For people with celiac disease (CD), eating out automatically means having to observe gluten-free dining. A certain type of protein called gluten, which is normally a harmless substance found in most food, causes an autoimmune response in celiac victims. Because of this, people with CD require a specialized diet and careful planning of meals. Compliance to a gluten-free diet is a major concern in celiac sufferers, especially when they go out and eat in a restaurant where ordering alone already poses a great challenge to them.
Celiac disease is a lifelong, hereditary autoimmune disorder that causes digestive symptoms in people who have it. In the U.S., it is estimated that one out of 133 people has CD. When a genetically susceptible individual accidentally or intentionally ingests gluten-containing food, their immune system is triggered to create a series of events that lead to the destruction of the hair-like structures (called “villi”) lining the small intestine. This can result in symptoms as far-ranging as abdominal cramping, diarrhea or constipation, bloating, anemia, weight loss, fatigue, bone and joint pains, infertility, and irritability, among others.
With all these being said, it is of utmost importance for celiac patients to always be careful when deciding to eat away from home. Finding gluten-free meals at a restaurant can be quite a struggle, but there sure is a good reason to put effort to it. Strictly following a gluten-free diet not only helps a person with CD avoid the symptoms of the disease, but also helps heal the damaged parts of the small intestine.
For a more enjoyable and delightful gluten-free dining experience, here are some tips that any person with celiac disease should follow.
1. Choose a restaurant where communication or language is not going to be a problem.
A person’s gluten-free dining success will depend on various factors, including the type of restaurant that he or she chooses. People with gluten intolerance must be very careful in restaurants where language can possibly create a huge communication barrier. Restaurant servers may not easily understand your dietary issues, requests, or inquiries if they speak a different language or speak very little English.
2. Schedule your meal in times when the restaurant is less busy
Time your meal a few hours before or after lunch and dinner time – the period when restaurants are the busiest. Schedule your meal during off-peak hours so you’ll have more time and more convenient access to the people who can assist you with regards to your important dietary needs. Even the most accommodating service crew or manager may not have enough time to attend to your needs during rush hour.
3. Communicate your needs in a nice manner
Be pleasant and informative when you discuss your needs for a gluten-free meal. Do not be demanding. Try to be brief in your explanation or better yet, communicate with the restaurant the day before and speak to the chef about your meal options so he or she can prepare your gluten-free meals just before you arrive.
4. Always ask detailed questions regarding the cooking methods as well as the ingredients
There are many food items that you may need to ask about before ordering. Salads, marinades, soups, sauces, fried foods, and dairy products are just few of the many potentially problematic food items that you may have to inquire about before consuming.
5. Always confirm if you have the right plate
Before eating your meal, be sure to ask the server of your instructions were followed and whether what you have on the table is the gluten-free meal you ordered.
Some people with celiac disease might choose not to eat out, rather than explain their food restrictions and preferences to the chef or restaurant crew. Even if you have celiac disease, remember that you can experience a great gluten-free dining at the restaurant of your choice — you just need to choose a place where the crew can clearly understand your needs, schedule your meal during off peak hours, communicate your needs in a pleasant manner, ask detailed questions to the server and chef, and confirm that you have the right “special” order for your health condition.