Asking these questions in advance and when ordering can help make dining out on a gluten-free diet easier.
For people with celiac disease, an inherited autoimmune disorder, following a lifelong gluten-free diet is the only treatment available for their disease. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley (malt) and rye. If you have celiac disease and consume gluten, this causes damage to the gastrointestinal tract, specifically in the small intestine. Symptoms of celiac disease can include gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, gas and bloating. Symptoms also can extend beyond intestinal, like fatigue, joint pain or headaches. Celiac disease is associated with as many as 200-300 different symptoms. For most people with celiac disease, their symptoms are made worse by ingestion of gluten, and avoiding gluten while eating outside of the home can be especially difficult.
Here are 4 steps to follow that can help make dining out on a gluten-free diet easier:
Step 1: Know which foods contain gluten.
A full understanding of the gluten-free diet is important in order to dine out safely. Knowing which grains to avoid and hidden sources of gluten make navigating the menu easier and can be helpful in case you need to explain the gluten-free diet parameters to the wait staff. Finding a doctor who is a celiac specialist and working with a trained registered dietician can help to increase your knowledge of the gluten-free diet.
Step 2: Choose the right restaurant.
Choose a restaurant that serves naturally gluten-free foods, has a gluten-free menu or serves foods that can easily be modified to be gluten-free. It can be easiest to review the menu online before making your decision. Once you have a restaurant in mind, call during non-busy hours to discuss the menu choices. Questions you can ask over the phone include:
- Do you have a gluten-free menu or serve gluten-free menu items?
- If yes, what steps do you take to ensure the food your serving is gluten-free?
Step 3: Communicate with staff.
When you arrive at the restaurant, tell the staff that you have celiac disease and will become very ill if you consume gluten. If they don’t understand what foods contain gluten, give a brief explanation using your knowledge of the gluten-free diet or use a restaurant card that outlines the diet.
Step 4: Be cautious of cross-contamination.
Cross-contamination is the exposure of a gluten-free food item to something that contains gluten. Because eating gluten, even a crumb, can cause symptoms for people with celiac disease, it’s important to be thorough in asking about areas of risk in the restaurant’s kitchen. Here are three scenarios of potential cross-contamination and questions you can ask:
- If you’re ordering something fried you might want to ask: Do you have a dedicated gluten-free fryer? If not, it would be wise to choose another menu item that isn’t fried.
- If you’re ordering something grilled you might want to ask: Do you have a separate grill for gluten-free items? If not, it would be wise to ask them to place tin foil underneath your meal.
- If you’re ordering something toasted you might want to ask: Do you use a shared toaster? If so, it would be wise to choose another menu item that isn’t toasted.
If you think you may have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance, the Vanderbilt Celiac Disease Clinic can help. The clinic sees patients with new, existing or difficult diagnoses of celiac disease. Click here or call 615-322-0128.