The gluten-free (GF) diet is one that avoids all types of gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and other grains. It acts as a type of glue that helps foods stick together and maintain their shape. Unfortunately for those avoiding it, gluten is in many foods you wouldn't expect.
Foods you may not know contain gluten include:
- Ice cream
- Soy sauce
- Candy bars
- French fries (when they are not fried in a dedicated fryer)
- Salad dressing
Some who maintain a GF diet are allergic to gluten or have an immune response to gluten. The latter condition is called celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that affects one out of every 100 people around the globe. When someone with celiac ingests gluten, their immune system responds with an attack that damages the small intestine, an organ essential for nutrient absorption.
Some people on the GF diet aren't allergic to gluten. However, they find avoiding the protein provides relief from gastrointestinal issues. According to one study, around 18 million people in the U.S. have some form of non-celiac gluten sensitivity. They claim a GF diet can circumvent symptoms like bloating, gas, fatigue, headaches and more.
If you're on a GF diet, dining out is a little tricky — but not impossible. Follow the guide below to put date night back on the menu.
How to Dine Out on a GF Diet
The best way to successfully dine out on a GF diet is to know what foods are gluten-free.
You'll need to avoid most kinds of grains, cereals, bread, and noodles. However, you still have a range of alternatives to enjoy. Fruits are an excellent starting point, as they're naturally sweet and delicious. Try fresh or canned fruit like watermelon, apples or peaches. You can also eat dried fruits like pineapple, mango, and figs.
Vegetables are a fundamental part of any diet. As a rule of thumb, produce does not have gluten unless it's added during the manufacturing process. Fresh veggies are always a healthy, safe choice. Try out carrots, green beans, or peas. For a crunchy snack, try dried chickpeas.
Meats and fish, as long as not fried with a flour batter, are gluten-free. However, some marinades and dipping sauces may contain gluten. If you're dining out, ask the server for all sauces on the side. Be aware that deli meats, imitation seafood, and hot dogs may contain gluten.
Don't be afraid to chow down on your favorite dairy products, like butter, cream, and cheese. While plain ice cream is safe to eat, some may have added gluten products, like cookie chunks.
Certain grains and starches are also gluten-free. If you want to fill up on grains while dining out, look for corn, millet, rice, sorghum or quinoa. Gluten-free starches are less common, but still available, with options like yucca, cassava, arrowroot, and chickpeas. You can look for nut based foods as well, as they are all gluten-free.
Tips for Gluten-Free Dining Success
Now you know what's safe to eat. However, the real trick is getting through your first restaurant experience. To do so without issue, follow the five tips below.
1. Research Your Restaurant
If you're on a GF diet, it will do a world of good to research your dining options before you go. Many restaurants cater to those with dietary restrictions. If you can't find information on their website, read through online reviews or call the restaurant directly.
Be aware that most fast food or grab-and-go establishments rarely have enough time to check prep areas and ingredients thoroughly. Opt for sit-down restaurants with a less-hurried atmosphere. Even there, try to dine before or after busy times to avoid rushed mishaps.
2. Talk to the Staff
Once you arrive, you must inform your waiter of your dietary restrictions. Politely explain what celiac disease is and what you're unable to eat. If possible, ask to speak to the manager or chef.
Questions you may want to ask the staff include:
- Are the mashed potatoes instant?
- Are the french fries tossed in flour or fried in the same fryer as battered foods?
- Is the meat marinated in any sauce?
- Is imitation crab meat or seafood used?
- Is there wheat or flour in the salad dressing?
You should also ask about cross-contamination, which can happen when gluten-free foods are prepared on the same surfaces — or with the same utensils — as other items.
3. Keep Your Options Open
Unfortunately, when you're gluten-free and want to dine out, you have fewer options than others. Gluten is in a lot of food — it's a simple fact of life. However, you can still have a fantastic time if you keep yourself open to new foods and experiences.
For example, you sit down hoping to find a gluten-free pasta dish, but to no avail. Still, you can try tasty coconut lime chicken or cream cheese chicken taquitos. Many of today's modern restauranteurs of aware of dietary restrictions like gluten-free. If you do your research, you're sure to find options that cater to the GF diet, including specialty bread, pasta, and desserts.
4. Listen to Your Instincts
When in doubt, don't eat a suspicious meal. The staff might be swamped or have issues communicating with diners. You should always try to get verbal confirmation when given a dish by asking, "This is gluten-free, right?"
If you can't get confirmation, or you're still suspicious, don't eat it. Not everyone is an expert on celiac disease, even if they professionally prepare or handle food. You have to monitor what goes into your body to ensure you're in tip-top health. If you don't feel a dish is safe to eat, politely send it back and request something else — or try your luck elsewhere.
5. Send Out Your Praise
If you have a good experience dining out, let the staff know. It's not easy to cater to specific dietary restrictions, especially when juggling multiple requests at once. The team, including the chef, will be glad to hear their efforts paid off.
You shouldn't expect a waiter or staff to be aware of what celiac disease is. Always try to be courteous and forgiving, especially with unintentional mistakes. When a restaurant knocks it out of the park, write them a review online to let other celiacs know where to stop.
The Ultimate Guide to Dining Out on a GF Diet
A GF diet doesn't mean you can't enjoy a night out with your friends. It means you have to be knowledgeable about what's safe to eat. The good news is most people have heard of celiac disease and gluten intolerance. It's easier than ever to find tasty gluten-free options when out and about.