If you’re allergic to gluten or grains, or simply choose to ditch them in the diet, it can be tricky to dine out when you’re not in control of what goes on in the kitchen. For instance, there might be cross-contamination with other foods or lack of labeling where sneaky gluten-containing products are lurking around. (For instance, there’s gluten in soy sauce!)
And while the consequences of contamination differ based on the situation, if you choose to eliminate these types of foods, you shouldn’t have to eat them!
“For example, if a person had celiac disease, even a single molecule of gluten can lead to a massive inflammatory reaction and cause autoimmune components of the disease to flare up,” says Suzanne Dixon, registered dietitian with The Mesothelioma Center in Orlando, Florida. These side effects can be immediate, such as diarrhea within in minutes of gluten exposure, or longer-term, such as hair loss, thyroid dysfunction, rashes, brain fog, and achiness in the joints or gut for days to weeks, she adds. If you don’t have celiac, you might just have sensitivities and notice some discomfort in the gut or bowels, inflammation, and achiness.
Either way, if you’re ditching gluten and grains, keep yourself safe. That’s why it’s so important to educate yourself so you can make wise choices when out and also to communicate with the server and the people you’re dining with, if you’re all sharing dishes. There’s no reason to stay at home and ditch eating out with friends and family—that’s one of the most enjoyable aspects of life! As long as you’re smart about it, you can indulge, socialize, and be totally safe from gluten and grains. Here are some great tips for dining out without the hassle.
Tips for Dining Out When You're Gluten- or Grain-Free
Choose a Restaurant that’s Gluten-free
There’s nothing wrong with eating at a gluten-free restaurant—most have great food and you’ll be totally safe. “If you have celiac disease, pick a restaurant that is 100% gluten-free. If you know an establishment caters just to people who must avoid gluten, gluten-containing grains or other foods won't come through the door,” she says.
Of course, you won’t always be at a gluten-free eatery, but it doesn’t hurt to suggest it! You can also go to places that do offer gluten and grain products but indicate which dishes are gluten-free on the menu. Those should be OK, but you can also tell the waiter that you cannot be exposed to gluten or grains and to confirm with the chef.
It’s OK to be that person who asks a million questions before ordering on the menu! You should definitely tell the waiter that you’re allergic to gluten and grains if you choose to not eat them in your diet, as this will make it a more pressing matter to the kitchen and they’ll be sure to avoid cross-contamination.
A few questions might be: Do you have a designated gluten-free prep area in the kitchen? Is the staff trained in avoiding cross-contamination between gluten-free and regular food items? Do you have separate prep utensils and small appliances (knives, spoons, blenders, mixers) for gluten/grain-free menu items and regular dishes? Is there anything you'd recommend to me if I want to avoid gluten and grains?
Order Meat if Possible
If you aren’t vegan, go ahead and order that steak or chicken dish. If you’re cutting gluten or grains, you’ll be more likely to naturally avoid them in meat and fish dishes, rather than carb-focused, cheese, or Asian meals. (For Asian recipes, inform the kitchen so you can avoid soy sauce, MSG, and other potential offenders from their cooking process).
Meat and healthy veggie-focused spots tend to have lots of grain-free and gluten-free options, even among the sides and appetizer, she says.
Bring a Snack in Your Bag
If you’re heading out to eat, it’s always a great idea to come prepared just in case you can’t find something on the menu. That way, you can enjoy the good company and avoid that “hangry” sensation. Think snack food—protein bars, hummus or guacamole and vegetables, turkey and cheese wraps, and portable shakes. These items will fill you up and be discreet at the table.
Isadora Baum is a freelance writer, certified health coach, and author of 5-Minute Energy. She can't resist a good sample, a margarita, a new HIIT class, or an easy laugh. She writes for various magazines, such as Men's Health, Women's Health, SELF, LIVESTRONG, POPSUGAR, Allure, Health, Cooking Light, and more. Learn more about her on her website: isadorabaum.com.