About four months ago I converted to a Paleo lifestyle, which is eating as our hunter and gather ancestors did with lean meats, wild caught seafood, fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, and healthy fats like avocado, coconut, and olive oils. Through this transition, which also eliminates all dairy and grains, I discovered intolerances to these substances that I did not even know I possessed. In these few short months, my body has healed, and I am enjoying a renewed sense of health and a life free from painful bloating, irritable bowels, indigestion, and joint inflammation.
If you also need to follow a gluten free diet, you are not alone. More people are discovering the same issues, and as many as 1 in 133 people surprisingly suffer from gluten intolerance. Take the recent Mrs. USA 2011, Shannon Ford, for example. She found out, sort of by accident, that she suffered from celiac disease after hearing of the 300 symptoms of celiac and gluten sensitivity. She then graciously used her platform as Mrs. USA to help educate the public about this disease and increase awareness.
Like Ford, now that I know what triggers my allergies, I avoid even the smallest exposure. According to Rob Wolf, the author of The Paleo Solution: The Original Human Diet, completely eliminating gluten is absolutely necessary in order for your body to heal. Every single exposure, no matter how small, can cause irritation and uncomfortable symptoms for up to 30 days.
I find it easy to remain gluten and grain free at home, but what about when dining out? I have encountered a variety of awareness levels among servers and proprietors during my quest, so I am sure others face the same struggles. Let me share some of my gluten-free dining experience with you and provide some tips on how to make ensuring that your dietary restrictions are met a little more certain.
Ask the host for the gluten-free menu
Ii is always best to call ahead and make a reservation if possible. This will give you a chance to let the restaurant know of your particular dietary restrictions. I recently did this at Bonefish Grill in Jacksonville Beach, Fl and not only were they very willing to accommodate, they even gave me a reduced price on my meal.
If you do not have time to call ahead, asking for the menu as soon as you arrive, to peruse while you wait, will give you a good idea how the rest of the night will go. If the host has no idea what you are talking about it might be best to go elsewhere. Some restaurants like Red Lobster and Boston’s, however, go above and beyond, providing guests with all-inclusive allergen menus upon request, which list each potential allergen in each dish.
Immediately inform your server
As soon as your server arrives to take your drink order alert him or her of your special needs, placing special emphasis on your specific allergy, and the importance of strict adherence. Ask your server what precautions the kitchen takes to avoid cross-contamination. If the staff is educated, this will be an easy question to answer. If he or she does not know, ask for the manager.
Stick to the basics
It is always easier to sidestep hidden ingredients if you just avoid them from the start. Tamara Duker Freuman, a NYC-based registered dietitian whose clinical practice specializes in digestive disorders, stresses the importance of having a working knowledge of all the possible sources of hidden gluten. She says that even the minute crumbs from preparing other dishes can contaminate work surfaces.
Do not be afraid to ask for what you need. Make sure to ask that all your food items, especially salads, be tossed and prepared alone in clean dishes and pans. Also, ask for olive oil and vinegar for your salad. Salad dressings, soy and other sauces, and condiments are a likely source of hidden gluten.
If you stick to the basics when ordering, with items like steaks, plain chicken breasts, fresh fish, or seafood steamed or grilled in olive oil or clarified butter, and steamed vegetables it should easily all go your way. Just make sure to stress no sauces or added seasonings. With these tips, you should have an easier gluten free experience, and still be able to enjoy dining out with family and friends.