If you are on a gluten-free diet because you have been recently diagnosed with celiac disease, the idea of being able to eat out safely is probably terrifying. Even if your wish to eat gluten-free is simply a lifestyle choice and not a medical necessity, it is important to find the best restaurants and menu choices for your gluten-free diet. Fortunately, many restaurants and fast food establishments now offer gluten-free menus to meet customer demand.
Safe Dining Precautions
If you visit a restaurant that does not have a dedicated gluten-free menu, you will need to take a few extra steps to make sure your food is safe:
- Call ahead of time to ask about familiarity with gluten-free cooking. If you are not comfortable with the answers you receive or the restaurant's willingness to learn, choose another place to eat.
- Do not choose a busy time to eat; mistakes are more common then.
- Ask to speak to the manager and/or chef along with your server. Explain the basics of the gluten-free diet and the need to avoid cross-contamination.
- Ask for foods to be prepared separately whenever possible.
- Review the restaurant's website to see if an ingredient list is published on it. If so, study it ahead of time or print it to take with you.
- Review the menu, select potential dishes and ask about ingredients.
- If you have a smartphone, download an app that contains a list of gluten-free brands to refer to if needed.
- Check table tops, napkins and any other common surfaces that may have come in to contact with the last customer's gluten-containing items to ensure they are clean.
Gluten-Free Ordering Guidelines
If you know what kind of foods and brands are safe to eat, you will have an easier time navigating a new menu to find dishes that are gluten-free or can be prepared gluten-free with simple modifications.
The easiest foods to make gluten-free are grilled, broiled or pan-fried with simple seasonings. A good rule of thumb is to start by looking at the healthiest entrees; a simple grilled piece of fish or beef with vegetables is likely to be gluten-free if the seasoning or sauce is safe.
Safe ordering considerations to keep in mind include:
- Avoid anything that is breaded or battered.
- Keep all condiments and sauces on the side, or request they be left off your meal.
- Do not order cream sauces, as they are often thickened with flour or include other gluten-containing ingredients.
- Remember that soy sauce is not gluten-free, so stay away from foods marinated in it or that contain it.
- Many soups, particularly those that start with a base, may contain gluten.
- If you order a salad, be sure to ask for no croutons and make sure your salad is tossed in a clean bowl.
- As a general rule, do not order anything deep-fried. Many restaurants fry both breaded and non-breaded foods in the same oil so even gluten-free foods such as French fries could be contaminated.
- Beware of hidden gluten in the menu and ingredients. Look for words like "modified food starch" and "maltodexterin", as they may contain gluten.
Be an Advocate
Never be afraid to speak up when ordering gluten-free at a restaurant. After all, your health is at stake. Use your own discretion if a situation makes you nervous or unsure about the safety of a food you are served.
Do not eat anything that you suspect may not be gluten-free and talk to the manger about your concerns. Be respectful but firm. A good restaurant will want to keep your business, especially if you are polite about your needs.