I have often heard that the wheat in Europe is different than what is available in the states, and that many who have a gluten sensitivity at home are able to tolerate gluten without issue abroad. While I don’t doubt that there is a difference (Europe doesn’t currently allow GMO’s and has much more strict food standards than we do), I personally chose not to risk eating gluten abroad, just in case I still had symptoms like I do at home. I’d hate to miss out on feeling my best for a couple days of vacation!
Fortunately, these days there are infinitely more options for gluten free food than even just a few years ago, but dealing with a language barrier did make things slightly more difficult. Even so, I found both France and Italy to be extremely GF friendly and completely accommodating!
Here are some of the things I kept in mind while eating 100% gluten free while abroad.
Do some research ahead of time.
While it is pretty much always possible to get simple meat and produce that would be safe to eat, I also wanted to enjoy the local cuisine! I knew that I wanted to have some GF pizza, pasta, and pastry if possible. I made sure to do some research ahead of time using Google Maps, Yelp, and Find Me Gluten Free to see if there were places that looked worth seeking out. It was also easier to do research in advance than when I was hungry and ready to eat! I went with a few ideas for each location that we traveled to, which gave me a good foundation for where we might want to eat.
Know the high risk dishes.
A meal of pan seared fish and sautéed vegetables is a much “safer” option than a GF pizza or pasta dish, as there is much less risk of cross contamination. (Pizza is often cooked in a shared oven, and pasta sometimes in a pot that hasn’t been thoroughly washed!) It’s hard to ask about shared surfaces and utensils in a foreign language, so if I wasn’t sure about the restaurant or they didn’t seem to have a good awareness of gluten and cross contamination, I usually stuck to meals that were less likely to be problematic. (I will say that I was less concerned about cross contamination abroad in general, primarily for the fact that many who have non-celiac gluten sensitivity do okay with wheat abroad. I did do my due diligence to avoid it, but didn’t ask as many questions as I might at home.)
Consider gluten digesting enzymes.
This isn’t something that I routinely use at home, but I did take them with me abroad. I have used this brand and this brand. In short, these enzymes are specifically formulated to digest gluten quickly, before it can trigger a response. They aren’t meant to handle a full gluten containing meal, moreso for accidental cross contamination. I used these when I ate meals that had a higher risk of cross contamination, such as GF pizza or pasta.
Have a backup form of communication.
I carried a gluten free card in both French and Italian. These are just written explanations in the local language of what gluten free means. They go a step further to describe cross contamination and possible sources of hidden gluten. I didn’t need to use these at all, but it was nice to have as a backup, in case we ended up in a situation where there was a complete language barrier and we didn’t have any other options. I had a screenshot of each on my phone. I also knew how to say “gluten free” in both French (sans gluten) and Italian (senza glutine), and was familiar with what the gluten free symbol looked like on packaging.
Let your server know up front.
I made sure to communicate from the beginning that I needed gluten free food and asked if there was a gluten free menu (if items weren’t marked). If there wasn’t a separate menu, I asked what dishes were gluten free and the server was always able to walk me through what I could and couldn’t have. I also reminded them when actually placing my order.
Trust your instincts.
This goes without saying, but if something didn’t seem right, or there was something on my plate that I wasn’t expecting or couldn’t identify, I waited to confirm what it was before eating. Same thing went for the bread that was served to me at a meal. Most of the time it was packaged and clearly labeled, but if not, I made sure to double check!
Living a 100% gluten free life is one of the ways that I manage my Hashimoto’s naturally. You can find some of my other top recommendations for that in my free PDF download!
I hope these tips are helpful! If you have any others that you would add, please share them in the comments!
Until next time,