Contributed by Sarah Lewis
Picture this: you’re at a party enjoying the gluten-free salsa and corn tortilla chips and someone walks by and dips their pretzel/cracker/bread right into that salsa. Boom, cross-contamination.
Or, it’s time to collect communion at church and you get odd stares for either not going up, or crossing your arms over your chest when you near the pastor.
Or, you’re at a restaurant and to be safe you order a salad, but it arrives with croutons, even though you specifically asked for none. The waiter simply removes them and hands the salad back to you.
Living life in a gluten-filled world when you’re trying to live gluten-free is tough. Everywhere you turn, it seems there is gluten invading your gluten-free lifestyle. Here are a few hints and tips to navigate through some social settings:
Plan ahead and Assume Nothing
Whenever you are invited to a social gathering of any kind, assume that you won’t be able to eat anything. Eat ahead of time or bring food with you. It’s always tough to trust that the food at a restaurant or someone’s house will be safe.
Whether it’s a house party, a happy hour, or a wedding, it can be beneficial to call ahead to see what the dining options are. However, most of the time, the people you speak to don’t fully understand gluten free. They may offer foods that are inherently gluten free, but without thinking of preparation or sauces, these foods still may not be safe to eat.
For the most part, people have good intentions, but they don’t always understand how restrictive a gluten-free diet can be. A friend suggesting hibachi sounds great. Meat, veggies and rice should all be gluten-free, right? Well, no, given that most soy sauce contains gluten.
Know the food
While most people understand that bread and pasta are synonymous with gluten, it can often lurk in surprising places. The aforementioned soy sauce is one, as is most gravy and canned soup. When it comes to the holidays, it’s good to know which candy contains gluten. For example, regular Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are gluten free (thankfully!), but the Reese’s holiday shapes (pumpkins, e.g.) are not glutenfree.
Many foods do not contain gluten but are still not considered to be gluten free, because they are manufactured in a facility that contains gluten, or are produced on manufacturing lines that also process gluten. For example, Tostitos Scoops are gluten-free (and labeled as such) but Tostitos Hint of Lime are not considered to be gluten free.
When going to the grocery store, reading the labels is extremely important. However, not all items will be labeled gluten free, which is where it gets difficult. Just knowing where gluten can be hiding makes grocery shopping easier, but not easy, by any means!
While there are plenty of hints and tricks to ensure that your kitchen is gluten free, it’s nearly impossible to do this if you are still preparing gluten food. Think of it this way: if you go to a restaurant without a dedicated gluten-free kitchen, you know you’re at risk, although the risk is small. Your kitchen is the same way.
It’s debatable whether you should transition your family to a gluten-free diet because you need one, or if you should prepare two separate dishes. Sometimes, a compromise is best. Nearly any dish can be made gluten free, which is the easiest and safest option. However, if most of the meal is gluten free, but it just requires regular pasta vs. gluten-free pasta, that’s easy enough to do, as long as you’re careful.
Maintaining a “gluten” section of the kitchen will help as well. Make one counter, one drawer, one closet dedicated to gluten, with the rest of the kitchen gluten free. Be sure that the rest of your family understands the importance of constantly washing their hands when there is gluten in the kitchen.
It’s not easy, but it’s certainly possible to stay safely gluten free and healthy. While you may yearn for a beer or a piece of a sourdough bread (or maybe that’s just me?), it’s always better to stick to foods that you can easily digest and absorb. Your body will thank you!
Sarah Lewis is a married mom of two daughters living in central Connecticut. She’s been living with her celiac diagnosis for almost 2 years now, and is happy to share her experiences with others. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @Sarah_Lewis32 on Twitter.