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Living with Dietary Restrictions: Gluten-Free

Image from MorgueFileHave you had a sandwich this week for lunch?  If so, it was probably some type of meat and/or veggies inside a nice thick bun or maybe some delicious doughy bread.  Imagine that same sandwich, only take away the bun or bread and you’d be more accurately describing a meal fit for someone who is gluten-free.  Whether you’re gluten-free by choice or necessity, it can put a crimp in your daily diet, but it’s important to know that it doesn’t mean having to do without. Celiac.com says that “at least 1 in 133 Americans” are affected by Celiac Disease.  Wheat allergies are in the top 8 most common food allergies alongside items like peanuts and shellfish.  There are many more suffering with gluten sensitivities.  With this in mind, much of the food industry has begun to turn over a new leaf and started to offer a much broader range of foods and knowledge to ensure safety and variety for those on a gluten-free diet.

What’s the difference between celiac disease, gluten sensitivity and wheat allergies?

“People with celiac disease who eat foods containing gluten experience an immune reaction in their small intestines, causing damage to the inner surface of the small intestine and an inability to absorb certain nutrients,” is the way Celiac Disease is described by the Mayo Clinic.  While this disease is manageable, if not carefully monitored and properly diagnosed, it could eventually lead to permanent damage to the intestines.  Since this disease is genetic, the American Celiac Disease Alliance encourages, “If someone in your family is diagnosed, it is recommended that first degree relatives (parents, children, siblings) are screened as well. “

Gluten sensitivity, while still painful, poses no long-term physical damage.  Basically, it is an intolerance of the body to digest gluten and while it can cause discomfort in the form of abdominal pain and similar issues, it will not cause any permanent damage and will go away once the gluten is out of the system.

Wheat allergies are more directly associated with a protein found in wheat products, which means it could be possible for sufferers to eat other types of grains.  Like many other allergies the symptoms can range anywhere from mild (an upset stomach) to severe (throat swelling, lowered blood pressure, etc.)

What products should be avoided?

For all three issues you should avoid products containing wheat, rye and barley which includes many types of bread, crackers, pastas, pizza and cookies.   It’s also extremely important to always read food labels to make sure other products don’t contain these ingredients.  According to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN), “Wheat has been found in some brands of ice cream, marinara sauce, play dough, potato chips, rice cakes, and turkey patties, and at least one brand of hot dogs.”

What are some alternatives?

Recently, more and more items have become gluten-free.  There are now breads, cereals, pizzas and other products certified by the FDA as gluten free.  Two such brands that you may find in your local grocery store are Udi’s which specializes in baked goods and Amy’s which offers everything from frozen pastas to soups (with an extra bonus that all products are either organic or made with organic ingredients).  FAAN also gives the suggestion of using items like rice, corn or potato starch flour when baking as a substitute for wheat flour.                       

Eating Gluten-free on the Go

Although it does take some extra planning, eating gluten-free at your favorite restaurant is a possibility.  As mentioned in our post on dairy-free dining, there are many databases like Allergy Eats and Allerdine which allow you to search for restaurants in your area that take special food safety measures for patrons with food allergies.  There’s also a database specifically for gluten-free eating, Gluten-free-onthego.com, that allows you to search for everything from coffee shops to sit-down restaurants all over the world (recently France, Italy, Spain and Mallorca were added to the search areas).  And in case you’re at the grocery and want to know what’s safe to grab, there are also several apps to get your phone thinking gluten-free such as Gluten Free (for Blackberry) and Gluten Free Ingredients (for Android).

Just as in our previous dairy-free post, it’s extremely important to be aware of the possibility of cross-contamination when eating gluten-free.  The easiest way to do this is simply by keeping an open dialogue between yourself and the wait staff and/or management.  Doing this will give you the ability to ask questions and make an informed decision on whether or not an establishment truly does meet the standards for being gluten-free.  In addition to your own guidelines, an advocacy group for the gluten-free community called Celiebo, has presented a certification program to make sure restaurants are as safe as possible for diners.  In an article from Food Service Central, it says that “The Celiebo certification includes training programs, presentations and educational materials to be posted in kitchens detailing the specifics of gluten-free food preparation and ingredients to avoid. Certified establishments will also receive a window decal that states they are a Celiebo Certified Gluten-Free Restaurant™.”  And while this certification is currently only being used in New York City, it plans to eventually expand.

In the meantime, if you’re on the go and curious as to where it’s safe to eat, you can rest assured that there are many options.  Chains like Cheeseburger in Paradise, Bonefish Grill, and Outback Steakhouse (also Dairy-free friendly) all have a variety of options to keep you safe while letting you enjoy a wide selection.  However, restaurants are not your only gluten-free on-the-go dining option.  If you like sports, you’ll be happy to know that many baseball and football concession stands are also joining in on this dining revolution.  Triumph Dining has some great coverage on dining safe while watching your favorite team including what’s offered at some individual stadiums like Tropicana Field and Busch Stadium.


Delicious Gluten-free recipes to try at home

“Lighter than Air” Chocolate Cake

Zucchini Muffins 

How do you or your family members deal with being gluten free?  Please share your story. 

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