still too daunting, then just focus on the five truly crossreactive foods.

5. During the three months of elimination, strive for perfection. Just the way you avoid gluten, you need to avoid these foods as well. Also, strive to find a practitioner who can help you with the healing of the immune system, the balancing of hormones, and the elimination of toxins as mentioned previously. (If you need help finding a doctor, please feel free to contact me.)

6. Once the three months have elapsed, take the food that you have missed the most, but that is not one of the five truly reactive foods, and reintroduce it for three days. If you feel good, then reintroduce the next food.

7. Here’s the tricky step: since we don’t have a lab test to tell us if any of the five truly reactive foods are positive, you’re going to have to proceed carefully with them. Leave dairy last, but starting with any of the other four, reintroduce them as described above. Eat for three days before introducing another food. Do realize that a reaction can occur immediately or anywhere up to 3 to 4 days later. Be alert to how you feel. If you’re unsure if a reaction was truly caused by the food you’re reintroducing, eliminate it for 2 weeks and then try it again. If you get the same reaction, then you’ll know the food is the culprit.

8. Continue to reintroduce until you have gone through each food. As you can see, this takes some discipline. But it’s worth it if you’re needlessly suffering from a cross-reactive food.

At the clinic we’ve been working with our patients and cross-reactive foods for year. The technology to discover them is fairly new, but it can be a significant finding when it’s occurring. Eliminating cross-reactive foods can truly make the different between regaining your health and continuing to suffer.

Symptoms are your body’s only way of communicating with you. Listen to them, find a great clinician to hold your hand through the process, and good health will be yours. If you have any questions, I’m always here to assist.

Written By Dr. Vikki Petersen, DC, CCN

Tags: Dr. Vikki Petersen Glutened Magazine
Previous Post

Kids & Sports

Next Post

Yoga for Tension Release

  1. Michael Spece
    December 3, 2018

    Hi Vikki, I definitely have problems with cross reactive foods that mimic gluten. I know there is a few on your list that I’m reacting to already but lately I’ve been having more symptoms and I just can’t seem to get on the right track and I feel like I’m losing hope. Your information was very helpful. I live in Erie Pennsylvania and I was wondering if you could recommend a practitioner to me.who could possibly get me straightened out. I have UPMC insurance if that matters.. Thanks, Michael

    1. Gluten Free & More
      December 5, 2018

      Hi Michael,
      I’m sorry you’re still having trouble with symptoms. I went ahead and forwarded your question over to Dr. Vikki and she or someone from her practice will be in touch with you soon. Please let us know if there’s any other way we can help. Hope you feel better soon!

  2. Ayesha
    December 9, 2021

    Hi is maltodextrin derived from corn and should I avoid it as I am cross reacting to foods. Currently I am allergic to everything on your list but I take medicine which contains trace amounts of maltodextrin abc I can’t find an alternative. Please help

    1. Gluten Free & More
      December 13, 2021

      Hi Ayesha,

      I would talk to your pharmacist to find out if the medication you’re taking contains something that you cannot safely have.

  3. Devorah Taller
    December 15, 2021

    My son is on a gluten free diet. I suspect that corn may be causing him trouble. What blood test can I do to check this? Is there a Dr. I can contact for a virtual appointment?
    N’s Mom

    1. Gluten Free & More
      December 17, 2021

      I don’t know what blood test you can have him take for this. There are food allergy test (skin prick tests usually) that might cover corn. I would talk to your son’s primary care doctor or find an allergist or a functional medicine practitioner in your area. You can also contact Dr. Vikki Petersen, she is a doctor who writes for us and she offers virtual appointments and phone consultations and might be able to steer you in the right direction.

  4. Joe
    December 12, 2022

    All these food intolerances change the structure of how I think and feel completely and now that I’m on MY now eating patterns Im so much better

    1. Gluten Free & More
      December 12, 2022

      I know exactly what you mean!

  5. Joe
    December 12, 2022

    Do you talk about all night shades? You have mentioned white potato but what about all the other night shades like tomato etc sweet potato is fine of course because it isn’t a nightshade , even when I’ve gone back and even eat a tomato I feel weird and go from having plenty of energy and positive mental structure to feeling completely different

    1. Gluten Free & More
      December 12, 2022

      I’m so sorry to hear how badly you are effected! This article is about gluten cross reactions, not nightshades. We can certainly look into doing an article on nightshades.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Jan-Feb 2024 Cover



Get recipes delivered to your door with a subscription to

Gluten Free & More!

Use code MAG5OFF for $5 off any print or digital subscription!