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Guest post: Flying the friendly skies while navigating the challenges of eating gluten-free

These days the word gluten-free is everywhere, from the grocery store aisles to restaurant menus to morning talk shows. The growing prevalence of people suffering from gluten-related disorders has even spurred a group of 15 experts to propose a new classification system for such conditions, as recently reported by the Wall Street Journal.

Gluten wreaks the most havoc in celiac disease, when the gluten protein triggers an immune attack against the intestine. Milder sensitivities to gluten can still cause miserable bloating and bowel problems. Gluten is in a lot of foods, so maintaining a gluten-free diet can be a daily challenge - especially when you're traveling and it seems like sandwiches, pizza and flour tortilla wraps are the only foods available.

With a little preparation, though, eating gluten free on the road can be made painless. The first, and obvious, solution is to bring your own gluten-free snacks. That way, you'll never be starving when you decide on your meals and you can ensure no cross-contamination. Here are some additional tips and resources for long-haul trips or when there's no extra room in your carry-on for gluten-free snacks:

  • Request gluten-free meals inflight. You'll need to request these meals ahead of time, so make sure to do so when you book the flight. Browse the forums on FlyerTalk for reviews of the special food served on various airlines. You can even see photos using AirlineMeals and its handy drop-down search function.
  • Know what to expect from international food labeling. In most of Europe, foods are labeled "gluten-free" if they contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten when independently tested. Less-developed regions will be less likely to offer this, and you'll be better off sticking to fruits, vegetables and meats cooked simply, without complicated sauces.
  • Carry a list of gluten-containing products, such as this one in your pocket or purse. Note that some things are less-obvious offenders, like teriyaki sauce.
  • Research the foods common to the place you're visiting. For example, bulgur wheat is a staple in Mediterranean food, and you'll have an easier time if you know what it looks like and the dishes it's featured in, such as the ubiquitous tabbouleh salad.
  • Don't be shy about making special requests in restaurants. Ask that a few of the ingredients you see on the menu be combined into a special salad. If the menu items listed contain gluten from croutons or other ingredients ask they be left off. Chefs should be happy to oblige.

Monya De, '00, MD, MPH, manages social media for MD Delivered, Inc. of Los Angeles and Orange County. She received her BA from Stanford in human biology.

Previously: Guest post: Healthy traveling is happy traveling, Guest post: "Am I contagious?" and A call for a new way to classify gluten-related disorders
Photo by Antonio Viva

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