The gluten-free diet can make eating out a little challenging. But with a little pre-planning from you and cooperation from the restaurant, you can get gluten-free Chinese food.
Going Gluten Free
In recent years, the gluten-free diet has become a trendy diet touted as the key to good health and a better weight, notes the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. While omitting gluten from your diet may support your weight-loss efforts and help you feel better, it's not likely the gluten, but the restrictiveness of the diet itself responsible for the purported benefits.
Unless you're diagnosed with celiac disease or gluten intolerance, you may want to first consult with your doctor before cutting gluten out of your diet. People with celiac disease can't eat gluten because it triggers an immune reaction that damages the small intestine and may increase the risk of malnutrition.
Gluten intolerance doesn't damage the digestive tract, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, but may lead to symptoms such as bloating, abdominal pain or diarrhea.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. Foods that contains these grains include anything from your sandwich bread to your favorite brand of sausage to the soy sauce used at your local Chinese restaurant, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. If you're following a gluten-free diet, you need to avoid these grains and all the foods that contain them.
Gluten in Chinese Food
When following a gluten-free diet, you may find it fairly easy to find gluten-free foods when shopping at your local grocery store. While not mandatory, the FDA has allowed manufacturers to label their items as "gluten-free," as long as they meet specific guidelines.
You may also notice some restaurants mark their menus to identify items that are gluten-free. If you're lucky, your local Chinese restaurant may have items marked as gluten-free to make things easier.
However, if there are no gluten-free Chinese dishes marked on the menu, knowing what to avoid is a good place to start. Ingredients from the Chinese restaurant menu that may contain gluten include:
- Soy sauce
- Noodles made from wheat
- Imitation fish
- Fried and battered foods
Any agents used to thicken a sauce may also be a source of gluten. When dining out at your favorite Chinese restaurant, you may want to stay away from the soups, noodle dishes, fried or battered foods and anything made with soy sauce.
Read more: 9 Foods You Didn't Know Contain Gluten
Wheat gluten is one of the primary ingredients in many brands of soy sauce, according to data from the USDA. Tamari has a flavor similar to soy sauce and is usually gluten-free and may be used as an alternative to soy sauce. Ask your server if gluten-free tamari sauce is available.
Gluten-Free Chinese Food
While some of your favorite Chinese dishes, such as sweet-and-sour chicken and General Tso's, are no longer good choices for you on your gluten-free diet, there are some healthy and delicious gluten-free options at Chinese restaurants.
Some of your gluten-free Chinese food options may include:
- Rice noodle dishes (made without soy sauce or broth)
- Beef, chicken or shrimp with broccoli or mixed vegetables (made with gluten-free tamari sauce)
- Buddha's delight
While you have many items to choose from, you still need to talk to your server or the chef before you order to make sure there isn't any cross-contamination (food isn't being prepared in a pan used to make gluten-containing foods), warns the Celiac Disease Foundation. This is true whether you're eating at the restaurant or ordering gluten-free Chinese takeaway.
The Mayo Clinic also suggests you scan the menu online before heading over to the restaurant to make sure they have gluten-free items available. You may be better off going out to eat during the off-hours so you miss the rush, and the restaurant is better able to address your specific diet needs.
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Eating, Diet and Nutrition for Celiac Disease"
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Definition and Facts for Celiac Disease"
- American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology: "Gluten Intolerance Defined"
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "Gluten Free Diet: Building the Grocery List"
- FDA: "Gluten and Food Labeling"
- Coeliac UK: "Gluten Free Takeaways"
- FoodData Central: "Soy Sauce"
- Celiac Disease Foundation: "Dining and Social Eating"
- Mayo Clinic: "Gluten-Free Diet"