Gluten-Free Dining Out – May is Celiac Awareness Month

A genetic autoimmune disease, Celiac disease causes damage to the small intestine. This is part of the gut which digests and absorbs nutrients from food. When the small intestine is damaged, the rate of nutrient absorption from food is reduced. Celiac disease can affect people in many different ways and symptoms vary in severity. The treatment for celiac disease and gluten intolerance is simple. People who are affected must avoid foods that contain gluten and follow a gluten-free diet.

Those who live with celiac disease or gluten intolerance can find it challenging to dine out. There are many articles with tips and advice on how to dine out gluten-free. What it really boils down to is knowing what you can eat and dining at an establishment that can provide it.

Understand the Gluten-free Diet

The first step to dining out successfully is to fully understand the gluten-free diet. You need to know what grains to avoid, the hidden sources of gluten and how to avoid cross-contact with gluten. The Celiac Disease Foundation offers great information to help take the mystery out of the gluten-free diet.

Pick a Restaurant Offering Gluten-free Choices

More and more restaurants are offering a gluten-free menu or at least a selection of gluten-free items to choose from. 

A dining establishment may naturally serve organically gluten-free items, such as meat, chicken or fish that is not breaded nor served with a floured sauce. Even those without a gluten-free menu can modify menu items to be served without gluten, like a hamburger without the bun or salad without croutons. 

It is best to check the menu online for gluten free selections. Also, call the restaurant during off-peak hours and ask questions to insure a gluten-free meal. While they may seem a bit extreme, it is important that the restaurant staff really understands the needs of their gluten intolerant patrons.  Below are some questions you should ask:

Do you have a gluten-free menu?

What items can be made gluten-free?

Do you know what gluten is? If yes, what is it?

Has your restaurant or staff completed a gluten-free training program?

Inform Your Server      

When your server introduces themselves, let them know you have Celiac disease or are gluten intolerant.  Be sure that they understand what this means. If they don’t, explain that you cannot eat anything that has flour, bread crumbs or soy sauce.

Make sure they understand that consuming any of these could make you ill. If you do not feel they fully understand, ask to speak to the restaurant manager or the chef.

Don’t be Afraid to ask Questions

Be polite but ask questions.  Simple dishes without a coating or sauce, or those that can be made without a sauce are always a good option.  If you have not spoken directly to the chef, ask your server to make them aware that you are gluten intolerant and will become ill if you consume foods containing gluten.

Never assume that something is gluten-free.  Pancake batter may be added to egg omelets to make them fluffier. Baked potatoes might be coated with flour to make the skins crispier. Green tea may have barley in it. It is always better to ask than risk being ill. Below are questions that can be helpful in choosing your meal:

Are there croutons, wontons or crispy noodles on the salad?

Does the salad dressing contain wheat or flour?

Does the soup contain flour or barley?

Has the food been marinated in any sauces containing flour, soy or teriyaki sauce?

Has the food been dusted with flour before being sautéed or fried?

Is the oil used for the French fries also used to make the other breaded products? Are the French fries coated with flour?

Are artificial bacon bits or other meat substitutes used on potato skins and salads?

Are your mashed potatoes from a mix, or from real potatoes?

Do you use imitation crab meat or seafood?

Does bread come with my dish?

Is my dish garnished with fried onions?

Will the ice cream come with a cookie?

Cross Contamination Concerns

The utensils and area used to prepare gluten-free foods should be separate from other food prep areas. If it there isn’t an area used exclusively for gluten-free food prep, the area used should be cleaned thoroughly before preparing a gluten-free meal there. You will want to ask the following questions to make sure there is no cross contamination:

Do you clean your space or is there a separate prep space for gluten-free food?

Do you use clean or separate cookware and utensils for gluten-free food?

Do you clean the grill before preparing gluten-free food?

Is there a dedicated fryer or do you change the oil for gluten-free food?

There May Not Be an Appropriate Gluten-free Choice

Sometimes, regardless of how prepared and informed you are, there may not be satisfying gluten-free choice.  This shouldn’t keep you from dining out with family or friends. There are a couple of the options to deal with this possibility.

You can “pre-eat” prior to dining out, keeping your hunger in check will make you less tempted to make unsafe menu choices.  You could also to bring your own gluten-free foods such as bread, crackers or even pasta and request that the chef prepare it for you in a clean pot.

While not every restaurant can accommodate these types of requests, you can again call ahead and inquire. With an increase in those with a gluten intolerance, more restaurants are offering options to provide for this.

At Tuscan Bistro Bar, many of our menu items are offered as a gluten-free selection. These items are noted with a small green icon that contains the letters “GF”. We follow all the proper procedures to avoid cross contamination and insure the well-being of our guests. Even on a gluten-free diet, you can enjoy a delicious meal with family and friends a Tuscan Bistro Bar and be secure in the knowledge we have taken the utmost care in providing you with a gluten-free meal. Feel free to contact us with any questions you may have.

Source: Celiac Disease Foundation