Should you eat gluten-free food prepared by friends or relatives?

Getty Images/Shelby Ross

Question: Should you eat gluten-free food prepared by friends or relatives?


Not if it's prepared by someone who doesn't follow the gluten-free diet.

There are only a couple of exceptions to this rule that come to mind: 1) if the person's a professional chef or dietitian skilled in the minute details of the gluten-free diet; or 2) if you've stood there the entire time the person cooked the meal, and can verify that every single ingredient was gluten-free and every single cooking tool and pan used was safe from gluten cross-contamination.

Otherwise, you're on a fast track to a glutening ... the gluten-free diet simply is too complex — and gluten can hide in too many different places — for your well-meaning friend or relative to learn how to cook gluten-free in one meal.

This is a huge problem for people who are newly diagnosed with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity — it's really hard to tell friends or relatives you care about that you're no longer willing to eat their food. So much of our culture is tied up in shared meals, and many hosts and hostesses justifiably take pride in the food they create.

I went a long time before I finally realized I had to speak up for myself and start bringing my own food to parties (and suffered many glutenings, both mild and terrible, along the way).

The decisive incident was when a good friend served a rice dish at dinner. Thinking he had checked the ingredients (and it was rice, after all!), I had two helpings.

When my symptoms awakened me the next morning at 3 a.m., I googled the name of the rice dish ... and found the second ingredient was wheat flour. I was sick — really sick — for a week after that meal.

These days, I take my own food everywhere. If the host or hostess offers to cook something gluten-free for me as part of the invitation, I politely decline.

I keep declining at the social event itself, even if the host or hostess presents me with something "gluten-free" they've made specially for me.

I won't even take a serving of something I know is gluten-free unless I've taken it out of the package myself. I've watched friends use their fingers to arrange gluten crackers on a separate plate so the cheese will be safe for me, and then use those same fingers — without washing their hands — to pull the cheese out of its wrapper and place it on its own plate.

It's just too easy to get glutened at a dinner or a party if you eat food prepared by others. You may spend so much time worrying about the food (and watching other people potentially spread crumbs around) to truly enjoy yourself. If you bring your own food (especially something you really enjoy), you can focus on the people and the conversation, and not worry so much about getting sick the next day.

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