If you are among the estimated 1% of the population that has celiac disease and 6% that has non-celiac gluten sensitivity, you’ll feel better if you eliminate wheat, rye, and barley from your diet. While this can be managed relatively easily at home, eating becomes more difficult when traveling and ordering restaurant food. Here are a few tips for successful gluten-free dining on the road:
• When traveling, always carry “emergency food” that doesn’t spoil, such as dried fruit, nuts, and gluten-free energy bars (such as Lara, KIND, Odwalla).
• When eating in a restaurant, you'll have to quiz the staff and carefully order your food.
--Is the omelet made on the same grill as the pancakes?
--Is the gluten-free toast made in the same toaster used for wheat breads?
--Does the salad come with croutons?
--Can the gluten-free sandwich be prepared on a paper towel or surface not used for wheat breads (to prevent cross-contamination)?
--Has the turkey been injected with flavor enhancers?
--Is the hamburger 100% beef (with no fillers) and not cooked on the same surface as the toasted buns?
--Are the French fries cooked in the same oil as the breaded chicken?
--Are the steak tips marinated in a gluten-containing sauce?
--Is the rice cooked in broth with unknown gluten-containing seasonings?
As you can imagine, this all requires a patient waiter and an understanding chef. But the good news is, more and more restaurants are offering a gluten-free menu. Plan ahead and google “restaurants with gluten-free menu Boston” (or whatever your city), and you’ll find several options. And to be 100% safe, you might want to travel with your own gluten-free pasta and request it be cooked in fresh water, in a clean pot, and drained into a clean colander.
For more information and a helpful book by gluten-free expert Shelley Case RD, visit www.glutenfreediet.ca
When I was starting my career as a dietitian, celiac disease was a rare occurrence. Today, it seems like lots of athletes report they have celiac disease and need to avoid gluten, the protein in wheat that creates health problems. Data suggests about 1% of the population now has celiac. The disease is appearing in countries like Finland where it historically has been very uncommon.
While no one is certain why this is happening, one theory is we are growing wheat that has a higher gluten content (to make a better-textured bread). For some people, the higher gluten content triggers an aggressive immune response that damages the intestines and generates an inflammatory response that makes the person feels lousy. Some suffer from diarrhea, constipation, bloating, gas, or other gastro-intestinal issues. Others don’t realize they have celiac until they experience iron-deficiency anemia. (When the intestines get damaged from the inflammation, they cannot absorb iron.) Otehrs have stress fractures, due to poor calcium-absorption.
If you have digestion issues and suspect celiac, do NOT go on a gluten-free diet without first talking to your doctor and getting a blood test to rule-out celiac. Otherwise, the absence of gluten in your diet will alter the test results. Skipping the blood test means you might miss out on other problems, like Crohn’s disease, ulcer, or colon cancer.
If you know that eating a gluten-free diet is best for your body, take solace in the fact that fruits, vegetables, beans, lean protein, lowfat dairy foods (milk, yogurt, cheese) are all naturally gluten-free, as are rice, potato, sweet potato, and corn. You might want to try gluten-free products, such as brown rice pasta. There are many options in today’s supermarket, but be cautious: “gluten free” does not always mean “healthier”!