Five Things Not To Do on Thanksgiving If You're Gluten-Free

Want to feel good for Black Friday? Then avoid these like the plague

stuffed turkey
Don't eat gluten-stuffed turkey on Thanksgiving.

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Thanksgiving takes many people with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity (especially those new to the gluten-free diet) out of their comfort zones and places them at the mercy of well-intentioned—and sometimes uninformed—relatives and friends. And that sometimes leads to uncomfortable symptoms of a glutening soon afterward, or possibly the next day and linger for up to a week.

For those who haven't been eating gluten-free for very long, Thanksgiving may offer a first chance to try eating gluten-free at someone else's house—and potentially at someone's house who doesn't understand the gluten-free diet. Unfortunately, the holiday tends to be fraught with chances to get sick, starting with the turkey (wheat bread stuffing and wheat-based gravy) and ending with the pie (wheat crust).

How to Stay Gluten-Free on Thanksgiving

To keep you safely gluten-free during Thanksgiving, here are five rules to eat by so you can enjoy the holiday:

  1. Do not be tempted to eat turkey that's been stuffed with bread that contains gluten. It doesn't matter if you try to choose the meat from the outside of the bird—the juices flow throughout the turkey, and carry the gluten protein throughout, as well. If you do this, you'll quite possibly get sick. Don't let your Aunt Edna try to talk you into it. Skip the turkey entirely if it's been stuffed with bread stuffing—otherwise you could feel pretty awful the next day.
  2. On a similar note, don't try pie filling from a pie with a crust made from wheat pastry flour (or any flour derived from gluten grains). The same rule as above applies—that filling is cross-contaminated, regardless if you try to keep your fork well above crust level. You will mostly likely get sick if you eat pie filling from a pie with a gluten crust.
  3. Quiz the chef thoroughly on ingredients used, and stay away from anything you think is suspect. If Aunt Edna has a tendency to forget that her favorite sweet potato casserole recipe contains a tablespoon of flour as a thickener, it's a good idea to prod her to help jog her memory.
  4. Don't eat from a restaurant buffet without asking the chef about the ingredients. You just never know where gluten might lurk unless you ask. For example, the sliced turkey might look unadorned, but it could have a bit of gluten-containing gravy on it, since the roux is made with flour. Or, it might have been cooked with wheat bread stuffing. The cocktail sauce for the seafood table could have gluten-containing soy sauce in it. The vegetables might have been steamed with the same water the restaurant uses to make gluten-containing pasta, or might include a sauce thickened with flour. Check with the manager and/or the chef beforehand—most chefs are happy to take a few moments to tell you or your server what's safe for you to eat and what's not.
  5. Don't be tempted to cheat on the gluten-free diet, even if it's just for one day. Depending on the severity of your reaction from gluten, even occasional cheating could make you feel sick.

Additional Thanksgiving Ideas You Can Try

Many people who are particularly sensitive to trace gluten find they simply can't eat foods made in a shared kitchen without reacting. If this is the case for you, it's not too late to make yourself some gluten-free food to take to a relative's house, or to follow some of our other tips for a gluten-free Thanksgiving, such as bringing a shared dish (and sticking mainly to that dish).

One surefire way to avoid getting sick following Thanksgiving is to host the holiday meal yourself, and make a traditional Thanksgiving dinner that's completely gluten-free. Not everyone is in a position to make a huge meal for a bunch of friends and relatives, but if you are, it's definitely worth considering.

A Word from Verywell

It can be difficult to resist temptation on holidays like Thanksgiving: it's likely that your friends and family will be enjoying gluten-filled foods that you can't have. Witnessing this (and knowing you can't partake) can be tough to handle emotionally, for some. However, if you're adequately prepared and ensure that you have enough good food and treats to enjoy, you'll be less likely to take a chance and cheat.

Also, know that it's possible to do your best but still get glutened anyway (Thanksgiving is simply a risky holiday). Fortunately there are a few ways you can recover from gluten exposure such as making sure you hydrate and get plenty of rest... so that you're ready to hit the stores on Black Friday.

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Article Sources
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  2. Uhde M, Ajamian M, Caio G, et al. Intestinal cell damage and systemic immune activation in individuals reporting sensitivity to wheat in the absence of coeliac disease. Gut. 2016;65(12):1930-1937. doi:10.1136/gutjnl-2016-311964

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