If you have any dietary restrictions – whether due to food allergies, intolerances, or just strong preferences – it can be challenging to eat out and be safe, let alone relax and enjoy the experience. A bit of a foodie myself, I love to eat out and discover new flavors and places. But being gluten- and dairy-free, I know what I have to do to take care of myself and I take full responsibility for doing it in a way that is as unobtrusive as possible. Below are my tips for planning your meal out that will make it worth it. Much of it is in your expectations and attitude, the rest comes with a little bit of preparation and planning.
About 6 months ago, I made the decision to cut out as much sugar as possible from my diet, and it’s made a world of difference to my taste buds and to my digestive issues. I really didn’t realize how much sugar I had been consuming, between all the fruit, granola, and smoothies and snacks, not to mention outright sweets like ice cream (non-dairy of course) and gluten-free cookies. On the whole, I probably was still not eating as much sugar as the average American, but for someone with digestive issues like mine, I was eating way too much, as I soon discovered. I embarked on a 2-month journey to cut it all out as part of a strict anti-candidata diet. I even cut out Thai food and all fruits except grapefruit, raspberries and blueberries. As difficult as the first two weeks of withdrawal were, I discovered a really helpful fact – that sugar aggravates my digestive symptoms, namely the extreme bloating and lethargy – even when I’m being strict with avoiding my intolerances of gluten and dairy.
I’ve been gluten-free and dairy-free for about 8 years, and if you ask me which one I miss more, hands down the answer is dairy. The gluten-free “movement”, if you want to call it that, has been around for at least a decade now, and in that time has ballooned to a huge industry, with new gluten-free substitutes emerging every time I visit the grocery store. Each year, gluten-free bread, pasta, pizza dough, and sweets get better and better, so much so that many of them are pretty close to the real thing.
For those looking for ‘free-from’ foods that are a perfect match for their flavor and health goals, the Tasteful Pantry does the research and the taste-testing on a variety of foods in the marketplace. We then summarize our findings in our “easily digestible” Product Reviews. We rate each product on a scale of 1-5 (1 being least, 5 being most) and provide our personal notes on the aspects of the product that we love (or don’t love). Here’s a key to the factors we rate:
Natural Factor: Not all ‘free-from’ foods (or any foods for that matter) are healthy or natural. This ranking tells you if the product is full of non-natural ingredients and is highly processed (a low rating), or is made from simple organic minimally-processed ingredients (a high rating).
Taste Factor: We admit it, we’re foodies. And we apply our foodie taste buds to tasting the foods we review. Too many ‘free-from’ foods out there resemble cardboard in taste and texture, but there are some really good ones too. We rank products for flavor and texture, and if the product meets our high standards for yumminess and leaves us drooling for more, it will get a high ranking!
Fullness Factor: Sometimes you want a snack that will fill you up and hold you over for a while. Sometimes you just want the taste of something yummy in your mouth but don’t want to fill up. This factor measures how filling one serving of the product is, whether it’s a snack or a meal item. We use a scientific approach (analyzing the ingredients and nutrients) and an experiential one (how full we felt after eating one serving) to provide you with a balanced opinion. 5 is super full, 1 is no impact on our stomach capacity.
Overall Rating: We take all the factors above into consideration, as well as our overall experience with the product, and synthesize it into this one number. 5 is we absolutely LOVED the product and could eat it all day, 1 is we wouldn’t touch it again with a 10-foot pole.
Macros: The 3 macronutrients of protein, carbohydrates and fat are the 3 main components of food, and what we need in large amounts for our bodies to function normally. These are also energy-yielding nutrients, meaning these nutrients provide calories. Depending on your diet and health goals, you may want to maintain a specific balance of macros (e.g. if you’re trying to build lean body mass you’ll want more protein), so we provide those numbers in our reviews for you right up front.
Gluten-Free (GF): Gluten-Free, per the FDA’s gluten-free labeling standards (<20ppm), or certified gluten-free by a third party organization.
Dairy-Free (DF): No dairy ingredients
Vegan (V): Contains no animal products including honey
Soy-Free (SF): No soy ingredients
Nut-Free (NF): Free from peanuts and tree nuts and produced in a nut-free facility, as communicated to us by the manufacturer. May contain coconuts.