Gluten Free Travel Tips

gluten free

I recently spent a week in the beautiful country of Croatia.  Five of those days were spent on a sail boat with my boyfriend, another couple from back home in the US, and our skipper, Nikola, who helped sail the boat and guided us to some of the country's most beautiful sites. Last year I was diagnosed as having a gluten intolerance.  Gluten is a combination of proteins that is found in certain grains such as wheat, rye, and barley.  It's also present in almost all packaged and processed foods. Unless it's marked gluten-free, you can pretty much be sure it's in there somewhere.  Gluten is also added as a binder in a number of non-food products, like Chapstick, pharmaceuticals, stamps, and toothpaste.

This diagnosis came as no surprise to me, as my maternal grandmother has Celiac disease (a full blown gluten allergy) and I've always felt like crap after eating a lot of bread (you don't want to be near me after I've eaten pizza, trust me!).  So now I do what I can to avoid gluten.  At home, this is fairly easy. Once you get the hang of cooking gluten-free, it kind of becomes second nature.  I said kind of :)

That being said, this lifestyle can make for an interesting adventure while traveling.  In my experience, some countries are more gluten-free friendly than others.  For example, Portugal has a lot of fresh fish, fruits, and veggies that make eating gluten-free pretty easy.  During our road trip through the Algarve last summer we were able to pick up a kilo of sun-dried figs and a kilo of raw almonds at a road-side stand for super cheap.  These snacks kept us happy for a majority of the trip.  In Paris it was a little more difficult to avoid the tempting aroma of fresh baked goods coming out of the boulangeries that are found on every other corner.  

Am I 100% gluten-free?  No.  Nor am I 100% vegetarian, dairy-free, sugar-free, etc.  I consider myself to be a "flexitarian."  But I'll save those details for another post :)

So, back to the sailing trip.  I knew that being on a boat for 5 days, I would have limited access to restaurants so I would need to do a bit of preparation ahead of time if I wanted to go gluten-free.  Some people may think this is too much work.  From my experience, trying to find gluten-free products in a country where I don't know the language (after 10 months of trial and error plus a lot of Google Translate I'm finally able to decipher enough Dutch to know what I want or don't want) or dealing with the effects of eating too much gluten (bloating, headache, and joint stiffness to name a few), I'll take the hour of pre-planning, thanks!

Our friend had already planned out the meals for the week, so I used his meal plan and made some slight adjustments until it was gluten-free.

Here's what I ended up bringing:

1. Gluten-free coffee cake- spread on nut butter for a nice breakfast or snack

2. Gluten-free spaghetti- made from corn and rice flour

3. Gluten-free ciabatta bread- for quick lunch time sandwiches with tomato and cucumber

4. Buckwheat crackers

5. Cashew butter

6. Oats

  • oats are gluten-free in and of themselves, though most are contaminated with gluten as they're processed on the same machinery.  If you're going for 100% gluten-free, avoid oats unless they're specifically marked as gluten-free

7. Buckwheat pasta spirals

8. Dehydrated mango slices

  • I made these at home in the dehydrator, but you can find them and other dried fruit a most health food stores.  Just be sure to avoid the ones made with sulfur.

9. Quinoa

  • I could have packed any of the gluten-free grains such as buckwheat, brown rice, or millet.  I always prefer quinoa because it's super yummy with pretty much everything and is packed full of all the essential proteins your body needs

10. Homemade anti-inflammatory shake powder packet (check back soon for details!)

11. Two types of tea: Chaga and Cistus

12. Tea ball

  • Many tea bags are made of nylon which is derived from petroleum.  When placed into hot water, this leeches into your otherwise healthy beverage.  I don't know about you, but the idea of ingesting even small amounts of petroleum doesn't sound appetizing to me!  So I bring this little ball with me, rip open tea bags, put it into the ball and let it steep as usual.  Check out this site to learn more http://www.tested.com/food/454733-plastic-tea-bags-may-pose-health-risks-similar-plastic-bottles/

13. Fruit and nut bars

  • When I'm on the go I love to have bars like these with me.  However, not all bars are created equal.  Many "health" bars are full of sugar, preservatives, and other chemicals we don't need.  Raw Bites are my favorite, since they're both gluten-free and raw :) In the US, an equivalent version is the Lara Bar.

14. Raw LoveChock Chocolate

  • You'll soon find out that I am a chocolate addict and I'm usually really good at keeping my "habit" under control.  I like to have some raw chocolate on hand to curb my craving whenever it decides to pop up.  Because it's raw and without added sugar, I actually take in lots of good stuff like antioxidants, magnesium, and other essential minerals :)

15. Green powder packets

  • Green powders can be a combination of many different types of green foods like grasses (wheatgrass, barley grass), algae (chlorella, spirulina), or veggies (broccoli, sprouts).  Some even contain berry blends (these ones usually taste the best).  All these foods are alkaline, reducing the acidity of the body.  While the best way to reap the benefits of these foods is to eat them in their whole form, it can be difficult to do this while on the road.  This is when it's helpful to have some green powder in your bag.  I received these little packets from my local health food store as a "thank you" gift during their anniversary celebration.  While these are convenient, they're not usually the most cost effective.  To save some bucks, buy a big jar and put as much as you'll need for your trip into a ziplock bag.  One small spoonful each morning in a glass of water should do the trick!

Things we were able to pick up from the supermarket when we arrived:

  • fresh and dried fruits like bananas, apples, grapefruit, peaches, figs and raisins
  • vegetables including tomatoes, onions, garlic, peppers, and cucumber
  • dairy products such as natural yogurt, cheese, and milk
  • tomato sauce and pesto in glass jar and uncooked black beans
  • fresh fish and chicken

While we ate dinner on the boat three out of the five nights, we did end up eating out a lot in the little marina towns. I usually ended up choosing some combination of soup, salad, and vegetarian risotto, though I did enjoy a few homemade gnocchi's that were definitely worth stepping off the gluten-free train for a bit :)