Restaurant dishes

Are gluten-free restaurant dishes really gluten-free?

Chances are, some of the “gluten-free” dishes you order in a restaurant are not.

A new study presented Monday at the American College of Gastroenterology Annual Scientific Meeting found.

Pizza and pasta were the main culprits, with about half of the “gluten-free” versions of these dishes in restaurants still containing gluten. The time of day also made a difference: Gluten contamination was higher at dinner than at breakfast.

With increased awareness of celiac disease and gluten-free diets in recent years, there are more gluten-free dining options than ever before, but based on the results, the expanded menus may give people a false sense of security, the lead author said. Dr. Benjamin Lerner, internal medicine resident at NewYork-Presbyterian / Columbia University Medical Center.

“It’s a big deal,” Lerner said TODAY. “About 1% of the American population suffers from celiac disease. For these patients, exposure to gluten in their diet can cause various symptoms: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain. But it can also cause damage to their intestines.

Even eating a meal containing the substance – a protein found in wheat, rye and barley – can affect people with the disease, Lerner said.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that damages the lining of the small intestine when patients consume foods containing gluten. It affects around 3 million Americans, although some people take years to get diagnosed.

“Eating made me even sicker,” Rachel Carlson, a Pittsburgh woman who was finally diagnosed with the disease last year, told TODAY.

The only treatment is a strict gluten-free diet, but while the United States Food and Drug Administration has rules for products labeled “gluten-free”, it only applies to packaged foods. A radio show in St. Louis recently caused a sensation when an anonymous caller said she worked at a bakery who lied about her gluten-free foods.

Why have so many restaurants dropped the ball?

The study is based on more than 5,600 dishes tested in restaurants across the country for 18 months by 804 people who used portable gluten detection devices.

Lerner and his colleagues believe restaurants are making good faith efforts to offer gluten-free options, but may lack education on how to do it right.

“We think this is really a contamination issue, not willful deception,” he said. “Having gluten-free ingredients is not enough to ensure that gluten does not get into food.”

If a restaurant bakes a regular pizza and the gluten-free version in the same oven, for example, they could come into contact with each other, with flour possibly transferring the gluten that way, Lerner noted.

When it comes to pasta, a restaurant can prepare both versions in the same workspace or using the same pans.

The “cumulative contamination” over the course of the day may explain why there were higher rates of gluten contamination during dinner. At the start of a restaurant day, surfaces and dishes are clean and ingredients are easy to separate; but over the hours, one work area can spill over into the next if the kitchen isn’t very neat, Lerner said.

The popularity of “gluten-free”

Some people have non-celiac gluten sensitivity, experiencing symptoms even if they don’t have celiac disease. It makes sense for them to avoid gluten if it makes them feel better, Lerner said.

Others who have no sensitivity believe that a gluten-free diet offers health benefits, although there is no strong evidence for it, he added.

“Gluten is often found in high carbohydrate foods, so if someone is on a gluten-free diet, they may be following a low-carbohydrate diet as well. So in that sense, someone could be losing weight. weight, he might feel better. Is it gluten? It’s really not clear, “Lerner said.

Along with cutting back on carbs, a gluten-free diet can also reduce your fiber intake, so it’s important to make sure you’re maintaining a balanced diet, he noted.

Tips for eating out:

“First, it’s important that people who avoid gluten for whatever reason just understand that a gluten-free label in a restaurant shouldn’t be taken at face value. There may be gluten in these food products, ”Lerner said.

If you want to order gluten-free pizza or pasta, be aware that these dishes in particular may still contain gluten in many restaurants. Do not hesitate to ask questions about how they are prepared.

Remember: it’s not easy for a restaurant to offer truly gluten-free options, but it’s quite realistic since 68% of the dishes in the study were exactly as advertised, Lerner said.

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