Celiac disease is a disease characterized by chronic intolerance to gluten, which is a protein present in wheat, oat, barley and rye flour.

For a person with celiac disease, traveling may require additional planning to ensure you can maintain a gluten-free diet and avoid any risk of cross-contamination.

Increasingly, cities are specializing in creating gastronomic maps and specific guides for celiacs, which offer information and advice. Countries such as Italy, Ireland, England, India, Vietnam, the United States, Costa Rica, Mexico, Argentina and Chile are responding to the growing demand for inclusive and accessible gastronomic options for all, with a large concentration of gluten free restaurants, breweries and coffee shops.

With a little research and planning when traveling, we share some important considerations to make life abroad easier.

What should a celiac sufferer do before traveling?

  • Previous research: about the destinations you plan to go to and the gluten-free food options available in that area. You can look for certified gluten-free restaurants and specialty food stores. It is important to highlight that currently the majority of those responsible for gastronomic establishments have knowledge about celiac disease. This increase in understanding of the disease is due to the growing visibility it has acquired in recent years through the media and the hard work carried out by Celiac Associations around the world.
  • International “gluten-free” symbols: If you are traveling to a foreign country, research local food labeling regulations and how to identify safe products. This can vary by country and it is important to be informed to make safe food decisions.
  • Inform the airline that you have celiac disease in advance (normally, airlines allow this up to 48 hours before the plane takes off to have a suitable menu for the passenger.)
  • Have the Gluten Free Restaurant Card on hand: which can be requested at www.celiactravel.com It is free, available in 54 languages and explains specific dietary needs.
  • Communicating with accommodation: If you are staying at a hotel, communicate your needs to ensure they can provide you with gluten-free food options or allow you to store your own food in the room.
  • Download an app to search for gluten-free establishments. Most mobile applications contain valuable restaurant information, and allow you to choose places by geolocation, city, name or address, view phone number, email, website, services, coordinates, photos, social networks, among other important features.
  • Health insurance and medications: It is important to carry any necessary medications to treat possible symptoms of gluten exposure, as well as have adequate health insurance to cover any emergency related to the celiac condition. This is essential not only to avoid inopportune expenses, but also because of the fear of not receiving quality assistance abroad.

Celiac disease figures:

Epidemiological studies indicate that around 1% of the world's population suffers from celiac disease (for every man with celiac disease there are two women with celiac disease) and this phenomenon has increased in the last 25 years, especially in children.

Genes, combined with the consumption of foods with gluten and other factors, can contribute to the disease. Poor infant feeding practices, gastrointestinal infections and intestinal bacteria may contribute, however the exact cause is not known. Sometimes celiac disease becomes active after surgery, pregnancy, childbirth, a viral infection, or severe emotional stress.

Symptoms of the disease:

Celiac disease is a complex clinical condition and symptoms can vary significantly from one person to another. Its clinical spectrum is varied and includes the most classic form characterized by intestinal malabsorption syndrome, which presents diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss, bloating and gas, constipation, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting.

However, more than half of adults have symptoms that are not related to the digestive system, such as:

  • Anemia, generally due to iron deficiency generated by decreased iron absorption
  • Loss of bone density, also called osteoporosis, or bone softening
  • Itchy, blistering skin rash, known as dermatitis herpetiformis
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Headaches and fatigue
  • Nervous system injury, including numbness and tingling in the feet and hands, possible problems with balance, and cognitive impairment
  • Joint pain
  • Decreased function of the spleen, known as hyposplenia
  • Increased liver enzymes.

The treatment of this disease is clear: a gluten-free diet for life. And while it takes a little more effort and caution, planning a trip can open doors to culinary experiences, learning about different approaches to diet, and connecting with other travelers with similar dietary needs.

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