Gluten-free diets are difficult in our notoriously glutenous city. Can you imagine chipped ham sandwiches without bread, pierogies without dough or Wholey’s without batter.
“I’ll have a, well, salad.”
But times are changing and Pittsburgh has become more culinarily accessible for locals with allergies. Even Eat ‘n’ Park has a menu for Celiac patrons.
And they’re not the only ones.
Many national restaurant chains are developing gluten-free menus. Karen Broussard, who created an app to help gluten-free diners, reminds us that this audience makes up a sizable market. She says that some estimate that gluten-freers make up 30% of the US population this year.
“There are also more restaurants focusing on healthy eating in general, whether it be gluten free, vegan, raw, locally sourced, grain free, paleo, organic or non-GMO,” Karen said. “Gluten free baked goods have become extremely popular, too. You’ll notice more gluten-free bakeries popping up, and even mainstream bakeries and cupcake shops are now offering at least a few gluten free choices.”
Signs of Gluten-Free Growing in Pittsburgh
Jeanette Harris, owner of Pittsburgh’s Gluten Free Goat Bakery, is a sign of the evolution. She points out that people were hard pressed to find gluten-free options in Pittsburgh 7 years ago when she was diagnosed with Celiac disease, but supermarkets and restaurants are adapting quickly.
“Now Giant Eagle has an allergy aisle, there are dedicated gluten-free bakeries and we launched a gluten-free subscription service that brings wheat- and dairy-free options to you,” Jeanette said. “Between all of the new products and a vast improvement in awareness, I expect great things for Pittsburghers with dietary restrictions.”
It is important to remember, however, that a gluten-free menu is not always enough. A lack of knowledge in some parts of the restaurant industry and potential for cross contamination can both be an issue for people with serious allergies.
“Gluten-free consumers need to be diligent in the questions they ask and know where gluten can be accidentally introduced via cross- contamination or overlooked in hidden sources,” suggests Amy Macklin, a local nutritionist for people with Celiac disease.
Cross contamination could be something as simple as rolling gluten-free pizza dough on a surface also used for traditional pizzas or, depending on sensitivity, using the same deep fryer.
Tips for Eating Out
Amy Macklin and the other gluten-free veterans offered tips for eating out in Pittsburgh (or anywhere, for that matter).
1. Understand gluten. Know that gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and (often) commercial oats.
2. Call ahead. You can learn a lot about a restaurant’s sensitivity to your allergy before ever opening a menu.
3. Tell the waiter, ask the chef. Waiters can’t help you if they don’t know, but final recommendations should always come from the chef, who is more likely to know each ingredient in a dish.
4. Don’t feel rushed. Taking time to ask every question on your mind will save you more often than it should.
5. Focus on the foods you can eat to minimize the feelings of deprivation. Plus, it can be a great opportunity to get back-to-the-basics by building a diet around fruits, vegetables, lean meats, fish, poultry, low-fat dairy and whole grains. There is a whole world full of flavors waiting to be discovered.
6. Make up for missed nutrients. The gluten-free diet can be lacking in certain nutrients and careful consideration needs to be taken for those following this diet to prevent nutritional deficiencies. Wheat-based products are fortified with B-vitamins and iron.
Additionally, National Foundation for Celiac Awareness has a printable list of tips and questions when dining out. It’s a great cheat sheet for people who are new to the process.