Are Gluten-Free Restaurant Items Legit?

12/28/2013

Gluten-free imageGluten-free is all the rage right now and for the most part it’s a trendy diet for those that are gluten-sensitive. But then there’s those with Celiac disease, a permanent intolerance to the giadin fraction of wheat protein found in rye and barley. The disease leads to an autoimmune disorder where the body starts attacking its own normal tissue. In addition to autoimmunity, other surface symptoms may appear including diarrhea, iron-deficiency anemia, lactose intolerance, and osteoporosis. It’s an inherited illness that’s determined with both an intestinal biopsy and the patient’s response to a gluten-free diet. 

For those with CD, the disease is real. I know because my good friend has it and I’ve seen the after effects when the disease goes into full gear. This happened when she thought she was ordering a gluten-free item at a restaurant that turned out not to be gluten-free at all. 

Menu items often contain a disclaimer because restaurants cannot guarantee the full absence of gluten. Like this one: “Even with a strict adherence toward maintaining spotless restaurants, we simply have too much wheat and other gluten-containing food products in our kitchens to be able to eliminate the cross contamination on food prep surfaces and even in the air,”  says the Noodles restaurant

The FDA considers food containing less than 20 parts per million of gluten to be gluten-free. A number of restaurants have fallen short. California Pizza Kitchen introduced pizzas that had gluten-free crusts but customers were furious to learn that the pizza itself included other items that were not gluten-free. Texas Roadhouse also had gluten-free items that turned out not to be gluten-free at all.

It’s not only hidden ingredients that can present problems for the highly sensitive but food preparation as well. Proper gluten-free cooking means preparing foods on a separate cooking surface, with clean utensils, and separate vats of oil for frying. But for those with extreme allergies, the gluten can cause problems if it goes airborne.

Have you ordered gluten-free items at a restaurant that turned out not to be gluten-free?

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Read More: Why a Gluten-Free Diet May Not Be Right For You


Sara Novak writes about health and wellness for Discovery Health. Her work is also regularly featured in Breathe Magazine and on SereneKitchen.com. She has written extensively on food policy, food politics, and food safety.


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