(NaturalNews) Approximately three million people in the United States have been diagnosed with Celiac disease and another 18 million may be gluten sensitive. The growing number of people who choose to avoid gluten is causing restaurants to make changes. Large restaurant chains now include gluten-free items on their menus in response to customer demand. However, the term "gluten-free" is somewhat ambiguous, at least the way that restaurants are using it. Items marked gluten-free may make people with Celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity ill.
Cross contamination threatens gluten-free dieters
Wheat, barley and rye are frequently used in most restaurants. These grains contain gluten and even when not put directly into a dish, can still cause health problems through cross contamination. Even restaurants who are making efforts to accommodate those on a gluten-free diet are not truly offering gluten-free foods because they are preparing their food in a non gluten-free environment.
Even if chefs are strict in their cooking and only use gluten-free ingredients, traces of gluten from wheat and other gluten foods could get into the "gluten-free" entrees and appetizers. Using shared cutting boards, knives, wooden spoons, or any cooking utensil can cause cross contamination as traces from the gluten foods travel into the gluten-free ones. Frying foods meant for a gluten-free dish in the same oil as gluten foods also leads to cross contamination. People who are extremely sensitive are safer preparing their own meals or eating foods made only in a gluten-free environment, but other people who eat gluten-free should be happy to know that many chains across the country now have gluten-free options.
Asian chains offering gluten-free foods
A range of restaurants with Asian cuisine include soy sauce and other gluten containing ingredients in most of their dishes. This can be quite disappointing to newly diagnosed Celiacs and gluten sensitive fans of Chinese, Japanese and other Asian cuisine. The popular Asian chain P.F. Chang's China Bistro and its causal little sister chain Pei Wei Asian Diner currently have gluten-free menus. Even better, P.F. Chang's prepares gluten-free dishes in a separate area and with different plates than the non-gluten free foods.
P.F. Chang's has Chinese and Asian-fusion foods on its regular and gluten-free menus. Pei Wei offers a menu influenced by five Asian cultures. Their gluten-free menu is not as exhaustive as P.F. Chang's, but their foods is prepared faster and is less expensive. Customers at both restaurants can get wheat-free soy sauce and other sauces upon request.
Gluten-free options for Mexican cuisine
Several popular Mexican restaurant chains have recently decided to offer gluten-free menus in some locations. Chevys Fresh Mex has a variety of gluten-free dishes on their new menus and they train their staff on how to handle gluten-free foods, including using special plates. However, they do not have separate fryers so customers cannot get any fried gluten-free items.
Chipotle also has gluten-free options. These include dishes with corn tortillas and burritos served in a bowl instead of a wheat wrap. Customers are encouraged to ask the staff to change their gloves before handling gluten-free items.
Gluten-free pizza chains
Uno Chicago Grill is recognized as the largest national pizza chain to serve gluten-free pizzas plus other gluten-free entrees. They take care to prepare food in a way that avoids cross contamination.
Domino's Pizza is the largest chain with a gluten-free crust, but cross contamination is a risk. Fresh Brothers also offers gluten-free pizza and tries to avoid cross contamination based on training from the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness.
People with severe gluten allergies should research their favorite restaurants to see if cross contamination is a real possibility. Sources for this article include:
About the author: Sarka-Jonae Miller is a published novelist and MARSocial Author of the Year runner-up. She's also a former personal trainer and massage therapist. SJ's published work includes the #3 bestseller "Between Boyfriends" and the just released sequel"Between the Sheets". The chick lit series was recently featured in the San Diego Reader, the largest alternative newsweekly in the United States.