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How to Choose a Restaurant for Wheat-Free Dining

Although having a meal out that's all wheat-free, organic, grass-fed, wild-caught, is prepared without vegetable oil, and contains little or no wheat or sugar (or, ideally, grain of any kind) is next to impossible, you can achieve a couple of these ideals if you do some homework before you head out the door.

After you get the hang of eating wheat-free at various restaurants, dining out is a snap. Becoming familiar with the restaurants in your area, figuring out how to decode the menu, and developing a question/answer dialogue with the restaurant staff helps you determine which restaurants meet your needs.

Here’s how to best manage a meal when getting the ideal meal isn't possible and highlight restaurant chains that have added gluten-free menus to accommodate folks with a wheat-free way of life. (Though you may not be gluten-free, gluten-free food is inherently wheat-free.) There are ways to interpret a typical restaurant menu and provide tips on staying wheat-free while traveling.

For those with celiac disease, the most important thing to remember when dining out is to speak to your server about the severity of your condition. This way, the server can discuss with the chef and coordinate with the kitchen regarding the allergy.

Just because a restaurant has a gluten-free menu doesn't mean that cross-contamination won't happen, so know that there are no guarantees for those who eat wheat-free because of celiac and severe intolerances.

Restaurants recognize the need for gluten-free dishes

In 2000, you could almost hear a giant sigh of relief from the wheat sufferers around the country. The Gluten-Free Restaurant Awareness Program (GFRAP), operated by the Gluten Intolerance Group, began spreading the gluten-free message to restaurants near and far. Finally, the cry of the wheat-sensitive was being heard!

Restaurants began providing gluten-free menus, and with the new menus came restaurant staff training. GFRAP was revamped in 2013 as the Gluten-Free Food Service Management and Training Program (GFFS). The GFFS certification program ensures that a restaurant has met certain guidelines sufficient to be called gluten-free. So you can be confident that restaurants that are certified gluten-free are well trained and equipped to handle your questions and needs.

Other people who have benefitted from the GFFS are those who have to eliminate wheat from their diet for health purposes. These people may not share the same gluten difficulties as those with gluten intolerance or celiac disease, but they are concerned with reducing their inflammation, gastric distress, elevated blood sugar, and allergies. The GFFS has provided a win/win for all involved.

Choosing the right restaurant

It used to be that if you asked for a list of wheat-free or gluten-free items a restaurant served, you'd get a funny look from the waiter and would be told that the restaurant didn't offer those types of meals. Today, identifying wheat-free and gluten-free items on a menu is much easier. Some restaurants even mark them with a special icon.

But first you have to find those restaurants. Always do your homework ahead of time and be proactive in your restaurant search. Online directories actually list restaurants with gluten-free menus. After you find a viable candidate, read the restaurant's website menu or call and talk to the chef or manager to figure out whether the restaurant can meet your needs.

If one of your favorite restaurants doesn't offer what you need in wheat-free form, don't be afraid to ask the chef whether she's willing to prepare a wheat-free alternative that you provide. Just make sure you ask ahead of time.

Look up a list of some chain restaurants that can meet your wheat-free needs, and you can learn how to find other workable restaurants in your area. You can also look out for certain things when dining at ethnic restaurants and how to navigate fast-food joints if you can't avoid them. Then you can better manage your expectations when dining out.

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