tips for eating (safely) gluten-free
It's no secret: I have Celiac Disease, and NO it is not fun. As someone who has to strictly avoid gluten and cross-contamination for the sake of my health, I have learned some sneaky ways that gluten commonly hides. I receive a ton of messages from other newly-diagnosed celiac people and I wanted to try and compile an easy resource of what to look out for. Obviously, we know which grains are not gluten free (wheat, barley, rye, etc.) but there are many specific tips I wanted to share! This is everything I wish I knew when I was diagnosed. Hopefully it's helpful to a small handful of you :-)
Potatoes are gluten free, right? YES! But oftentimes, potatoes are fried in a shared fryer at restaurants. So are things like tortilla chips, non-breaded wings, crispy salad toppings, etc. Some restaurants are incredibly careful and have *separate* fryers for gluten-filled and gluten-free items, but many do not. For this reason, I always ask if dishes contain any fried ingredients and if they are prepared in the same oil as gluten ingredients. TIP - at Mexican restaurants I oftentimes bring my own bagged tortilla chips. As long as I order guac nobody seems to mind :-)
Oh my, soy sauce seems to be in so many ALMOST gluten-free dishes. Soy Sauce has a gluten-free cousin also known as tamari, which is nice. However, oftentimes the glutenous version is used in asian dishes. Soy sauce is also commonly found in marinades, so ask before eating that delicious BBQ!
Ground Meat (Burgers, Meatballs, Meatloaf, oh my!)
I first thought that if I ordered a burger lettuce wrapped, it should be ok... right? If the restaurant is a purist, yes. But oftentimes restaurants will mix in breadcrumbs with ground meats to help improve texture and "hold it together". Always ask before ordering that burger patty. I find this is most common in meatballs and meatloaf.
Pan Sear -- BEWARE
You know when you order that delicious steak, chicken breast or fish filet with the golden pan-seared crust? I learned the hard way that some chefs utilize a dash of flour at times to help with that picture-worthy sear. I always double check that no flour is used to dust the filets before cooking.
Beer, Not Just a Drink
Back to marinades-- here is another way they can be risky. Some chefs like to use a splash of beer for an additional flavor profile to their meats. Also, beer-focused restaurants (like breweries) often like to infuse beer into sauces, dips, cheeses and batters.
Know What Dishes Start with a Roux
The more I learn about cooking, the more roux dishes I add to my "be cautious" list. I'm from Texas so Queso is a go-to starter, but oftentimes it starts with a little flour and butter for that luscious texture. Sadly, a lot of sauces utilize this method to help them thicken up. Make sure your soup, chowder, sauce or dip doesn't contain that! (PS, did you know even gumbo traditionally has a roux?)
Yeah, you read that right. Gluten-free is *trendy* (sigh, don't even get me started on that), so many restaurants will offer gluten free pastas. Some pasta dishes are even naturally gluten-free such as some gnocchi recipes. HOWEVER, some restaurants have an ongoing pot of boiling water to quickly cook the pasta. You might want to ensure that your dish is made in a fresh pot of water to avoid cross-contamination. (Also, some dishes use a bit of pasta water in sauces for the starch's ability to thicken, much like a roux. Double check that as well!)
I know, I know. This is REALLY complicating things. Did you know not all vinegar is gluten-free? Malt vinegar is derived from barley malt and can be found in pickled items, sauces, dressings, etc. Usually, I avoid eating pickled foods out of the house because many restaurants do not pickle their own veggies and won't confidently be able to tell me what vinegar mixes were used.
Vegetarian or Vegan? Watch out for Seitan
I try to limit my meat consumption, but vegan protein alternatives can be risky. Tofu is gluten-free in nature (un-prepared) but other alternatives such as seitan and tempeh can have gluten as a source of protein and to act as a binder. I usually go for name brand alternatives like Impossible Patty or Beyond Meat because I know their ingredient list like the back of my hand!
Fluffy Scrambled Eggs
This is a sneaky trick that some chefs use: in breakfast restaurants sometimes a kitchen will add pancake batter or flour to thicken scrambles and omelettes. It gives the eggs that textbook fluffy texture. Oftentimes, I suggest ordering over-easy or sunny side up to avoid this risk altogether.
Lastly, Don't Be Ashamed
I know, it can be embarrassing to draw attention to your needs in public. With the rise of "gluten-intolerance" I often feel like nobody will take my risk seriously. I tell servers that I have *CELIAC* and yes, it is different from an intolerance. If the server seems confused, I ask them to treat it as an extreme allergy. As a people pleaser, this was hard for me to get over. Ultimately, your health comes first! You aren't alone!
I hope this was helpful, but I know it can be overwhelming. Together we will get through this, eat out and enjoy living life <3