If you have a gluten-intolerant friend or family member in your life, the thought of cooking for them can be quite scary. You might not even know what gluten is or why your friend can’t eat it. You may even wonder if their allergy is real.
That’s completely understandable.
If you don’t have a food allergy, it can be very hard to accept that the food that nourishes you is poisonous to others. However, if you’re going to safely feed a gluten-intolerant person, this is something you absolutely must overcome. Even the slightest doubt of the seriousness of their condition can make you careless and put your friend’s health at risk.
Understand Gluten Avoidance is Not a Fad Diet
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. Gluten-intolerant people are unable to digest this protein. Each time they eat foods containing gluten, their immune system goes haywire, attacking their lower intestine and interfering with nutrient absorption.
When gluten intolerance is left untreated for months, years or even decades, it can lead to the development of gastrointestinal problems, chronic sinusitis, muscle pain, autoimmune disease, diabetes, thyroid disease, rheumatoid arthritis, learning and behavioral disorders, and even colon cancer.
When I first found out I had gluten intolerance, nobody knew what I was talking about. This was over 10 years ago when the word “gluten free” had yet to become a household term. I had to spend hours online researching the disorder and calling food companies to find out if I could safely eat their product. I actually had to special order a lot of my food from the web.
I stopped eating at restaurants because the waiters didn’t understand what I was saying. No matter how many times I’d order a salad without croutons, I’d get croutons and couldn’t make the waiter understand that he couldn’t just “scrape them off”. I had to ask so many questions about their condiments and cooking procedures that I just gave up. Nobody wanted to hear about my “weird diet” anymore.
Thankfully, it’s not like that now. Many restaurants now understand how to cater to gluten-free diners with no problem. However, gluten intolerance can still be very isolating. Gluten-intolerant people have to question everything. We have to ask you every detail about the food you’ve prepared. What brand of mustard? Did you mix the salad in a clean bowl?
We are not trying to be rude.
We have to ask these questions to be sure we stay safe. It’s our only option. If, up until this point, you’ve only been humoring us about our diet, we’ll know when you start rolling your eyes and sighing. I’ve had this happen. Someone swore they believed me until they had to make something for me. Then, the mask dropped and they actually asked when I was going to “go off this diet”.
A gluten-intolerant person can never go off a gluten-free diet. A gluten free-diet is a life-long prescription. This prescription prevents the immune system from attacking itself.
I’ve no doubt in my mind that once your friend stopped eating gluten, he or she felt better than they had in years. Finally, the debilitating pain was gone. They don’t want it back. Not taking this intolerance seriously is like threatening them with the pain they’ve worked so hard to eliminate from their lives. It will cause friction in your relationship.
Find Safe Foods by Reading Labels Diligently
The first step to finding safe foods for the gluten-intolerant person is reading food labels. When you go to the supermarket, look for a health food section. Some markets separate their organic and gluten-free foods out while others mix them. It will depend on which store you’re shopping in. Ask a clerk to help you if you’re unsure.
Unlike ten years ago, gluten-free foods are now clearly marked. You can find gluten free pastas, breads, cookies, cereal, condiments, and ice cream that will be safe for your friend to eat. Most meat, poultry, fish, vegetables, beans, seeds, nuts and fruits are naturally gluten free. However, it is always important to read the label as hidden additives may contain gluten.
If you’re not completely sure if the food you’re going to purchase is gluten free, contact the company via email or phone. They will be more than happy to give out nutrition information as it ensures their product stays in good standing.
Avoid Cross-Contamination When Cooking and Serving Food
The term “cross-contamination” might sound a bit dramatic the first time you hear it but remember, gluten is poison to those who are intolerant to it. A cross-contaminated food product is a gluten-free food that has been compromised and rendered unsafe by the introduction of gluten.
A good example of cross-contamination is spreading butter on wheat toast and then dipping it back into the butter. The wheat bread crumbs in the butter make this ordinarily gluten-free food unsafe to eat. Toasters are a big one. If you’re toasting bread for a gluten-free person, use a dedicated gluten-free toaster or a toaster oven that has been wiped free of any baked-on food.
When preparing food items, it is often easier to prepare the gluten-free person’s dish first or simply prepare an entirely gluten free meal. This way, you ensure the health of your gluten-free diners and save the headache of remembering not to cross-contaminate food.
However, if you find you can’t do that, you’ll have to be more diligent. Use clean cutting boards, utensils, pots, pans, and plates when preparing your guest’s meal. If you’re making two separate pots of pasta, use two different stirring spoons and don’t mix them up.
When baking gluten free, use two separate baking dishes and place them at opposite sides of the oven. Whenever possible, cover the gluten free dish to avoid possible cross-contamination from splatter.
The one thing gluten-intolerant people want more than anything is to be treated like everyone else. The more aware you are of their condition and needs, the easier it will be for you to serve them and for them to feel safe eating food you’ve cooked.
Remember not to be offended by their questions. They don’t think you’re trying to poison them on purpose and they’re not questioning your culinary skills. They’re just trying to remain healthy. Even the smallest amount of gluten can wreck havoc with their immune system, causing a week or two of pain and digestive malfunction.
Taking them seriously is the first step. Educating yourself is the second. Practicing patience is the third and ultimately, the most important. The more you learn about cooking for the gluten-intolerant person, the easier it will be. Soon, it will become so natural, you’ll find yourself educating others!
Still Unsure About Gluten-Free Cooking?
Learn everything you need to know about gluten free cooking so you can safely prepare any dish for your gluten free friends and family. Get the recipes, substitutions, tips, and tricks that make cooking gluten free a cinch!
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