If you have been diagnosed with celiac disease, you are likely already used to your local routine—the grocery stores you shop at, the trusted restaurants you go to, and the recipes you enjoy cooking at home.
But when you go on vacation or a business trip, things are unfamiliar. Not everyone realizes what the qualifications are to make foods truly gluten-free—and the last thing you want while you’re on vacation is to have a flare-up because of celiac. Before you travel, there are some preventative measures you can take to make sure you have a seamless adventure while still enjoying food and drink while you’re at it.
What Is Celiac Disease?
First, for those unfamiliar with celiac disease, let’s answer the question of what celiac disease is and what a gluten-free diet is. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder where the ingestion of gluten attacks and damages the intestines. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley products used in many foods, such as pastas and breads, but it can be hidden in many other foods you wouldn’t even consider, such as salad dressings.
If someone with celiac disease continues to ingest gluten, they risk long-term damage to the intestines as well as other health complications, so they must adhere to a strictly gluten-free diet and eat only gluten-free foods. However, because gluten is hidden in many foods and food by-products, this can be challenging, especially when traveling.
Planning Ahead for Gluten-Free Before You Travel
To ensure your health and well-being, you will have to put some thought and planning efforts into your trip before you travel. There are some tips to keep in mind that may make traveling more seamless for a gluten-free diet:
- Choose an Airbnb (or similar setup) over a hotel. Most Airbnb rentals will likely give you access to a kitchen where you can cook your own food. Even if it’s a destination where you’ve flown to, you can make a quick trip to the grocery store and buy items to make your own meals. This ensures that there’s no cross-contamination and your meals are gluten-free.
- If you’re flying, contact the airline ahead of time about your in-flight meal. It’s much better to let the airline know ahead of time that you need a gluten-free selection than when you’re on the plane, particularly if it’s an international flight.
- If you’re traveling to a foreign country, learn some of the languages. You’ll need to at least know how to express that you need gluten-free selections at local eateries. There are also gluten-free restaurant cards in different languages available on the internet that you can print in various languages, to make breaking the language barrier a bit easier.
- What gluten-free snacks should I pack? Plenty. Be prepared that you are going to be trapped in situations where gluten-free foods are not available. There may be a snafu on the plane, and they may not have a meal for you. The restaurant you chose may not be able to promise there isn’t cross-contamination. Gluten-free granola bars and similar types of snacks are good to pack for your carry-on, but you should also pack some quick meals from home as well that you can make easily on the go, such as gluten-free oatmeal or ramen that you can boil quickly.
- Obtain a letter from your doctor before boarding the plane so that TSA does not confiscate your food. If you bring certain types of food, such as soups or yogurts, they may be considered liquids, so having a doctor’s note is a good idea just in case.
- Pack your medication just in case you are accidentally exposed to gluten.
Gluten-Free Tips for Eating Out When Travelling
If you are traveling internationally and don’t have a moderate grasp of the language, getting a gluten-free restaurant card is a good idea. It will explain cross-contamination and what your requirements are for your meal. That being said, if you’re wondering, “what should I avoid when traveling?” The rule of thumb is when in doubt, don’t eat it. If you’re traveling in a region where you have a firm grasp of the language, the best thing to do is ask the manager about gluten-free options, particularly if the server seems uninformed.
Oftentimes, the waitstaff may have good suggestions about popular selections on the menu or how a dish tastes, but they may not know how a dish is prepared, so it’s a good idea to ask the chef or manager directly. You can also save yourself the stress and a letdown by calling beforehand and asking. If you arrive at a restaurant and there are no gluten-free selections available, you’ll have to choose a different one.
Some of the easiest cuisines to navigate while eating abroad include:
- African and Middle Eastern (millet, lentils, and cassava)
- South American (rice, beans, corn, and tapioca)
- Japanese and Korean (rice, seafood, and meat). However, avoid soy sauce (made with wheat) and Udon noodles
- Southeast Asian (rice noodles, fish sauce, coconut)
- Indian (rice, chickpeas)
Before you travel, you can also look up blogs local to the area you’re traveling to, and see if there are any that highlight restaurants that serve gluten-free options. There are also apps that can help you while you’re on the go, such as FindMeGlutenFree, that can help you find options when it feels like there’s nothing available. Joining social media groups local to the area or nation/worldwide gluten-free groups may also be a help to find local suggestions.
It’s also a good idea to stick to foods and cuisines that you know. By all means, check with the chef and manager that there is no cross-contamination, but it’s always best to stick to food groups that you know are usually not associated with gluten and that you’re comfortable with. This way, you don’t run the risk of accidental exposure and potentially ruining your vacation or trip.
Talk to a Celiac Disease Specialist in Jackson, MS
If you need more information about celiac disease, how to successfully follow a gluten-free diet, or you need to be seen by a physician, contact the team at GI Associates today. If you suspect you may have celiac disease, we can also test, diagnose, and offer comprehensive care.