However, in some cases, a deceitful advertisement might turn out to be a significant health problem, especially for people with celiac disease.
In celiac disease, as in other types of non-celiac gluten sensitivities, people become intolerant to a protein found in cereal grains, called gluten. In these individuals, avoiding gluten is not a passing fancy. It is essential to treat a real health issue with scientifically-proven consequences.
Celiac disease causes severe gastrointestinal issues, muscle pain, joint pain, brain fog, inflammation, and even mental health disturbances. This autoimmune disease affects 1 in every 100 people worldwide.
Patients who do not adhere to a strict gluten-free diet may increase their risk of other autoimmune disorders like multiple sclerosis and type 1 diabetes.
Thus, these individuals should be extra careful to avoid gluten, especially in restaurant chains.
The Problem of Cross-Contamination
According to a Canadian survey, more than half of people with celiac disease avoid eating out, and when they do, 86 percent of them experience a negative impact in their symptoms.
This is largely due to cross-contamination. People with celiac disease ultimately learn that even cutting bread and using the same knife to prepare gluten-free foods will cause cross-contamination. Many restaurant chains and fast food places do not know this fact, and, because of this, they might be contaminating your gluten-free options.
Many restaurants offer real gluten-free options, but their personnel do not have the education on cross-contamination to be able to prepare them safely.
For example, using the same baking pan or the same knife would be enough to pass on gluten to food labeled and sold as gluten-free, and this minimal amount is enough to trigger celiac disease flare-ups.
Be Especially Careful of Fast Food Chains
If you consider cross-contamination risk in fine dining restaurants, you should be even more cautious and aware of fast food chains. As the name implies, these chains focus on getting food out fast enough to attend a high number of customers.
Thus, they are less likely to have enough time to avoid cross-contamination. Furthermore, cooks usually work in close proximity to each other, increasing the risk of making mistakes and contaminating foods that are sold as gluten-free.
Recognizing the importance of this, the National Restaurant Association has increased the awareness of gluten-free diets by educating restaurants on food safety.
Avoid “Gluten-Conscious” Offerings
The label “gluten-free” is a certification that applies to packaged products and certain items that are thoroughly inspected and sold to be free of gluten.
Anything that does not specifically read gluten-free might not be gluten-free. Take Panera Bread, for example. This restaurant chain offers a “gluten-conscious” bread that is not safe and not to be consumed by celiac patients. (Especially since they display it right next to and touching bread made with gluten!)
How to Reduce Your Risk of Accidentally Eating Gluten
Make sure you’re safer at restaurants with these tips:
- Call ahead: Before going to the restaurant, you may want to call ahead. This is useful when trying to choose where are you going to dine out, and may give the restaurant extra time to avoid cross-contamination.
- Avoid language barriers: As tempting as it may be to try new and exotic foods, avoid restaurants where there is a language barrier. If you’re not able to communicate how severe your condition is, you could put yourself at risk.
- Dine early or late: Cooks have less time, they are more stressed out, and tend to make more mistakes during rush hours. If you avoid peak hours, the staff will be more available to answer your questions and consider your requests more carefully.
- Consider a medical alert bracelet: Some people still believe that a gluten-free diet is just some sort of fad, which can put you at risk if cooks and waitstaff are careless with your food. If you have a medical bracelet, they’ll take you more seriously because they don’t want a diner to get sick on the spot or sue them later on. Then again, it could backfire because some restaurants might be hesitant to serve you. Use your own discretion.
- Explain your restrictions quickly but in detail: This is one of the main suggestions from the National Restaurant Association for guests who follow a gluten-free diet. Communication is critical to explain your intolerance and allergies. Be sure to be specific and give complete information about your condition and how you must have your food prepared to be safe.
In conclusion, take caution when eating out at restaurants that serve gluten-free food. Avoid fast food restaurants unless you’re absolutely sure you won’t get sick from the food they serve. Call ahead, dine during off-peak hours, and consider wearing a medical bracelet. legitimize your condition if you feel it would be helpful to you.