There’s nothing better than gathering around the table at the holidays. Time with loved ones, sharing gratitude and an indulgent meal complete with pie await! Then, reality sinks in. You can’t eat some of your old favorite holiday dishes if you have celiac disease or a sensitivity to gluten, a protein found in several grains.
You stare at the stuffing. You drool over homemade rolls. And the pie crust? Dang! None of it is on your menu any longer. (Unless of course you or an amazing host offer gluten-free versions of these favorites!)
You know to avoid common foods obviously made from glutinous grains, but what about that green bean casserole? Is it gluten-free? Or, the mashed potatoes? Wheat can’t be hiding in there, could it?
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After following a strict gluten-free dietary plan to manage celiac disease, I’m here to say gluten can hide anywhere. Here are four places that aren’t as obvious as the cracker and cheese tray.
1. Marinades and Brines
Wheat-based vinegars, soy sauce made with barley malt and hot sauce thickened with wheat flour all hide in popular seasonal marinades and brines. Whenever there are multiple ingredients in a bottle or a packet, there’s the possibility that something is derived from, or directly contains, gluten.
In addition to meats being marinated or brined, some people also make homemade sides like sauerkraut or pickles using these soaking methods. Sauerkraut isn’t just fermented cabbage. It’s cabbage soaked in a mixture of ingredients. What are they?
2. Sauces and Gravies
Thick, creamy and delicious sauces and gravies don’t happen by accident. Common thickeners include flour (which may or may not be gluten free), cornstarch (generally gluten-free) or tapioca flour (yep, gluten free!).
These can hide in casseroles, creamy vegetable side dishes, the gravy boat, whipped cream and even sauces drizzled over a dessert. Once I attended a potluck and reached for the bowl of fresh fruit. I was thankful someone told me they sprinkled a packet of flavored gelatin over the top to create a sauce of sorts for the fruit. Of course, the fruit salad was no longer gluten free, so I skipped it.
3. Breadings and Coatings
You know breaded chicken finger appetizers are off limits, but what lingers on the outside of those potato wedges or on top of that casserole? A cracker coating? Battered-fried onions? Ask questions!
If the comment about the fried onions has you worried, let me tell you that classic green bean casserole is just as delicious made with a homemade mushroom sauce and skillet-fried onions. If you’re in charge of bringing a side dish to share, try the healthy green bean casserole recipe from Fit Foodie.
4. Condiments and Seasonings
Early on, I was surprised to learn that seasonings aren’t just blends of herbs and spices. Often fillers get mixed in to keep the product from clumping or spoiling. Read the labels on everything from table salt to barbecue sauce.
If you’re dining at a restaurant for the holidays, play it safe and order steamed or roasted vegetables with no seasoning. And skip the add-on sauces like ranch, ketchup or hollandaise unless you can read the packaging or get helpful answers from the restaurant staff.
As you can see, gluten can sneak its way into almost any dish. Be proactive and ask whoever prepared the food specific questions about the ingredients used. Ask to see recipes and read labeling on packaged foods. Don’t be scared to be a little nosy when your health and wellness are at stake!
With that said, so many foods are naturally gluten-free including whole, fresh meats like locally farm-raised turkey, chicken and duck (not injected with brine or pre-seasoned), fresh whole produce and grains including rice, millet and amaranth. With the rise in interest and diagnoses related to gluten, many companies are making gluten-free labeling a priority on their packaging so you can choose versions of your favorite things (like stuffing and bread!) that are safe for you to eat.
How do you approach holiday meals as a guest? Share your tips and ideas in the comments below to help other readers.
Until next time,
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