The gluten-free diet is becoming better understood and widely available in Toronto restaurants and stores, but there are still many people who are unaware of what gluten really means and how it can be detrimental to those with gluten allergies and sensitivities. For example, take Jimmy Kimmel Live, the crew interviewed random pedestrians who claimed they understood what gluten meant. The consensus? Most of them had no clue what it was. Why? Because as much as Toronto may seem gluten-free converted, the majority of the city is largely full of gluten.
It is normal for those with gluten allergies to know exactly what can and cannot be consumed, what has gluten in it and what doesn’t. However, gluten is as foreign to those unaware of the gluten-free lifestyle as blood pudding is to North Americans. Just because those with the allergy understand it, it shouldn’t be assumed that the mass majority is aware of it. Until society is able to relate gluten allergies to nut allergies, it is important to always be prepared when dining out and traveling.
The following tips can be useful for those new to the gluten-free diet, or for those who visit venues without gluten-free knowledge.
1. Understand a restaurant’s menu better than the waiter:
Most restaurants now have their menus posted online, which can help people with gluten allergies prepare their choice before opening the menu at the restaurant. If it’s a restaurant that was selected by friends or co-workers where there isn’t an opportunity to elect somewhere different, it could be a wise idea to call the restaurant manager ahead of time to prepare the kitchen.
If it’s a last minute outing and a look at the online menu or phone call is not feasible, understanding what gluten-free alternatives can be suggested is key. If the waiter isn’t aware of what gluten is, ask for an unseasoned piece of meat or fish with a side of plain rice, a baked potato or steamed vegetables. Salads with a side of olive oil and vinegar are also a safe choice. If the waiter doesn’t seem to think the request is feasible, ask to speak with the manager to determine what is 100% safe to eat.
2. Carry around a safe snack…just in case:
It’s easy to take a couple of minutes to pack a gluten-free granola bar, a couple of cookies or a bag of trail mix in a purse, gym bag or coat pocket, but it isn’t easy to always find a healthy gluten-free snack at a convenient store or fast-food joint. Just in case there is a chance that the next meal is hours from when hunger strikes, it is important to have something healthy to snack on to keep blood-sugar levels at bay.
3. Provide a restaurant with gluten-free bread:
It may look funny handing a waiter a plastic bag with a couple slices of gluten-free bread, but it can make lunch much more filling and fun when the options are limited to boring salads. Asking the waiter to take the bread to the kitchen with a noted gluten allergy can allow the chef to prepare a sandwich on a clean surface with the provided gluten-free bread.
4. Offer to bring a gluten-free option and/or side dish to a dinner party:
If the staff holiday dinner is being held at a co-worker’s home or a neighbour is having a dinner party, it may come across rude if the guest with the gluten allergy asks to safeguard that a gluten-free option is available. However, if the gluten-free guest offers to bring a gluten-free side dish, appetizer or dessert, it discretely suggests that s/he will need gluten-free options and as a bonus is a very polite gesture.
Being prepared with gluten-free options can make dining out, traveling and attending dinner parties stress-free, and a tummy happy and healthy. Be aware of what options are out there when a restaurant, convenient store or a friend is unaware of what gluten exactly is.