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 (especially those new to the gluten-free diet) out of their "comfort zones" and places them instead in the realm of well-meaning—but sometimes uninformed—relatives and friends. And that sometimes leads to... uncomfortable symptoms of a glutening soon afterward, or possibly the next day.

For those who haven't been eating gluten-free for very long, Thanksgiving may offer the 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 ending with the pie (wheat crust).

How to Stay Gluten-Free on Thanksgiving

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

  1. Whatever you do, don't 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 get sick—guaranteed. Don't let your Aunt Edna try to talk you into it. If you must, skip the turkey entirely... and yes, it's true that it's not Thanksgiving unless you have turkey. 
  2. On a similar note, don't try pie filling from a pie with a gluten crust. The same rule as above applies—that filling is thoroughly cross-contaminated, regardless if you try to keep your fork well above crust level. You will get sick if you eat pie filling from a pie with a gluten crust.
  3. Quiz the chef thoroughly on ingredients used, and don't eat anything you think is suspect. It's easy for Aunt Edna to forget that her favorite sweet potato casserole recipe contains a tablespoon of flour as a thickener unless you prod her memory.
  4. Don't eat from a restaurant buffet without talking to the chef directly (not your server) about the ingredients. You just never know (without asking) where gluten might lurk. For example, the sliced turkey might look unadorned, but it could have a bit of gluten-containing gravy on it, 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 about what's safe and what's not—most chefs are happy (even on Thanksgiving, which is one of their busiest days of the year) to take a few moments to tell you what's safe and what's not.
  5. Don't be tempted to cheat on the gluten-free diet, even if it's just for one day and you don't get bad symptoms. Cheating once can lead to repeated cheating... and you could really destroy your health if you go down that road.

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 my other tips for a gluten-free Thanksgiving, such as bringing a shared dish (and sticking mainly to that dish).

My favorite idea to avoid getting sick following Thanksgiving is to host the holiday meal myself, 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, you should consider it.

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 just can't have anymore. Watching this (and knowing you can't partake) can be tough to handle emotionally. However if you prepare yourself for this, and make sure you have good food to eat (with as many treats as you want), you'll be less likely to take chances.

Also, know it's possible to do your best but get glutened anyway (Thanksgiving is simply a risky holiday). If that happens, though, there are ways you can feel better faster more quickly... and be ready to hit the stores on Black Friday.

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