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  • Jefferson Adams
    Jefferson Adams

    Did Japan's ANA Airlines Really Give a Single Banana as a Gluten-free Meal?

    Caption: Image: CC--yamaguchi yoshiaki

    Celiac.com 05/04/2017 - Japan's ANA airline is catching some public relations heat this week after reports that a man flying from Tokyo to Australia received a banana instead of the gluten-free meal that he booked in advance.

    London resident, and celiac disease sufferer, Martin Pavelka flew All Nippon Airways flight from Tokyo this week, a nine-hour flight.

    Numerous media have reported Mr. Pavelka's plights in glaring terms, such as the Independent's alarming headline: Man Given Banana as Gluten-free "Meal"Â on Nine hour Flight, with the equally sensational sidebar: Londoner flying from Tokyo to Sydney was handed a banana as the gluten-free inflight "meal." However, a closer reading shows those claims to be pretty misleading.

    The fact is that Mr. Pavelka did receive his specially-ordered gluten-free meal at dinner, shortly after departure. The banana was part of the breakfast meal, the second meal service for the flight, which is where the trouble began for Mr Pavelka, who said he was "expecting something more substantial."Â

    "All other passengers were served full breakfast meal consisting of eggs, sausage, mushrooms, bread, and yogurt,"Â Pavelka told the Standard, while all he received was a single banana,"Â which though "definitely gluten free…did not keep me full for very long."Â

    So, let's add this all up. On a nine-hour flight, Mr. Pavelka received his special gluten-free meal for dinner, and then about 5 hours later, about 2 hours or so before landing, he received a banana in lieu of a full breakfast? But he wanted more? And this is a new story?

    In the account given by the Standard, Mr. Pavelka's first words to the flight attendant were "is this some kind of joke?"Â Not exactly diplomatic language. Nor, by the Standard's account did Mr. Pavelka ask for anything more, such as a yogurt, or additional fruit?

    Clearly Mr. Pavelka received less food at breakfast than the other passengers, but the food was gluten-free, as was his earlier dinner. It's entirely reasonable for Mr. Pavelka to expect to be treated like the other passengers, and to receive more for breakfast.

    However, without more detail, it's hard to know exactly what ANA offered at the time of booking, or whether there was some kind of mix-up with the caterers who provide meals, including specialty meals, to ANA. Do we know for sure that ANA actually offered a full gluten-free breakfast on that flight? Or that Mr. Pavelka was promised one? That said, both Mr. Pavelka and the newspapers covering the story owe it to the public to be more clear and less sensational about the actual facts. Expecting two gluten-free meals, and receiving one gluten-free meal and a banana is a very different story than just receiving a banana.

    Reports that the banana was the only gluten-free food ANA provided Mr. Pavelka for the entire nine-hour flight are simply wrong. ANA in fact provided Mr. Pavelka with a gluten-free dinner. The Standard managed to bury that important detail in paragraph ten of an eighteen paragraph article, while the Independent slipped it into paragraph seven of a thirteen paragraph article. Both papers carefully avoid mentioning the fact that the dinner was gluten-free.

    The paragraph in the Standard reads: "Although he had been given a larger meal the previous evening when his flight left, Mr Pavelka said he was expecting something more substantial for breakfast."Â

    Yet, somehow, the Standard published the story under the fact-mashed title, "Londoner who ordered gluten free meal on nine-hour flight is given a single banana to eat with knife and fork."

    Both the newspapers and Mr. Pavelka seem focused on spinning a story that the banana was the only food ANA provided Mr. Pavelka during the flight, which was simply not the case.

    Such obfuscation, presumably in search of readership, does little to provide clarity on the actual details, and much to cause doubt and confusion about what are actually fairly simple, if inconvenient, facts to a fairly mundane, and not-altogether newsworthy, story.

    If Mr. Pavelka received only a banana for his nine-hour flight, that would truly be an outrage. If he received a gluten-free meal, plus a banana, that would be an inconvenience. The story was presented as an outrage, when the facts indicated it was clearly more of an inconvenience.

    This article was revised for clarity by the author on 5/10/2017.

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    That actually IS a big deal. He WAS given a banana instead of a meal, which is ridiculous. Sir, one banana is NOT a meal! Surely they could have at least boiled a couple of eggs and some form of gluten free cereal or yogurt. Breakfast, more than any other meal, needs to provide a hefty serving of protein. Many sufferers of Celiac have sugar control issues or other problems because of their autoimmune state. Never being guaranteed a safe food source is frightening, as this can lead not only to discomfort, but sudden drops in sodium or blood sugar, resulting in physical weakness, trembling, unsteadiness, panic and emotional meltdown. Not only was this passenger in need of a meal at the expected time, but even if he landed an hour later, he had no guarantee of substantial available sustenance. Packs of nuts and berries in ones pocket does not truly energize and satisfy, especially if one has not had sufficient nutrition when needed. If you claim to be Celiac yourself and write an article​ this lacking in solid research and compassion for the people who struggle with it 24/7, I must call you out. If you do not have celiac, it's obvious you are in no way qualified to "report on" something you are so ignorant of and so calloused about. As for the airline... it's not as if they had no chance to prepare. It's the job of those responsible for preparing food to always be prepared to meet the dietary needs of passengers with known handicaps unless they require tube feeding or some medical intervention in their feeding process. An American or European company who pulled a trick like this would be in violation of their nations laws. As backwards as the US is about things like this, even we finally have some legal standards set in this area.

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    It wasn't anything. Ok, the headline was misleading. But only a banana for breakfast is ludicrous and deserves to be called out. Yes, he was given a gluten-free dinner but humans need feeding at regular intervals - especially over a 9 hour time span. OTOH, this is why most Celiac veterans will advise you to never travel without taking your own snack stash along. A gluten-free granola bar may not be ideal but it would have made that banana go farther.

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    I just read an article that said ANA was reviewing their gluten-free meals, so some good my come out of this bad experience.

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    Fly Qantas or SingaporeAir and you realize how bad the gluten-free "meals" on US and Japanese airlines really are...inedible steamed fish anyone?

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    At least he did not get the wrong food. A few years back flying 14 hours on Lufthansa SFO to Dubai (and on to parts beyond), I was given a gluten-free, safe but taste-free dinner, labeled gluten-free. However for breakfast I was given a tray with buns looking like the other passengers', and on asking the steward was very sneeringly told that "We don't do special meals for breakfast." I explained that I was still specially a celiac in the morning too, and handed the tray back. Honestly, his voice was so rude that several passengers around me applauded. But what if I'd trusted the airlines? And last week on Avianca they did not provide a gluten-free meal in spite of an advance order. Be vigilant.

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    THANK YOU Robyn for you comment. Tell us again Jefferson, who's side are you actually on again??!! And since 75% of my replies and comments never get published I am not expecting you to post this one either, since everything has to be censored and approved! Even though this may not get published, I still know you or someone else is reading this along with all my other posts that never seemed to make it to the comment section. You're supposed to be an advocate and voice for those of us with celiac and this is ANYTHING BUT!

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    Clearly the articles could have been more accurate. But to the question posed by the article "Did Japan´s ANA Airlines Really Give a Single Banana as a Gluten-free Meal?" the answer is clearly yes they did. And, no, that is not acceptable. I'm disappointed in the tone of the article implying that providing that same level of food to a celiac as to other passengers is somehow acceptable. Presumably the author of this article does not have celiac disease and is unaware of the damage articles like this can do. The fact this article was published on Celiac.com is even more disappointing. Celiacs have major food restrictions which are not granted protection as a handicap or on religious grounds. To state that a token effort is all that is require to meet the gluten-free medical requirements of celiacs is an unacceptable stand for the Celiac.com website to take.

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    I agree with Mr. Adams that the story had been overblown and sensationalized but I also agree that a banana alone for breakfast is problematic. I really don't feel that castigating the author and accusing him of being unaware of the realities of celiac disease is appropriate or fair. Having said that, probably not one of your strongest articles, Jeff. I flew from NY to England in 2015 and got the same thing. I was provided a pretty substantial gluten-free dinner (for an airline meal) but the banana for breakfast was a tad disappointing. Other passengers had these large brioche rolls or croissants with cheese. I had the banana with a granola bar I had on me and it was more than adequate to get me through customs, after which I went out and found a gluten-free full English breakfast. I agree with Mr. Adams that the story was sensationalized but a banana alone truly isn't adequate when other passengers are given protein in addition to carbs for a meal. Why the airlines don't give people a choice of a hard boiled egg or yogurt (and, yes, even then there will be folks who can't eat either of those choices) is beyond me. Add a banana or other fruit and that should see most people through for a couple of hours. We were given breakfast about two hours, maybe a little less, before landing. Why this gentleman didn't think to pack some safe snacks is also beyond me. Lots of people are not thrilled with the food on airlines and think to bring something with them -- with or without celiac. I've been dealing with a gluten-free diet since 1989 (good luck getting a gluten-free meal back then -- on or off an airplane!) and even now I still carry a couple of bars in my handbag. Just in case.

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    Good article, and one that bears attention. Some years ago, and I do say some years ago, I was promised repeatedly by Alaska Airlines that they would provide me a wonderful gluten-free meal. I trusted them. when we were on the plane and it was too late for me to go grab - anything! That I might be able to eat, the stewards discovered that my gluten-free meal was the same meal as everyone else's - smothered in gravy, biscuits, no indication that it was not the same meal as everyone else's. the much embarrassed and very kind flight attendants stole the carrot sticks off everyone else's trays and that was my meal. A tray full of carrot sticks. I have never trusted again. A few years ago, Virginia Mason Hospital in Seattle repeatedly promised me a gluten-free meal for a hospice seminar. I took my lunch just in case. the meal they provided for everyone else was choice of a several huge baguette sandwiches, choice of mac or potato or green salads (choice of dressing), and beverage of their choice = juice, milk, pop, coffee, myGF lunch was a very small green salad with no dressing, a 1/4 cup of mixed fruit cocktail and a bottle water. the RN I worked with took one look and said, "well, that may be gluten-free, but it's not lunch. I always bring my own food. BTW, I am not a robot; I tried to select around the street signs, but all that was selected was a line from one street sign to another.

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    A banana is not a meal. No matter how you surround it with words, at the end (or beginning) of the day, a banana is not a meal. No matter what the passenger did or did not do, it remains: a banana is not a meal. He ordered a meal and received a banana. I daresay that if you paid for a meal in a restaurant and received a banana, you'd be venting your outrage in an article. Likely you'd say, a banana is not a meal. I grant that the stories were not accurate, but why continue this streak of inaccuracy by claiming that it's not a big deal? Reverse the roles: you are on a 9 hour flight and after eating dinner you awake to a breakfast of a banana. All around you passengers are eating three sources of protein - eggs, sausage and yogurt. You are given a banana. As has been said, eggs can be served boiled. Gluten free sausage is not hard to find; neither is gluten free yogurt. No matter how you spin it, a banana is not a meal. That's the bottom line. A banana is not a meal.

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    Guest Kathryn Sparks

    Posted

    I was on an Emarites flight from Orlando to Dubai then Manila. I pre-ordered my gluten free meals. I did get them, except when they gave my breakfast meal to my boyfriend. It clearly had my name on it but we had switched seats. The night before they gave me the meal even though we were in switched seats. They were very sorry and I was given a meal that I had to decide if it had gluten in it or not. On the return flight they were giving out snacks of pizza. I was given one but told them I couldn't have that, it not gluten free. She didn't know what to do and went back to the galley. I was brought a banana, a pear and an apple. All gluten free, of course! This was a very long flight so I had brought some gluten free things to eat with me, just in case. All my other meals were fine.

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    As others say, he was entitled to a proper breakfast like everyone else. The silly thing is he could probably have had most of what the others had for breakfast anyway!

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  • About Me

    Jefferson Adams earned his B.A. and M.F.A. at Arizona State University, and has authored more than 2,000 articles on celiac disease. His coursework includes studies in biology, anatomy, medicine, science, and advanced research, and scientific methods. He previously served as Health News Examiner for Examiner.com, and devised health and medical content for Sharecare.com. Jefferson has spoken about celiac disease to the media, including an appearance on the KQED radio show Forum, and is the editor of the book "Cereal Killers" by Scott Adams and Ron Hoggan, Ed.D.

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    Gluten-Free Air Travel Hints:

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    Always have your Chef Daniel's restaurant paper with you in your walletor purse.
    Always have a copy of your safe and forbidden lists with youin case you need it to read ingredients. Always have a gluten-free restaurant card in the language you need.
    Crosscontamination is the greatest risk for a celiac when traveling.  Crosscontamination can happen and you would never know it, such as when thechef uses a knife to cut a piece of bread, and then they use the sameknife on your vegetables, or when the chef uses a pair of tongs to flipa breaded chicken and then uses them to flip your sauté chicken.Thereare too many other ways to mention, but the main thing is that glutencould be on the tool before it is used on your meal, and it doesn’tmatter how safe the chef thought he was because you got one crumb andyou are sick for days and that ruins your vacation. Chef Daniel

    Daniel Moran
    Celiac.com 05/20/2008 - I am going to be honest—I have not traveled outside the U.S.A. except for Mexico and Canada.  When I went to Mexico it was on a cruise ship, so that meant I could eat on the ship.  I would take snacks to tide me over or get a bag of chips.  Hopefully I will one day be able to tour the world and educate everyone on how to make true gluten-free meals for all of us.  I also hope that my when the time is right I will go on such trips with my loving wife.  So I will tell you how I would approach a trip to another country and you can decide if this is worth a try.
     Planning for the Trip (All per emails and internet and phone calls)

    I would contact the area chamber of commerce or tourist office in the country that I will be going to and see if they have heard of the gluten-free diet or celiac disease. If I was staying at a hotel or resort I would ask them to look into gluten-free meals and if they have a kitchen where I could talk with the executive chef or manager of food and beverages.  I would also tell them that I am a chef from the U.S.A. I would go to celiac.com to locate the nearest celiac support group to where I will be staying.  If there is one I would find out about local spots that I might be able to visit to get gluten-free meals, and if there are any bake shops or natural food stores where I could get some supplies and snacks. I would find a book on the languages that they speak and make a chef Daniel restaurant form so I could eat in a restaurant.  I would have it in all the languages including English for the chef to make sure they understand I am very serous about my health. I would have a card that said “May I speak to the manager and I have a special diet request.” Hopeful I could say that in their language. I would have a gluten-free restaurant card in their language and present it to the chef or manager. I would have a safe and forbidden list in the language where I was visiting.  That way I could check foods from the store so I could eat snacks. I would try to stay at a place with a microwave and possibly a refrigerator.  By doing this if I ran into a language problem I could cook chicken or meats in the microwave (I have cooked whole chickens in a microwave on vacation before and put it in the refrigerator for later). I would carry cards with me to ask for directions or to ask a wait staff for something I might be able to eat.  Like maybe some cheese, beverage, snacks or any type food of the area that I might like.  If you were at a port on the ocean your card could be sauté seafood and with olive oil.  Even if I didn’t look at the menu I would know that because I am at a town on the water, they would have fresh fish coming in. If any of you watch the Travel Channel  you know that there are a lot of different types of foods.  Being a chef I would want to experience all types of different foods.  If I knew something about the local cuisine and how it is prepared before I got there, it could give me an advantage. In Hong Kong I would love to eat some of the hot foods.  Could I eat them?  Is it just the chilies or is it the sauce?  Those are some of the questions I would wonder, so I would research the area and review cookbooks to see how they prepare their foods. If I knew where I would be traveling I would try to contact a local restaurant beforehand to see if I could view their menu for the time when I would be visiting.  If I did this, I could make my Chef Daniel restaurant form up ahead of the visit. I would make sure that when I was at my vacation spot I could get Internet access.  By doing this I could look up restaurants that I see when I am walking around to see if their menus were available online.  Also I would be able to translate a chef Daniel P restaurant form for that place if we decide to go there. I would make sure that I had a phone with internet access to look up info at any time. Also with the phone I could translate a sentence with a Web site I know about.
    As you see I have put a great deal of thought into traveling, but not one of them has been tested.  I wish I could say that these ideas all worked for me and they will for you too.  My thought is that the greatest asset for us celiacs is the Chef Daniel P restaurant form you take into the restaurant.I would have every direction I could give on paper for the chef to see.  When I was cooking I cooked with chefs from around the world.  We all had the same common cause:  To make our customers happy so they will spread the word and come again.  So to me it doesn’t matter if they can read English or Spanish.  It comes down to me as the customer to tell them I have to have a gluten-free meal.  To tell them that if they don’t do as I ask, I could get very sick and it would be their fault, and no restaurant wants to hear that their food caused a person to get sick.
    If you are like me, you are going to want to taste some of the home town small restaurants.  I would know the area as mentioned before, and find out about any fresh vegetables or meats that I would like to try.  On my phone I would access the Internet and I would find information on the town I was in.  When I walked in I would ask for a manager, and if that person doesn’t speak English I would get one of my restaurant cards out to let them read what I am trying to say.  I also would try to read the card out so they could see that I am trying very hard to speak their language.  I believe that shows I am not a stuck up rich person who hires everyone to do what I want. If I mess it up, I would feel it is okay as long as I look like I am trying to commutate to them “I am very serous about my health.”  Asking them questions would be hard but I would have cards with questions on them and I would know what yes or no sound like.  If it was a small café I would ask to talk with the chef.  At least try to speak through my cards and being a chef I usually have no trouble seeing the kitchen.  It is an advantage to be a chef from a very popular resort that is known world wide and I would use that to my advantage.  Even if they never knew of me, I know my way around the kitchen and I would be able to look around to see if I could eat there. I would look to see:

    Is it dirty or clean? Does it look like they cut everything on the same cutting board? Does the cook look very sloppy?
    Even if I don’t go to the back where the kitchen is, the dinning room represents the kitchen too.  I am not expecting a clean perfect kitchen.  I am expecting the cook who might be this little old lady who has had this restaurant in her family for four generations to care about me. That is what all restaurants usually want—if they care about their customers they will survive for years and years.  It is a hospitality business in America or in Russia—and it doesn’t matter what you language you speak.   That is when you don’t have to worry so much about the Gluten Monster.I would be honored to walk into some of these smaller kitchens of the world and find out about their history and who they have cooked for.  Just thinking about it gets me all wiggly in side.  You can tell a lot about a restaurant when you walk in—if you only take the time to notice.
    So when you plan your vacation as a celiac you need to keep this in mind:  It is just like over here and it will take you some time to order and eat.  If you are in a hurry, I suggest that you take your safe and forbidden lists to the store and get some snacks.  If you have the time you need to sit and relax and take a stab at eating restaurant food from another country.
    Chef Daniel P.


    Destiny Stone
    This is the time of year when familiestake vacations and travel the world. Traveling can often be stressfuleven under normal circumstances; packing problems, flight delays,getting lost, are all possible when trying to get from point A topoint B. So imagine how stressful it can be for a celiac orgluten-sensitive person to get ready for a big trip, especially to alocation that doesn't cater to the gluten-free lifestyle.The following tips are geared towardhelping even the most sensitive celiac to have a fun filled andgluten-free vacation while minimizing the stress factor as much aspossible. This article covers the following: preparing for yourgluten-free travel adventure, gluten-free travel by plane,automobile, train or ship, gluten-free accommodations, gluten-freemeals and snacks, what to do if you accidentally ingest gluten.
    Before beginning your vacation, thereare many important things you will want to consider, like method oftravel, your destination, and gluten-free options in the city ortown in which you will be staying. To help find gluten-freeaccommodations and eatery's in your location, perform a “Google”search for 'gluten-free restaurants and accommodations' in the areayou will be traveling to.

    Planes Trains and Automobiles-Tips forGluten-Free Travel by Danna Korn Gluten-Free Transportation
    Traveling by car is the best way totravel, if you have a choice. That way you can stop at stores asneeded and load up on your gluten-free snacks. Trains are also good,because they allow and encourage you to bring your own food on the train. Planesand ships are where it starts to get a little trick, especially if you have a long trip ahead of you.
    Airlines are fairly easy to manage,because you can bring your own food aboard the flight. However,there is a limit to what and how much you are allowed to bringaboard, which can be a problem on a long flight. While many airlinesoffer vegetarian or Kosher options for those with special dietaryneeds, most airlines do not have gluten-free menu options for thoseof us with gluten-intolerance. However, Continental Airlinescurrently offers gluten-free food options. Although, if you areextremely sensitive to cross-contamination, it is still safer tobring your own food.

    More Gluten-Free Airline Travel Tips
    Continental Airlines
    However, if you are planning to travela cruise-line, most cruise-lines do not allow you to bring your ownfood aboard. So in this situation it is important to find acruise-line that will accommodate your special needs. RoyalCaribbean Cruise-lines, and Orbridge ships are two cruise-lines thatoffer gluten-free menu options, as well as catering to other dietaryneeds.
    Royal Caribbean Cruise Orbridge
    Gluten-free accommodations
    Most motels or hotels offer acontinental breakfast and that's about it. Short of eating coffee andorange juice for breakfast,there usually isn't much in the way ofmeal options for a celiac. However, many small bed and breakfast'swill accommodate you special dietary needs if you talk to them andset it up in advanced, and some even offer gluten-free options. To find a gluten-free Inn, perform a “Google” search for'gluten-free accommodations' in the area you will be traveling to.
    Staying with family or friends can bestressful if they aren't sensitive to your dietary needs. It can alsobe difficult to explain to your friends and loved ones, what it meansfor you to be gluten-free, and who really wants to spend their entirevacation educating the everyone you meet on what it means to beceliac or gluten-sensitive? That could literally take the entirevacation. If cross-contamination is an issue for you and you areconcerned about eating in a gluten based house, the following linkwill help you determine what you need to be free from gluten whileyou are staying with others. It might be a good idea to print theinformation and share it with your host, maybe even emailing them alink with the information, prior to your visit.

    What to do if you can't have agluten-free kitchen Gluten-Free Meals and Snacks
    Finger foods, gluten-freechips/crackers, veggie sticks, gluten-free sandwiches, these are allwonderful foods to keep with you on a trip. Bring as muchgluten-free, shelf-stable food with you as possible. Find out wherethe local farm market is, for fresh and local, organic produce andbuy fresh produce when you arrive at your location.
    Many people getting ready for a trip,will place an order online in advance and have it delivered to thelocation they will be visiting. The Gluten-Free Mall is veryaccommodating and can ship shelf stable food Nationally andInternationally and frozen goods can be shipped within theContinental US. Having a package of gluten-free food delivered toyour location, gives you one less thing to worry about. No extrapacking, or extra luggage, no worries about your food getting crushedor apprehended at customs or tossed out at an airport. It's assimple as placing an order online or by phone.

    Gluten-Free Mall The National Foundation for CeliacAwareness (NFCA) works very hard to train chefs and kitchen staff allacross the globe, on the dos and don't s of cooking gluten-free fortheir guests with extreme gluten sensitivities. Check out the listthey have compiled of of GREAT kitchens that have the stamp ofapproval from NFCA for a possible location near you.

    NFCA GREAT Gluten-Free Kitchens list Unfortunately, not all restaurants havethe GREAT seal of approval from NFCA and the likelihood of one beingat your chosen destination is pretty slim, and finding a dedicated gluten-free restaurants are also rare depending on where you travel. That's why it is important to knowwhat to do when you go out to eat with a group of gluten-eaters.There is a great deal of information on this subject, but here aresome links to get you started.

    How to eat a gluten-free breakfastwhile traveling Eating gluten-free when traveling What to do if you Accidentally Ingest Gluten
    There are varying opinions of what thebest thing to do is when you accidentally ingest gluten, drink gingertea, take laxatives, hot water bottle on the abdomen; there really isno right answer, as everybody is different and has differentreactions to gluten. However, here are some tips that might help ifyou accidentally ingest gluten.

    Accidental Gluten Ingestion What to do if you accidentally eat gluten
    The most important thing you can do for yourself is to have fun. Stress can affect how youdigest your food, and then it won't matter if you avoid gluten, you stillwon't feel good. 
    Happy and safe travels everyone!


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