Gluten free in the USA

I went to Orlando, Florida in July.  This was my first trip to the United States
and I was really looking forward to experiencing the culture and the food. I
packed some of my favourite gluten free bread and packets of Melinda’s gluten
free water crackers as my emergency pack and just as well I did.

Qantas provided the standard gluten free meals and I had my own
stash of chips, nuts and fruit for the 24 hour journey. Navigating Los Angeles
Airport I could only find a gluten free nut bar and some chocolate within the
numerous Starbuck’s and convenience stores. Luckily the fruit I found was
sensational so I’d consumed about four bananas before reaching Orlando at the
equivalent of $1 per kg (a real luxury for Aussies at the moment).

My first meal experience was breakfast in the hotel
restaurant. I arrived with my own gluten free bread thinking I would have eggs
and bacon on toast.. Unfortunately, according to their regulations they will
not toast gluten free bread. When I asked the waiter about gluten free options
on their menu, the answer was ‘um, nothing I think!, ‘I’ll check with the chef’.
In the end I received two poached eggs still sitting in water in a ceramic dish
and some very crunchy bacon.. My well travelled gluten free bread was a much
needed addition!
Luckily I was only a few hours away from my maiden voyage to
Wholefoods, the American mecca of health foods and ‘hopefully’ gluten free
foods. I would describe Wholefoods as a health food shop and cafe on
steroids!  I discovered the most amazing fruit section with 1kg organic strawberries and blueberries for under $4,
self-serve sushi bars, banks of self-serve salad and full meal bars, and rows
and rows of grocery items, including a great range of gluten free products.

Gluten free premix section of Wholefoods
I proceeded to fill a shopping trolley with fruit and all
things gluten free in an effort to try everything I could in the two weeks I
would be staying. I returned several times to collect more gluten free food and
eat lunch from the self-serve bars.
The first of many trips to Wholefoods!
Four of my gluten-free issues from the trip are:
  1. The allowable levels of gluten contained in American
    gluten free products.
  2. The inclusion of oats in many products.
  3. The amount of sugar contained in all foods,
    including savoury foods.
  4. The nutritional panels only display the ‘per
    serve’ amounts (not per 100g). All calculations were in ounces (my iPhone
    kitchen conversion apps received a workout).
High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a cheap way of
sweetening food items and appears in many products
so this one was keen to show they don’t use it.
It’s reported in several books to be the source of weight gain.
I found HFCS in savoury products too.
Over the two weeks I was ill several times, a few times from
eating at restaurants ordering from their gluten free menus and otherwise I
believe from a build up of eating gluten free packaged foods with most containing
small amounts of gluten.
Restaurants seem to be starting to offer a gluten free menu.
However, this usually meant two to three options which read “meal X, minus the
sauce, minus the seasonings and minus all of the sides” which for example, left
you with a piece of steak and baked potato. In my five restaurant experiences
there was no gluten free dessert offered.
Since the fruit was so amazing I was happy consuming large volumes of strawberries,
blueberries, cherries and bananas along with a great selection of nut mixes and
salad beans. I would recommend a limited amount of packaged food when
travelling in the United States if you’re used to a 100% gluten free diet.
I consumed over 20 bananas in two weeks!
I know I take for granted the large array of restaurants and cafes in Australia that now
offer gluten free menus and the great variety of foods available in our
mainstream supermarkets. Although we can and will continue to improve availability
and quality of gluten free food in Australia we are so lucky to be ahead of the
game in raising gluten free awareness.

6 Responses

  1. Eileen Killoran Says:

    Hi Melinda,
    Firstly I have to thank you for your wonderful range of Gluten free foods. I love them.
    I know the hassles you go through when travelling. I am also lactose intolerant and so the problem is more than doubled. Some places will do one or the other but not both.
    I agree that we are quite spoilt for choice in Australia. Overseas can be a problem. In non-english speaking countries I have laminated cards that I make up on the computer in their language to explain the situation. The chefs, cooks etc are always very appreciative.
    Thanks again,

  2. Michele Says:

    We do tend to take our local restaurants and cafes for granted in their offering of gluten free options. It often takes travel to less “enlightened” places to remind us. It also comes back to all of us coeliacs to educate food providers(politely, of course!).

  3. Mike Says:

    Hi Melinda!

    Sorry you had some issues here. There are large chains in the US that have jumped on the GF bandwagon, but it sounds like you missed them.

    I would recommend the following the next time you come here:
    Outback Steakhouse: you do get a steak and veggies… but hey, it’s a steakhouse. 😉 They have a rice flour brownie for dessert, that is ginormous.

    PF Changs China Bistro: upscale ‘fusion’ Chinese food, with extensive offerings.

    Red Robin: A gourmet burger chain. they offer lettuce wrapped burgers and train their staff extensively on GF food handling.

    Chevy’s Mexican Restaurant. A personal favorite. The manager at our local Chevy’s not only vets the ingrediants, he looks into the ingrediants that are used in other ingrediants. They have a yummy flan (A Mexican sweet custard topped with caramlized sugar) for dessert.

    Depending on where you are, there are also regional offerings. I know of a number of places here in Portland, OR that have GF menus, and there are even some places that are entirely GF. If you’re ever here, be sure to check out either the Corbett’s or Hawthorne Fish house: their menu is almost entirely GF except for bread for non-GF sandwiches. They have an extensive GF dessert menu as well.

  4. Melinda Says:

    Thanks Mike, that will really help for my next trip. I researched before I left but I think it takes a local to know!
    Multiple allergies or intolerances would be a nightmare!

  5. Josie Says:

    I just made Melinda’s gluten free Chocolate Fudge Brownies and I must say they are the best I have ever tasted! Moist, chocolatey and soooo moorish!
    While I am not coelic, I do avoid gluten foods as I am gluten intolerant so in the health food aisle at my local Coles supermarket I often search for gluten free products that I can try out. I am so glad I stumbled across these as I will keep making them!
    Thanks Melinda!

  6. Melinda Says:

    Thanks Josie, we love our brownies too, especially with a little Toberlone sprinkled over the top before cooking!

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