Traveling with a Gluten Free/ Casein Free (GFCF) Diet

Between delays, traffic, missed connections, and other unexpected mishaps, traveling can be stressful; however, if you want to make it even more so, you should just go ahead and add in pretty restrictive dietary restrictions into the mix.

For about 1% of the U.S. population, myself included, has celiac disease. Contrary to some people’s understanding, celiac is an autoimmune disease triggered by consuming gluten (i.e. wheat, barely, and rye). It is not an allergy. Simply put, one cannot grow out of or take any medications to alleviate the reaction of consuming gluten. But not to make things too simple by just having celiac, I also cannot have any casein (i.e. the milk protein found in all mammals (think goats and cows).

So in short, I must follow a strict Gluten Free/Casein Free (GFCF) diet, and at times, this can be easier said than done. Especially for a person whose favorite meals to indulge in prior to being diagnosed with celiac was anything made with pasta and cheese. And truth be told, if I have too, I will eat dishes with milk in them if I have no other choices available to me, and I will suffer the consequences later; however, gluten is another story.

Even though it can be perceived as rude to reject someone gifts of a home baked good or share in a group meal, the consequences, depending on how much gluten can last weeks for me. I am extremely sensitive to just the smallest minuscule amount. While there are over 300 different side effects, everyone reacts differently. For me it can range from having what feels like a massive hangover mixed with a foggy memory to puking my guts out for hours then capped with intense bone pain and muscle twitching and swelling that can last hours to weeks. Again, not all celiacs suffer the same symptoms, nor do they have the same sensitivity.

Some common misconceptions/considerations relating to a GFCF diet:

Cross-Contamination: …But all of the ingredients are gluten free, so therefore my meal will be GF.

Sadly no. Every time I choose to dine in a restaurant, I am taking a risk of cross-contamination. What this means is that unless a restaurant has a truly dedicated separate cooking space, utensils, pans, cooks changing their gloves, and fryers, there is always a chance my meal will contain gluten. One area that some people never really think of, but has happened to me on more than one occasion is getting glutenated from a bar soda dispenser. Think about that for a minute, the dispenser accidentally gets a bit of beer or another alcohol containing gluten on it. I did realize this until it was too late.

Lactose Free and Casein Free are the same thing

Lactose is the sugar in milk, while casein is an actual protein found in milk.

The devil is in the sauce/binding agent…..

Gluten and casein can be found in many unexpected places that you wouldn’t think to look unless you have to. Many sauces, spices, malts, and rubs can contain gluten. One the major red flags to look out for is soy sauce, because unless it explicitly says gluten free, it will most likely contain trace amounts. Also, casein and gluten is used as binding agents, especially in non-dairy cheese alternatives and sausage casings and in medicines such as vitamins.

You have to watch out for the fillers….

Look, if you go to a restaurant and are able to get a hamburger or “crab” sushi roll for cheap, there is most likely gluten being used as a filler to minimize the amount of meat. Sushi can be tricky, especially when you can’t get a straight answer if they use imitation meat. When in doubt, just walk out is my motto.

If the dish is Vegan or Vegetarian, then it must be gluten free…

Just because something is listed as vegetarian or vegan, doesn’t automatically make it gluten free. Last time I checked, grain is used in some of those types of dishes

Gluten Friendly and Gluten Free are the same thing.

No they are not, and the meaning may vary from restaurant to restaurant. Usually there is a note in small print with a disclaimer that the restaurant is a shared space and cross-contamination can occur and it may not be recommended for celiacs. Keep this in mind and make your own judgment call


  • Always try to research the restaurant prior to arriving, whether it be via findmeglutenfree , yelp , google, contacting the restaurant ahead of times, and/or the use of other apps(there is a great GF app for Roma) to save yourself the frustration of showing up and finding that you have no choices to choose from.
  • Ask to see if there is a special allergen menu available
  • If you don’t feel as if your concerns are being addressed or understood during the ordering process, don’t chance it.
  • Know going in, that your choices are usually extremely limited when compared to the normal menu.
  • You will most likely incur an up-charge for GF dishes. Pasta, bread, Pizza, Vegan ( usually Diaya unless made in house/locally) cheese. Prices range drastically, but it is nothing to see a $5.00 up-charge
  • When going out with coworkers or to events that will have some sort of food element involved, I will usually eat prior to the event, because I will not expect for my dietary restrictions to be met ahead of time. There is nothing more painful to sit there and watch others eat while you’re starving.
  • Major airports have gotten better about stocking GFCF snack; however, it can be a challenge at times to find anything, especially last minute. Plan ahead and pack your own.
  • Airplane meals- in most cases, there is no combined GFCF meal option. Usually only GF. Also, there have been countless times where catering has forgotten to stock my special meal request, even though I will call days in advance and verify at check-in, the gate, and the club room and be assured to only be disappointed when they start passing out meals. Once again, plan ahead and pack your own snacks to avoid getting Hangry.
  • If you are traveling to a location that speaks a different language than what you do, print out a card that explains your dietary issues in that language. Also make sure you have some sort of translator app on your phone to assist you.
  • While a GFCF diet is pretty restrictive in terms of what you cannot eat, it is better to remember the things that you can enjoy

While trying to maintain a GFCF diet on the road can be a pain in the ass, it’s not impossible. It just requires a little bit more effort and thought.

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Whether it be for work, fun, or just every day normal life, I always seem to be on the go. While living life out of a suitcase, I try to make the most out of my business trips and explore wherever I happen to be. From sampling the local cuisine, to getting lost and finding places I never might have found. I continue to check off and add to my ever growing bucket lists. While not on the road, I like to try to catch up and explore all that Indy has to offer.

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