If you’re eating a gluten-free diet dining out can be downright intimidating.
In fact, I know more than a few people who’ve sworn off eating out altogether after having had a bad reaction to hidden gluten.
Trust me I understand. After all gluten is linked to some major health issues, and in some people wheat can trigger devastating auto-immune reactions.
But you shouldn’t have to stop being social and give up going out with friends. And while no one can 100 percent guarantee that you’ll never encounter gluten out in the wild, there are a few Steer Clear of the Gluten tricks you can apply to significantly lower your risk of getting “glutened.”
My top 5 Steer Clear of the Gluten Tricks
These 5 simple tips for avoiding gluten when dining out can have you handing in your hermit card and becoming the social butterfly… or the life of the party… once again.
1. Do Your Homework:
Doing some research now can save you from a world of hurt later. Find out if there are any Certified Gluten Free Restaurants in your area. There aren’t a bunch of them yet, but they do exist and you might be lucky enough to have one close to you.
If you strike out there, don’t give up. Some restaurants are starting to offer a gluten-free menu. While the selection might be a bit limited, having the freedom to choose a meal without worry makes it worth it. Check websites and call around to find out if any of the local watering holes have gluten-free offerings.
If you have a favorite spot and they don’t already offer anything gluten free why not suggest to the manager they add a few items? Appeal to his business sense by explaining that 20 percent of people are gluten sensitive, so he might be missing out on some significant business. If there’s no nearby competition he could even end up being the only gluten-free game in town.
Then when it’s your turn to choose the place you’ll know exactly where to suggest.
2. Beware of Gluten Ghosts:
Gluten can be lurking in some of the most unlikely foods, lying in wait ready to strike when you least suspect it. You can be super careful about choosing your meal only to have your hard work undone by one of these Gluten Ghosts.
Beware of these top offenders…
- Salad dressing: Dressings can contain hidden gluten. To be on the safe side always ask your server.
- French fries: For some strange reason many restaurants serve fries that have been dusted with flour before frying. Fried potatoes are bad for you anyway, so just skip the fries to be safe.
- Sauces: Sauces of any kind are a prime hiding spot for Gluten Ghosts. Chefs often use flour as a thickener. If your meal comes with some sort of sauce be sure to ask the server to check with the chef about the ingredients. When in doubt, skip the sauce.
3. Be Sushi (and Chinese food) Savvy:
Sushi is a favorite go to for gluten-free eaters everywhere because the seemingly straightforward and fresh ingredients make it feel safer than many other dining out choices. But there are a few potential trouble spots to keep in mind when you’re doing sushi for dinner
First sushi rice, which seems safe since rice is naturally gluten free, might not be. To make sushi rice your chef typically adds rice vinegar or rice wine, either of which can contain gluten / yeast depending on the brand. Check with your server to be sure.
Soy sauce is NOT a gluten free food. Ask if they have a gluten-free soy sauce. If your server just brings you an unmarked bottle and says it’s gluten-free ask to see the package it came in. Don’t risk it if you’re not sure. Better yet carry along your own bottle and if you have a favorite sushi spot bring them a bottle to keep on hand for you whenever you stop in.
Commercially prepared rice sheets may be dusted with wheat starch so ask to see the package. And the imitation crab meat used in some rolls is typically fish with a wheat binder, so skip the fake crab,
Also keep in mind that a number of commercially bought Chinese food sauces can have wheat in them including hoisin, bean sauce, oyster sauce, and unfermented mirin.
4. Go Against the Grain:
There are a few grains we typically think of as safe and gluten free, but that may not be the case when they’re prepared commercially.
Don’t just assume your brown rice, corn tortilla or other “safe” grain is actually gluten free. Ask your server or the manager to see the packaging.
5. Research and Then Raise an Elbow:
Even if you have a favorite go-to gluten-free drink remember not all alcohol brands are made the same. Just because you can drink wine or rum at home doesn’t mean ordering blindly when out will work out well. Do a little research and know exactly which brands are safe for you, and order them by name when you’re out.
There you have it, 5 tips that can help keep you gluten free whenever you dine out.
Remember, gluten can be hiding in ANY food so don’t be shy about asking. If your server seems a bit unsure nicely ask to chat with the manager.
Don’t worry about offending anyone, simply explain you have a serious wheat allergy and that wheat is often hiding under ingredient names they won’t necessarily recognize (such as Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein or HVP, which is often made with wheat).
For those who aren’t gluten sensitive you might want to consider going wheat-free anyway. Wheat flour in particular is a bad idea since your body’s reaction to it is almost identical to sugar.
One final tip. To be on the safe side you might want to think about taking a supplement that can help you break down and digest any hidden gluten proteins that manage to slip through. I usually recommend one called GI Shield to my own patients.
Do you have any tips for staying gluten free while dining out that I missed? Share them with us in the comments below.
Dr. Masley has received the award of Fellow from three prestigious organizations: the American Heart Association, the American College of Nutrition, and the American Academy of Family Physicians. He is also a Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of South Florida, and he teaches programs at Eckerd College and the University of Tampa. In 2010, he received the physician Health Care Hero award by the Tampa Bay Business Journal, plus he has received several awards for his lifestyle related research. Dr. Masley sees patients from across North America at the Masley Optimal Health Center in St Petersburg, FL.
Dr. Masley has published several health books, including Smart Fat, The 30-Day Heart Tune-Up, and Ten Years Younger, and numerous scientific articles. His work has been featured on the Discovery Channel, the Today Show, Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), plus over 250 media interviews. He also completed a chef internship at the Four Seasons Restaurant in Seattle, WA, and he has performed cooking demonstrations at Canyon Ranch, the Pritikin Longevity Center, and for multiple television appearances.
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