Gluten-Free Eating & Traveling

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A celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder where eating gluten (a protein in wheat, rye and barley) leads to an immune response and damages the small intestine. The only effective treatment is a gluten-free diet for life. Regular bread, pizza, pasta and for example beer (made of barley) are obvious foods to avoid but sometimes there’s hidden gluten in unexpected ingredients and meals.

My celiac disease was diagnosed more than twenty years ago. The condition is hereditary so it wasn’t a total surprise two of my sons got the diagnosis as well. Following the diet can sound like a problem but in reality we can barely notice it in our everyday life, Helsinki is an easy place to eat gluten-free.

In Finland 2 % of the population have a celiac disease, 0,5 % is officially diagnosed. The numbers are the high so people are used to the condition; there’s no need to look for special stores or gluten-free restaurants. Every food store has a large gluten-free selection and practically every restaurant offers gluten-free options often clearly introduced in the menu.

At home I cook gluten-free for the whole family. I buy everything from my nearest grocery store and use regular recipes (just replacing wheat/rye/barley with gluten-free ingredients), we are so used to our diet we don’t need to think about it. However, traveling and finding suitable food to eat abroad is not always equally easy.

So how to eat gluten-free during trips? When I travel alone I don’t have time to look for special gluten-free restaurants, I eat whatever gluten-free I can find. If I can’t find any gluten-free option I simply don’t eat at all and have a coffee instead. Usually I have an egg or fruits for breakfast, a basic salad for lunch and maybe meat and vegetables for dinner. For emergency situations I carry a few gluten-free biscuits in my pocket.

When I travel with my family I pay more attention to where and what to eat. Delicious local food is a big part of the travel experience, I don’t want my sons to miss that out and for children it’s generally more important to eat regularly. I ask for gluten-free breakfasts in advance and visit local supermarkets for snacks. We walk around and check menus before choosing a restaurant and for special occasions I google gluten-free restaurants in the area.

Last year we traveled together in Sicily, Paris and London. Sicily was a gluten-free paradise and we all loved the food. Every restaurant served gluten-free pizza and pasta and our B&B host surprised us baking a fresh gluten-free nutella cake for breakfast. Even McDonalds offered gluten-free burgers just like in Finland.

For Paris I searched options in advance and we headed to Crêperie Brocéliande in Montmartre for gluten-free crepes and to  Noglu for a Friday night dinner. The Crêperie was within walking distance of Sacré-Coeur and served both sweet and salty crepes (suitable for lunch). The dinner place was busy (it’s a good idea to call and make a reservation in advance) but the food, all gluten-free, was really good quality and I’m tempted to try their brunch next time in Paris.

In London we had gluten-free afternoon tea at Fortnum & Mason (I booked in advance) and chose breakfast at St Pancras station at Le Pain Quotidien for their large gluten-free selection. Le Pain Quotidien is one of my favorite international chains because of their gluten-free bread and porridge options and the St Pancras restaurant was surprisingly peaceful considering the busy location. Our whole family was happily fed before heading back to France and Paris airports (and their non-existing gluten-free services).

It’s extremely important for people with a celiac disease to follow the diet strictly so I always skip the food unless I’m absolutely sure it’s safe to eat and carry a few biscuits or nuts/fruits to eat in case my blood sugar goes down even it’s a bit annoying and not minimalistic at all. My local friends usually help me to translate the problem but sometimes it can be useful to have a little card with a translated text in the pocket to show in restaurants.

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