5 Tips for International Travelers With Gluten Intolerance and Celiac Disease

Certified Gluten-Free LogoIf you suffer from celiac disease, or know someone who does, then you understand just how difficult it can be to dine outside the home and find foods that are gluten-free. If you think dining out stateside is challenging, can you imagine what it’s like to travel abroad where, in some locations, the ingredients used in popular foods aren’t recognizable? How would one even determine whether a product contained wheat if they don’t understand what the ingredients are?


If you suffer from celiac disease and are traveling abroad or will be traveling with someone who does, here are a few tips to help keep your trip healthy, happy and comfortable.


Know What to Avoid


According to the Mayo Clinic, the protein gluten is what most celiac disease sufferers must avoid. To do so, they suggest steering clear of any foods that contain wheat, barley, rye, or oats. If you are unable to ask an establishment whether any of their foods contain these ingredients, another rule of thumb is to stick with fresh fruits, meats and vegetables and avoid breads, pastas, cookies and other products made with flour. When going out for dinner you might also stay clear of sauces because they might have a wheat flour base in them. It is best to stick to a grilled dish and , make sure they do not marinate the meat in anything you might be allergic to.


Make Arrangements in Advance


The Celiac Disease Awareness Campaign of the National Institutes of Health suggests that travelers call their hotel or bed and breakfast ahead of time to find out if there are any gluten-free food options available through room service or the on-site restaurant. They also suggest that travelers arrange for a microwave and small refrigerator to be in their room so that they can go to the grocery store and buy their own food to prepare and eat.
Make sure to contact the airline with whom you’re flying to ensure that they have a gluten-free meal on board for you. If you are taking a cruise you can also let them know in advance about your special dietary needs and remind them once you board.


Additionally, it’s always a good idea to carry nonperishable gluten-free snacks such as rice cakes, nuts, dried fruits and so on. This will ensure that you are able to stave off hunger in the event you’re having trouble locating a food establishment with gluten-free options.


Find a Local Support Group


The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also suggests that travelers look for a local celiac disease support group within the area they plan to visit. If there is one, it will be great place to discover what restaurants and shops cater to those who suffer from the disease.


If there are no local support groups, travelers can always look for online support groups with a wide variety of members from all over the globe. Going through those forums, one may discover a member who lives near the area they plan to visit and can get specific information from them.


Focus on Things You Can Eat


Sometimes it’s easier to describe the foods you can eat to a waiter or food preparer than the foods that you can’t. If you’re traveling to a non-English speaking country and you aren’t comfortable with the primary language they speak, focus on explaining the items you want to dine on rather than those you need to avoid. You can even take pictures of the food items you can eat and carry them with you to show the wait staff. Today’s Dietitian magazine suggests that travelers with food allergies consider preparing dining cards with translations that explain the foods and ingredients they need to avoid. Not only will this help meal planning but it could also reduce cross contamination issues.


Have International Medical Insurance


When obtaining travel insurance with medical coverage, celiac disease will likely be considered a pre-existing condition. As such, complications that result from this disease may qualify for limited coverage under your policy. However, travel insurance with medical coverage is about more than paying treatment costs due to celiac disease complications. It’s also about providing coverage for unrelated illnesses, accidents and injuries that won’t be covered by your domestic insurance policy while you travel abroad.


With proper planning, you should be able to avoid any irritability, pain, fatigue or digestive problems from your celiac disease while traveling. But even the best laid plans aren’t impervious to other accidents, injuries and illnesses that may require treatment. So prepare for the worst, hope for the best, and make sure you have the protection of the proper international health insurance policy before you leave.


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