Travelling with conditions such as coeliac disease or gluten sensitivity should not stop you from seeing the world and experiencing the fun that comes with travel. Organisation and planning is the key to a successful ‘gluten-free’ trip.
A gluten-free diet has different definitions in different countries. In Australia, the current definition of gluten-free is ‘no detectable gluten’ using standard methods under the food standards administered by Food Standards Australia and New Zealand. The gluten-free standard in Australia is less than 20 parts per million of gluten. The same gluten-free standard is adopted in the UK, Europe, Canada and the USA. Twenty ppm is a tiny amount of gluten and is believed to be a safe threshold for those with coeliac disease.
1. Plan ahead. If travelling by plane, ensure you contact the airline and arrange gluten-free meals. If your travel includes touring via coach, train or cruise, contact them well in advance to arrange gluten-free meals. Find out where you will be able to purchase gluten-free specialty breads, pasta and snacks. In some countries, this will be supermarkets, and others it may be limited to health food stores and pharmacies. Remember that not all countries have the same food labelling criteria as Australia. Follow the Australian guidelines for gluten-free food.
2. Safe foods to eat include fruits, vegetables, meat, chicken, fish and seafood, dairy foods (cheese, milk, yoghurt), nuts, beans and legumes (lentils, chickpeas), rice, corn, soy, amaranth, arrowroot, buckwheat, quinoa, sorghum, tapioca and millet. Be aware that some foods such as dried beans and nuts are at risk of cross-contact with wheat, barley or rye. Try to buy foods labelled gluten-free to be on the safe side.
3. If you are going to a destination with less stringent food laws, pack some gluten-free food. In Australia, oats are not part of a gluten free diet, unlike Europe and USA where 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 as ‘gluten free’
4. Take a letter from your doctor outlining your medical condition and that you require special dietary restrictions.
5. Visit glutenfreepassport.com for a list of possible restaurants and cafés around the world that cater for special diets. They also have many useful travel cards in different languages which may help you communicate your dietary needs.
6. Make of a list of ingredients that you must avoid (containing gluten) when travelling. This will help you when reading food labels and in restaurants. It is best to try and keep to fresh foods without added sauces and seasonings.
So, why wait! Get your bags packed and with good planning, you should be on your way to a well-earned break…. gluten-free of course!
Dr Jane Read is a Sydney-based GP Registrar who also holds a Masters Degree in Nutrition and Dietetics from Deakin University in Melbourne. In addition to working in general practice, Jane also runs her own nutrition consultancy business providing nutrition and dietetic services at the Northern Cancer Institute in St Leonards. She has also been a nutrition consultant to various corporate clients.
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