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  • Jefferson Adams
    Jefferson Adams

    Which Fast Food Outlets Offer the Best Gluten-Free Options?

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

      You’ll likely want to get beyond McDonald’s and Burger King to find the best reliable gluten-free fast food options. These are the most reliable gluten-free and gluten safe fast-food options we kn


    Caption: Image: CC--Mike Mozart

    Celiac.com 02/04/2019 - With the rise in popularity of the gluten-free diet, and with more people being diagnosed with Celiac disease, more restaurants are offering gluten-free alternatives. While this is a great advancement, it’s important to note that not all gluten-free restaurant choices are created equal. Even if food is labelled “gluten-free,” the risk of cross-contamination could still be high, especially given the speed with which food is prepared.

    We see a lot of questions about gluten-free and gluten-safe fast food. One especially prominent question was “Is Burger King gluten-free?” The answer to that is that there is almost nothing gluten-free or gluten-safe at Burger King.

    There are far better options than Burger King in the otherwise bleak gluten-free landscape of American fast food. In fact, if you want reliable gluten-free and gluten-safe options, you’ll probably want to get beyond Burger King and McDonald’s.

    After a bit of research, these are the best, most reliable fast-food chains with gluten-free options we know about:

    Chipotle

    As long as you skip the four tortillas, Chipotle is a solid gluten-free choice. Chipotle’s burrito bowl allows you to choose from rice, meat, beans, and numerous gluten-free fixings. The tortilla chips salsa and guacamole are gluten-free. With numerous locations nationwide, Chipotle is a solid option for gluten-free diners looking for safe, reliable gluten-free fast food.

    Panera Bread

    You might not think it to look at the name, but Panera Bread offers a number of “gluten-friendly” options, mainly soups and salads, as long as you skip the croutons and the bread. Note that they changed their offerings from “gluten-free” to “gluten-friendly” due to the risk of cross-contamination, and their Web site indicates that their offering are not safe for celiacs. 

    Panera’s gluten-friendly options include delicious options like the Greek Salad, Fuji Apple Salad, Modern Greek Salad with Quinoa, Strawberry Poppyseed Salad with Chicken, Baked Potato Soup, Black Bean Soup, Greek Yogurt with Mixed Berries, and many of their steel cut oatmeal dishes.

    For desert, Panera offers gluten-friendly triple chocolate cookie with walnuts and a coconut macaroon. If you decide to eat there make sure you’re very clear while placing your order that you need your meal to be gluten-free.

    Wendy’s

    Wendy’s burgers are gluten-free when made without the bun, and you can also get several of their salads without the chicken or the croutons. Wendy’s famous chili and their baked potatoes and toppings are also a safe bet. The Frosty is gluten-free, too. 

    Wendy’s has more and better gluten-free options than most major burger chains, and information about cross-contamination on their website shows that they understand gluten-free cooking.

    In’N’Out Burger

    In’N’Out is a family run California burger chain with a die-hard fan base. In’N’Out offers burgers, fries, shakes and drinks. That’s it. They make their fries fresh from scratch and will make any burger “Protein-style,” that’s lettuce-wrapped without a bun. As burger chains go, In’N’Out is a reliable stop for many gluten-free Californians. Basically, their buns are the only gluten in the joint. Their open kitchen allows you to watch as they prepare your order.

    Five Guys

    Like In’N’Out, Five Guys is likely a bit safer than other burger chains, simply because it uses very few products that contain gluten. There are no breaded items it Five Guys, and Five Guys’ burgers, fries, and hot dogs, and nearly all toppings, are gluten-free, just make sure you skip the bun, the malt vinegar, and the fry sauce. Five Guys milkshakes are gluten-free, too, just watch out for the Oreo cookie pieces, the malted milk, and cherry milkshake mix-ins.

    Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen

    The only gluten-free options at Popeyes are side dishes. But, their gluten-free side options are not bad, and include their Cajun rice, red beans and rice, coleslaw, and corn on the cob.

    Subway

    Subway tested gluten-free buns and toyed with rolling out guaranteed gluten-free offerings, but then pulled back. Subway still offers gluten-free rolls at branches in Oregon and Washington state. Subway does offer salad version of many of their classic subs, like the spicy Italian Salad.

    Chili's

    Chili's isn’t a fast food chain, but a casual dining restaurant with popular take-out options. Chili’s does offer gluten-free patrons an allergen/vegetarian fact sheet and separate gluten-free menu. Chili's bone-in buffalo wings, bottomless tostada chips, and fresh guacamole are all gluten-free. Chili’s does warn diners that cross-contamination is possible, and advises that they consult a manager before ordering.

    Do you have a favorite gluten-free or gluten-safe fast food restaurant that we’ve missed? Share your thoughts below.

    Read more at Thrillist.com, and Thedailynutrition.com


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    2 hours ago, Guest TF😃 said:

    My daughter 11 year old daughter was diagnosed with celiac disease 3 years ago and in my experience, i would not!! risk the chance of the extreme carelessness that occurs with cross contamination of the food chains claiming to be gluten-free. Why? Because 9×/10× the staff, even head chefs, cannot answer a simple question: "What measures do you take to ensure there is no cross contamination happening while perparing and serving your gluten-free food?" Ive asked this numerous times and usually get a blank stare or "im not sure." Unacceptable! There has only been 1 instance where i was satisfied with the response and where my daughter has never had an issue: Carrabas Italian Grill ( Brandon, FL). The server reported he had celiac disease himself, that the gluten-free spagetti with pomodora sauce (ask for NO Meatballs) is made in seperate pot of water and prepared away from gluten containing foods, seperate gloves are used and utensils are not shared". Thats the type of response you want if you are going to risk it.

    Well said!  

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    It's always best to check with management of the individual restaurant before ordering.  I thought Wendy's was safe until I saw the girl behind the counter switching back and forth from burger buns to potatoes without any hand washing or new gloves.  If management is not mindful of cross-contamination issues, the food is not safe for someone with Celiac disease.

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    I second staying away from Panera.  I have not checked recently but for a long time, their own website said explicitly that did not want the business of celiacs or other people highly sensitive to gluten.  But Five Guys is great, that is a go to place for us when we need a quick bite.

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    23 hours ago, Guest Guest MK said:

    This is not safe information! Many people trusted this website for factual info. What you’ve published is NOT. Example - Panera specifically says they’re NOT for Celiac’s and they’ve even changed their marketing of their Gluten products to say “Gluten Friendly” not Gluten Free in order to keep Celiac’s safe and fully aware of the risks. This article should be revised or removed. It makes me wonder how many other articles I’ve read are not factual.  

    When I first read your response to the article, I was surprised at your comments. I went back and read the article again and it indeed states the "facts" that you said. Remove the article! Why? I felt it was good information and stated good offerings. Would I go to PB if I had my own choice, NO. But with a group of non-celiacs, there are so what viable options. I liked the article!!!

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    4 hours ago, Guest Gluten Free Mom said:

    Chick-Fillet (? spelling) offers a WONDERFUL gluten free bun for their chicken fillet sandwich!  The taste is almost like a regular bun, and with mayo, tomato & lettuce, and chips, I can't tell the difference!

    The grilled chicken at Chick Filet has been marinaded in a marinade that contains MSG. I found this out after reacting to their gluten free chicken sandwich. I am a very sensitive Celiac and contacted their corporate office. I am also allergic to MSG! Be careful out there.

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    If the place doesn't have a drive thru window it's not really fast food. Also, a place whose gluten free options are limited to salads... doesn't see to really qualify. Lot's of places offer salads. Chick-Fli-A offers a gluten free pre-packed (and pretty tasty bun) and then will give you their grilled chicken breast so that you can have a gluten free chicken sandwich. It's pretty good too. 

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    I get so excited thinking that there might be a place or two that are safe for me to eat out - I get tired of doing all the cooking, all the time.  However, I've worked in places where you had to understand sterile conditions and practices.  That's really what's needed to get a gluten free meal in the sense that you cannot have any gluten contamination.  I have zero faith in the local hires at fast food restaurants being able to understand or practice sterile procedures.  Most of the people we tend to complain about in restaurants aren't knowledgeable in that area and frankly, why would they be?  It's a big difference from food practices though there's similarities.  I'm still finding myself doing things or almost doing things that are possible points of contamination. 

    If a restaurant isn't gluten free to begin with, it's just going to be a risk;  sometimes without the preparers knowledge if someone got to the tools or food before them and it's already contaminated.  It makes me a bit depressed.  When time is short it would be so nice to grab a burger, order a pizza, etc.

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    22 hours ago, Guest Chipotle Issues said:

    I know Chipotle says they are gluten-free.  I have issues if I eat there, and I have those issues at several east cost Chipotle's in NJ, NY and CT. Even though I have them change their gloves and have the same person walk the line with me, I will be ill for 5 days after. Their Corporate people can't explain what it can be. But I get ill every visit. I'd love to know the problem item. Being 5 days it might not be gluten, but nothing I eat has ever caused GI symptoms for 5 days. I avoid them. 

    My GI doctor had me go on a low FODMAP diet for IBS. Monash University in Australia has an app that helps you understand the different categories of foods that cause IBS symptoms. I did have a problem with one of their recipes with soy sauce and fish sauce that were supposed to be gluten free. Other than that, no problems at all! They give you the information to avoid lactose in dairy products. When I did the challenges, the high fructose concentration in sugar snap peas (and probably honey) bothered me. I tested “gluten” by making cookies with 

     

    23 hours ago, Guest Chipotle Issues said:

    I know Chipotle says they are gluten-free.  I have issues if I eat there, and I have those issues at several east cost Chipotle's in NJ, NY and CT. Even though I have them change their gloves and have the same person walk the line with me, I will be ill for 5 days after. Their Corporate people can't explain what it can be. But I get ill every visit. I'd love to know the problem item. Being 5 days it might not be gluten, but nothing I eat has ever caused GI symptoms for 5 days. I avoid them. 

     When I saw the GI doctor, he found no problems with celiac, but he had me go on a low FODMAP diet. Monash University in Australia has an app that lays it all out for you. 

    The app lays out the low lactose dairy products! I’m buying lactose free milk and making yogurt with it. Challenge testing showed that I have a problem with the high fructose concentrations in sugar snap peas (and probably honey and high fructose corn syrup). I did a challenge test to see if it is gluten or carbs in wheat that bother me. I added vital wheat gluten to cookies made with gluten free flours and didn’t have a problem with them. I still maintain a “gluten free” diet without mentioning that it’s the carbs in wheat that bother me, rather than gluten itself  

    My GI doctor also has me on Prilosec and Citrucel. My GI system hasn’t felt like this since my 20s!

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    On 2/4/2019 at 1:40 PM, Guest jlm said:

    I would NOT recommend Panera.  My reasoning has more to do with staff than the food.  We experienced EXTREMELY rude staff when inquiring about gluten free options.  Basically they laughed hysterically and informed us "this is a bread place".  Sorry to say that one experience turned us off to Panera and we will not even try it again.

    Agree! Panera Bread has rude employees when it comes to asking about gluten free options which is annoying since they actually have a lot of gluten-free options. 

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    2 hours ago, michaelens said:

    When I first read your response to the article, I was surprised at your comments. I went back and read the article again and it indeed states the "facts" that you said. Remove the article! Why? I felt it was good information and stated good offerings. Would I go to PB if I had my own choice, NO. But with a group of non-celiacs, there are so what viable options. I liked the article!!!

    The article was revised as a result of the comment(s) about PB.  The article originally didn't include the information.

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    Red Robin has always done well by me. When you sit down, tell the waitress you're gluten free and she brings you a tablet with gluten free options (as well as other options for allergies, sensitivities, etc.) Most of their burgers are gluten free, they offer gluten free rolls, and they have a dedicated fryer for their fries.

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  • About Me

    Jefferson Adams is Celiac.com's senior writer and Digital Content Director. He 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 SF 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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