Travelling Gluten Free: Helpful Tips and Advice

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Travelling with celiac disease doesn’t mean missing out

Travelling with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity shouldn’t stop you from seeing the world and experiencing the fun that comes with travel. In fact, greater awareness of celiac disease around the world means travelling gluten free is easier than ever before.

The key to any celiac travel is organisation and planning. Follow these helpful tips and advice for everything you need to know before you pack your bags.

What is celiac disease?

Celiac disease is a condition where gluten (a protein found in wheat, barley, oats and rye) triggers an immune response in the small intestine. This reaction causes inflammation and damages the lining of the small intestine, resulting in poor absorption of nutrients, weight loss, bloating, abdominal pain and diarrhoea.

Celiac disease is a serious medical condition that needs to be managed with a life-long gluten free diet. Long term consequences of untreated coeliac disease include nutritional deficiencies, osteoporosis, infertility and the development of certain cancers.

travel gluten tips 1

What is non-celiac gluten sensitivity?

People with non-celiac gluten sensitivity do not have celiac disease, however they experience symptoms such as bloating and abdominal pain which they attribute to gluten. Research suggests these symptoms are perhaps not solely due to gluten, but caused by other fermentable sugars in the diet (FODMAP)*

What is a gluten free diet?

A gluten-free diet has different definitions in different countries.

For example, Australia’s Food Standards Code defines a ‘gluten free’ product claim must contain no detectable gluten in that product. In contrast, countries such as the USA, the UK and parts of Europe have regulations that allow gluten free products to contain up to 20ppm of gluten^, which is believed to be a safe threshold for those with celiac disease. However, these laws may change in the future as detection methods improve.

Tips for travelling gluten free

Plan ahead for celiac travel

  • Contact your airline, tour company and/or transport to arrange gluten free meals
  • Research where you can purchase gluten free foods such as specialty breads, pasta and snacks in your destination. In some countries it may be limited to health food stores and pharmacies rather than supermarkets.
  • Keep in mind not all countries will have the same food labelling criteria as what you may be used to
  • Bring a letter from your doctor outlining your medical condition and that you require special dietary restrictions
  • If travelling to a foreign country where you don’t speak the language, it helps to have a translated card you can show that tells people you are travelling with celiac disease. This makes ordering at restaurants or during tours much easier.
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Know what foods are generally safe to eat when travelling gluten free

This includes:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Meat, chicken, fish and seafood
  • Dairy products such as milk, cheese and yoghurt
  • Nuts
  • Beans
  • Legumes, lentils and chickpeas
  • Rice
  • Corn
  • Amaranth
  • Arrowroot
  • Buckwheat
  • Quinoa
  • Tapioca
  • Millet

Be aware that some foods (such as dried beans and nuts) are at risk of cross-contact with wheat, barley or rye. If travelling with celiac disease, try to buy foods labelled “gluten free” to be on the safe side. It’s best to try and stick to fresh foods without added sauces and seasonings.

Bring safe food with you

If travelling gluten free to a destination with less stringent food laws, pack some gluten free food.
For example, in Australia oats are not part of a gluten free diet, however in Europe and USA oats are marketed as ‘gluten free’. Pack some non-perishable foods like nuts, trail mix and gluten free crackers, and avoid consuming oats, even if they are marketed ‘gluten free’.

Use special resources for celiac travel

Those with experience travelling gluten free may be aware of Gluten Free Passport – a website that offers valuable resources for travelling with celiac disease. This includes a list of local restaurants and cafes around the world that cater to special diets, plus useful travel cards in different languages which may help you communicate your dietary needs.

Learn what ingredients to avoid when travelling gluten free

Those with experience travelling gluten free may be aware of Gluten Free Passport – a website that offers valuable resources for travelling with celiac disease. This includes a list of local restaurants and cafes around the world that cater to special diets, plus useful travel cards in different languages which may help you communicate your dietary needs.

Make of a list of ingredients that you must avoid (contain gluten) when travelling. This will help when reading food labels and in restaurants.

  • Foods containing wheat/gluten to be aware of include:
  • Barley
  • Brewer’s yeast
  • Bulgur
  • Couscous
  • Duram
  • Einkorn
  • Emmer
  • Farina
  • Farro
  • Graham flour
  • Matzo meal
  • Malt
  • Oats
  • Rye
  • Semolina
  • Soups, gravies, sauces (contain thickeners)
  • Spelt
  • Wheat, wheat germ and wheat starch
  • Wheat based dextrins and maltodextrins

 

* FODMAPs (Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols) are sugars that are poorly absorbed in some people. They are found in many foods, and thought to contribute to symptoms of Irritable bowel syndrome.
^ Coeliac Australia data

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