Gluten: From Fan Favorite to Four Letter Word – Part 1

The Restaurant Dilemma

I’m not a doctor, nor do I play one on T.V.  I do, however, fashion myself as a bit of a foodie.  So when it was discovered that I was (non-celiac) gluten intolerant, I feared my lifelong love affair with all things edible was about to come to a screeching halt.  Of course, that wasn’t the case, but at first, and even now a year and a half later, the question “what am I going to eat” doesn’t always have an easy answer.  Especially at restaurants.

There are almost always gluten-free food options wherever I am.  Fruits, vegetables, meat, potatoes, and rice to name just a few of the staples. Restaurants are becoming increasingly aware of the issue and in turn are developing gluten-free items, and in some cases, full gluten-free menus. If it were only a matter of not eating foods obviously containing gluten, eating out would be a piece of (gluten-free) cake!  And for many who choose to eat gluten-free, but aren’t intolerant, it’s smooth sailing.  But for those of us out there who will react with even the slightest bit of gluten ingestion, cross contamination and hidden gluten become public enemy number one!

Accidental ingestion of gluten, or “being glutened” once you’ve gone completely gluten free is no joke.  If you have celiac disease, it can cause severe, life-threatening health issues.  If you have non-celiac gluten sensitivity or intolerance, it can cause a host of symptoms that can range from digestive discomfort to full blown flu-like symptoms.  In some cases much worse!

With so much attention on the topic, some restaurants are taking big steps to accommodate beyond just offering gluten-free items.  A popular pizza chain went as far as revamping all of their kitchens with a dedicated gluten-free section and sending their staff to specialized training to learn how to handle gluten-free food safely.  In time, I see more and more restaurants following this model and shifting their current systems to best serve those with gluten and other similar food allergies and sensitivities.  As it stands, knowledge is the best way to protect yourself from an accidental ingestion.  Learn the foods where hidden gluten is the most common.  Here’s a good resource.  Also, be sure to talk to your waitstaff to inform them of your needs.  They can inform the kitchen to be careful of cross-contamination.  Finally, and probably most importantly, if you’re not sure, just pass.

Not always easy.  Not always fun.  In the end, however, absolutely worth it.

The love affair continues…