Eating out while traveling can be difficult when you have to follow a gluten-free diet, but it is possible! I use a three part game plan: research, prepare, and ask questions, with the ultimate goal of enjoying my companions, surroundings and adventures without stress.
It helps to know a little about the culture and food habits of your destination. Explore online and in travel books, talk to people you know who live there or have traveled there, and check in with some gluten-free websites (see resources, below).
Next, look up restaurants, markets, and stores before your trip to see if they carry foods and beverages you can eat. You do not have to have special GF products; plan to eat a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains (other than wheat, barley, rye and oats!), dairy (milk, milk substitutes, and yogurt), lean proteins (fish, game meat, beef, chicken and other poultry if possible), and healthy fats (olives, avocadoes, and vegetable oils). Be cautious with nuts, seeds, oats, and sauces that my have cross-contact with gluten.
Because your choices of some foods may be limited (see above caution with nuts and seeds, for example), plan to take your own. Pack containers (small or large, depending on your travel method and length of trip) of safe GF nuts and seeds, rice cakes, crackers, popcorn, trail mix, and dried fruit. If you can take a cooler, pack yogurt, cheese, fruit, pre-cut vegetables, and even hummus and salsa if you like to dip.
Throughout your trip, do not hesitate to ask questions about foods and ingredients. It may not be helpful to ask “Is this gluten-free” but rather “Can you please tell me the ingredients?”.
Also be sure to ask if you are allowed to take your own food or beverage along, especially on flights, trains, busses, tours, and inside any building.
Ask questions in a way that is polite and non-demanding. As you know, there are people who follow a gluten-free diet to be trendy or other non-medical reasons, so employees, hosts or tour guides may not take your request seriously unless you are sincere and friendly.
You know I am all about sharing resources rather than deluging you with information, so here are my suggestions for more information.
Celiac Disease Foundation: Traveling Gluten-Free
Beyond Celiac: The Basics of Gluten-free travel
Karen Broussard: Gluten Free Travel Blog
Gluten Intolerance Group: Traveling Gluten-Free
It seems like everyone I know has a sourdough starter, a hobby inspired by the pandemic and countless wonderful social media posts and pictures. While I am a big fan of sourdough bread and various sourdough products (pancakes, biscuits, crackers…), it isn’t something that can be safely eaten by someone with celiac disease or nonceliac gluten sensitivity.
Why, then, it is often promoted as harmless for someone avoiding gluten? Because of misinformation and misunderstanding of the fermentation process. Fermentation is the process of breaking down a substance (in this case, flour, but could also apply to grains to make beer or other food substances) by microorganisms – you know, little bacteria and yeasts that love to feed on carbohydrates to produce a foaming mixture of carbon dioxide and bubbles. What’s exciting about fermenting food is the production of beneficial microorganisms that act as prebiotics and probiotics to aid our digestion and overall health.
In making sourdough bread, here is how fermentation occurs: flour and water are mixed together and left to sit for a day or two. Enzymes in the flour start to break down its starches into smaller chains of carbohydrates and sugars, producing yeast and bacteria, mostly beneficial lactobacilli. The dough starts to sour, creating a lower pH that causes harmful bugs to disappear while yeast and good bacteria continue to grow, along with gas bubbles and a fruit (some would say vinegary) smell. The baker adds more flour and water over a few days, allowing the starter culture to continue to develop.
If you like science, click here for a good Food for Thought article from NPR.
With all this said, homemade sourdough bread is a nice alternative to other breads, as it contains beneficial prebiotics, a simple unprocessed listed of ingredients (flour, water and salt), and a variety of nutrients such as protein, vitamins and minerals.
But for gluten-free eaters, there is still gluten present that can cause problems, whether you have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Research is a mixed bag. Most scientists say we don’t have enough information, and remind us that the symptoms of gluten reactions in the body may be undetectable. Some older small studies found limited negative impact, while other more recent studies don’t recommend it. One explains that gluten content in fermented foods cannot be quantified (published paper here), calling for additional research before conclusions are made.
A nice option is making gluten-free sourdough bread! You can make your baked goods with GF flours such as millet, oat, brown rice, and tapioca flour, or even a 1-for-1 GF flour, as long as you use a GF starter. There are several GF sourdough starter recipes online; here are three I recommend (I don’t get paid by these companies!):
If you have celiac disease, you should avoid gluten in any form, including sourdough bread made with gluten containing flour. If you have non-celiac gluten intolerance and feel confident in your ability to recognize symptoms, start with a small serving of sourdough bread to determine your reactions. In both cases, talk to your doctor or dietitian for additional information.
When you eat out, it is important to ask your server if items are gluten-free and not in contact with gluten-containing foods. In an article published this week, the Food Institute acknowledged challenges faced by gluten-free diners, and encouraged restaurants to take steps to make it easier for those diners to eat out.
It is notable that in a survey of people who eat gluten-free, 85% said eating out safely was their biggest challenge. I can identify with that! Sometimes there are gluten-free items on the menu, but more often there are puzzled looks from the wait staff when I ask if they have a gluten-free option.
Here are recommendations for the restaurant industry, made by the Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) organization:
Hope is in the air! Soon, eating out will be easier and less stressful for gluten-free diners!
As you focus on keeping your intake gluten-free, don’t forget that your overall health is important!
Our immune system works hard to fight off viruses, bacteria, and other invaders. It’s at work in your digestive tract, skin, eyes, nose, lungs, lymph system, blood cells, and more. Our diet place an important role, meaning what we eat can strengthen our immunity.
Find out more about immunity and inflammation in my new book, Eat to Defeat Viruses: A Nutritionist’s Guide to Strengthening Your Immunity. You’ll find new motivation to be the healthiest you.
You can order it here, and be sure to leave a review if you like it!
I love peanuts and peanut butter. A good source of protein and healthy fats, they were a staple of my intake growing up and even as an adult. Until recently. Once I became sensitive to gluten and went through an elimination and reintroduction diet, I realized that some nuts (peanuts and almonds) and their nut butters (peanut butter and almond butter) were making me sick, causing the gluten symptoms that are unique to me. You have your own symptoms, and hopefully you are in tune with what they feel like so you can quickly identify their source.
I think I am pretty sensitive to the gluten in these particular foods, because I get symptoms even with brands that other gluten-free bloggers and educators say are typically safe. You really have to figure out what works or does not work for you.
So began my search for gluten-free nuts and nut butters. Peanuts and other nuts are gluten-free in their natural forms. If you were lucky enough to grown them or pick them yourself, you wouldn’t have to worry about gluten! Natural nut butters, that contain just the nut with no extras, are most likely to be gluten-free, but still, you have to watch out because the nuts or the nut butter may have been processed with wheat to prevent clumping or may have been processed in a facility that also processes wheat, so they have a high risk of cross-contact.
Depending on the brand, some peanut butters and almond butters have additional ingredients that may contain gluten; these would be ingredients beyond the basics, beyond the peanuts or almonds, oil, sugar or other sweetener, and salt.
Most grocery stores do have brands of gluten-free butter that are safe to eat. Look for the gluten-free label, check the list of ingredients, and call the manufacturer if you still are not sure. Then, by process of elimination, you can find one that works for you.
For suggestions, check out these Top Brands of Gluten-Free Peanut Butter and other Gluten Free Nut Butter Brands.
Are you still confused about gluten, as in, should you be eating it or should be on a gluten-free diet? Tufts University provides a good discussion in their Health & Nutrition Letter here.
I hope you enjoyed the previous three blogs about new and nutritious gluten-free breakfast, lunch and dinner ideas! Now make them even easier by committing to meal prep - making your meals ahead of time so that you don't have to rush to make them when you are starving!
In addition to meal prep, try these amazing meal plans and recipes from Celiac Disease Foundation: Gluten Free 7-Day Meal Plan.
Happy and healthy eating!
As you have probably realized by now, this blog is not intended to be a go-to site for recipes. I love to cook, and I cook every day, but I experiment and use a wing-it approach based on years of trial and error, cooking with my husband and kids, collecting cookbooks, and reading a variety of other people’s recipes. So I like to share tips and ideas with you; you can then search for specific recipes or experiment in your own way.
Besides, as a dietitian and educator, my job is to help you learn to develop confidence in your:
I encourage you to work on just a few easy dinner ideas. You will feel so successful, not to mention satisfied, to know you can whip up a balanced meal that is flavorful and nutritious.
For example, let’s say you decide to learn to make a simple pork stir-fry, beef chili, GF spaghetti with tomato sauce, scrambled egg dinner, and baked chicken.
Once you have mastered these five dishes, I encourage you to make substitutions so that you have more variety AND add more (and more and more) vegetables! Here we go…
1. Pork stir-fry with onions, broccoli, and celery
2. Beef chili (chili con carne)
3. Gluten-free spaghetti with tomato sauce
4. Scrambled eggs
5. Baked chicken breasts
When I try a new recipe, I make notes on the changes I make and any I want to make in the future. That way I can work on making the meal healthier, tastier, and easier with my own style. I’m sure you can do the same.
Wishing you a delicious dinner, with a brisk walk and positive thinking for dessert.
I grew up on PBJ sandwiches for lunch, with the occasional lunch meat sandwich thrown in for variety. As an adult, especially one who is gluten sensitive, I am more interested in sandwich-free lunches these days. I see this meal as an opportunity to fit in some nutrient-rich vegetables, too, since it’s hard to get enough at dinner and snack time. Naturally, then, a variety of salads are my favorite lunches. Close behind, though, are lunches built around last night’s dinner – easy to make and a good way to clean out the fridge.
With no gluten in sight, try these easy lunch salads or spruced up leftovers.
1. Spinach Salad
2. ABC Salad
3. BLT Salad
4. Caprese Salad
5. Leftover Rice and Veggie Bowl
6. Leftover Potato Bowl
7. Leftover Chicken Bowl
Hoping you enjoy your lunch, with plenty of water and fresh air.
Did you know that year after year, surveys show the most popular breakfasts in the U.S. are grain-based? Waffles, pancakes, toast, bagels, danishes, donuts, cold cereal, poptarts, pastries, breakfast bars, English muffins, scones, and the list goes on!
Sometimes, just thinking about those foods can make a gluten-free diet seem unfair. Other times, impossible.
There are many gluten-free alternatives to popular breakfast foods (e.g. GF waffles, breads, and bars); I have seen and tried many of them, and they are usually just as tasty as the gluten-containing originals. I also make my own granola using GF oats, and have talked in previous blogs about making my own GF pancakes and waffles.
But a better use of my time has been exploring breakfasts that do not have grain-based foods at all. I find that I usually feel more satisfied, feel full longer, and have more energy if I skip the gluten-free grains above, because many of them have extra sugar and fat that I don’t really want or need.
In that spirit, with a nod to good health, I share a week’s worth of my favorite gluten-free breakfasts. Feel free to share yours, too!
Wishing you the best of health and a happy Spring!
What does a dietitian, nutritionist, and health professional do when she discovers she has to avoid gluten? I mean, avoid it to prevent painful symptoms, not to follow a trend!