We're having an eventful week. My 20-year-old daughter was just diagnosed with celiac and is leaving for South Africa to study for 4 months at the University of Cape Town. She is feeling a bit overwhelmed with learning the gluten-free diet at the same time she's learning about a new culture and labeling that may not be as efficient as in the US. While she's motivated to do her best, she's concerned it might not be good enough to help her feel better.
Do you have any tips, resources, or general advice for a newly diagnosed and traveling abroad person?
Hi Molly. What a fantastic journey your daughter is embarking upon. But I also understand this is a stressful time for you, worrying about her being off on her own in a foreign country with a newly-diagnosed disease. The good thing is that South Africa is an English-speaking society, which will certainly make it easier when communicating food needs. My general advice is as follows:
Purchase plenty of dining cards so it is easier for your daughter to clearly communicate her food needs. It’s much harder for a newly diagnosed celiac to communicate her needs than someone who has had practice for many years. Two good sources for dining cards include Triumph Dining and Celiebo.
Another handy resource is The Ultimate Guide to Gluten-Free Living, which is a pocket-sized book that provides information about what foods can and cannot be eaten, restaurant guidelines and travel tips.
Because we don’t know the food product labeling laws in South Africa, it is a good idea to ship packages of non-perishable gluten-free foods for your daughter to have on hand, including dried fruit and nuts, energy bars, cold and hot cereals, rice cakes, crackers, grains, and other snacks.
When eating out in restaurants, your daughter should order very simply, eating plain foods without sauces or coatings of any kind.
Work with your daughter to teach her how to take the right precautions and ask the right questions when eating out. This way, she feels more comfortable advocating for herself while ordering food outside of the home.
Meet with a registered dietitian to learn: what foods can and cannot be eaten; the hidden sources of gluten in packaged and restaurant foods; and common occurrences for cross contamination in the home and when eating out.
I hope she enjoys her travels!
Rachel Begun, MS, RD