Three and a half years ago, I made the choice to give up eating foods containing gluten. This decision was not made easily, as bread is definitely at the top of my list of favorite foods! I had been advised by a nutritionist that gluten was causing inflammation in my system, preventing me from being able to lose weight. It was also, as I found out later, responsible for much of my intestinal discomfort, including heartburn, indigestion and other tummy troubles. Immediately after giving up gluten in my diet, I was able to lose fifteen pounds and get off a prescribed medication I had been taking for heartburn for the past five years.
Gluten sensitivity or gluten intolerance is a spectrum of disorders that can range from Celiac disease and wheat allergy, to sensitivity in which gluten has an adverse effect on the body in varying degrees. These adverse effects cause permanent changes in the intestinal lining, causing symptoms of bloating, abdominal pain or discomfort, diarrhea, muscular, bone and joint pain. Those diagnosed with Celiac disease must not eat gluten under any circumstances. If you find yourself experiencing some of the effects of gluten sensitivity, you may not have to be quite as careful, but may find your symptoms worsening after eating gluten-containing foods. It is estimated that 30% of us have made the decision to eat gluten-free.
Gluten is a protein composite found in wheat and other grains, including barley and rye, and processed goods made with these ingredients. It is also found in products you might not expect such as candy, soy and other sauces, salad dressings and other prepared foods. This is why it can be especially difficult to eat in restaurants for people avoiding gluten. It’s fairly obvious that I should avoid foods like crabcakes and crabcake stuffings (also personal faves), gravies, sauces and soups that may use flour as a thickening agent, and foods that are breaded (almost the entire appetizer menu in some restaurants), but gluten is an ingredient often found in unexpected places. So in the interest of educating those who may be starting out on this journey, I’m sharing some of my favorite tips for avoiding gluten when eating outside the home:
1. Check with the restaurant before you visit either by calling or checking the menu on their website. Many chain restaurants are offering gluten-free menus now. For a list of restaurants that have a gluten-free menu or gluten-free options, visit http://www.glutenfreeregistry.com.
2. Stick to more basic dishes such as steak, roasted chicken, or grilled or broiled fish, unless you know for sure that the dish is prepared without flour or breading. Choose restaurants that are likely to offer these options. An Italian restaurant is probably the most difficult for avoiding gluten. You are better off preparing Italian dishes at home.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask your server for suggestions or to have them check with the chef to see if the item you wish to order can be prepared without gluten-containing products. If you are Celiac, ask about cross contamination, for example, ask if the french fries cooked in the same oil as breaded products.
4. Try not to go out extremely hungry so you can take the time to focus on making good choices. Bring your own gluten free bread or crackers to munch on while you’re waiting for dinner to be served, especially if your dining companions will be enjoying the bread basket.
5. Be prepared to eat something that won’t necessarily be your first choice. Because you may not always be with dining companions who are supportive of your lifestyle, you may find yourself in a restaurant without suitable options. In that case, you may need to ask for a simple grilled chicken breast or piece of fish to be prepared for you with steamed vegetables.
6. Safe dessert choices will most likely be ice cream, sherbert or sorbet. Some restaurants may offer a flourless chocolate cake.
Eating out while maintaining a gluten-free lifestyle can be challenging, but with a little preparation and a desire to protect your health, you do not have to give up the enjoyment and social aspects of restaurant eating.
If you have given up gluten, what tips can you offer for successful restaurant eating?
Karen Jaffe is a health and weight loss coach, having lost 25 pounds in 1985 by revamping her comfort-food lifestyle and adding in regular physical activity. After a 20-year stint at Weight Watchers, where she created her own online forum as a way to share healthy recipes with her members, Karen set out on her own as a Take Shape for Life Coach, guiding and supporting clients on the Medifast weight loss program. As a result of her diagnosis of gluten sensitivity in 2009, Karen continues to seek out healthy and satisfying ways to eliminate gluten from her diet. You can usually find her in the kitchen on Sunday mornings, planning and preparing healthy, but simple gluten-free meals for the week. Karen has a passion for proving that a healthy weight is possible for everyone regardless of their lifestyle or cooking ability. She lives in Long Branch with her husband Glenn. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.