A new diagnosis of gluten intolerance will lead to big changes in your life. Not only does it change the way you cook for yourself, or a loved one, it changes the way you dine out.
Consuming gluten when you’re gluten intolerant can have a host of negative immediate and long term affects. Eating gluten when you are gluten intolerant causes the lining of the small intestine to become inflamed which can cause damage that makes it harder for the body to absorb nutrients, this can lead to malnutrition.
When you prepare your own food it’s easier to manage the ingredients that are used. However, when you eat out, restaurants can use a combination of items that are homemade or prepackaged which can lead to confusion about what menu items are truly gluten free.
Not all restaurant servers are completely aware of each ingredient in every product on the menu. It’s up to the dining management team to educate employees on safe gluten practices.
Cross-contamination in kitchens is one of the biggest issues restaurants face when trying to ensure their establishment is “gluten-free friendly.” The best way to reduce the risk of cross-contamination is to politely ask your server a few questions like:
1. Does my dish come in contact with any bread?
2. Is there a separate work space for preparing gluten-free foods?
3. Does the kitchen use separate utensils for preparing gluten-free food?
4. Do you change the oil in the fryer, or use a separate fryer, to prepare gluten-free food?
It’s also important to familiarize yourself with a gluten-free diet; write down grains to avoid and where gluten can hide in food, like in sauces. Also, be sure to tell your server that you’re gluten intolerant.
Restaurants do their best to accommodate various diet restrictions but not everyone knows what gluten is or every food that contains gluten. When you know you’ll be eating out, research the menu ahead of time and see if they offer gluten-free options. Aim to choose restaurants that have been through training and or received certification for their gluten-free practices. You can determine this by calling ahead and speaking to a manager. Online reviews, from websites like Find Me Gluten Free, can help you gain insight into other customer’s experiences with gluten-free menus.
Gluten intolerance requires a significant change in your diet, but doing research and asking questions can help you feel more comfortable dining out.
Brooke Benninger is a Registered Dietitian at University Health Service at the University of Kentucky.