I have celiac disease and was diagnosed in early 2000s, before awareness was as high as it is now. Knowledge of the disease is understandably low in many developing countries, but myths also abound in the west.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease—not an allergy. Consuming gluten when you are celiac affects not only the stomach or gastrointestinal tract, but also joints, skin, mood, and in my case my ability to function properly due to brain fog. A wheat allergy is something different, where the body produces antibodies to proteins found in wheat. In celiac disease, however, genetically susceptible people react to a specific protein found in wheat, barley, and rye — gluten. Ingesting gluten for these patients causes a different kind of abnormal immune system reaction in the body, eventually damaging the lining of the small intestine and, if untreated, leading to consequences like malabsorption of nutrients and more.
Celiac is diagnosed via specific blood tests looking for higher than normal levels of certain antibodies in their blood, as well as a gold standard of an intestinal (duodenal) biopsy. Genetic testing can also help determine if someone is at risk of developing celiac disease, since people who have it carry one or both of the HLA-DQ2 and -DQ8 genes. Diagnosis requires more than a genetic test, but if you don’t have these genes, this is valuable information that can help you and your family. In rare cases, a patient can develop celiac disease without these genes, but in over 95% of cases patients will have them.
Awareness of celiac disease is growing, and there are so many more products and accommodations available now compared to when I was first diagnosed. Some countries offer a stipend to diagnosed individuals, to account for the increased cost of gluten free food. Others have strict labeling and menu laws that make eating out a less stressful endeavor. Still, celiac disease is not as well-known as many of us would like.
With SARS-Cov-2 and the Covid-19 pandemic, however, things are changing. Previous studies have suggested that viruses may trigger the development of autoimmune diseases such as celiac disease. A February 2023 retrospective study echos this finding with Covid, finding that patients who tested positive for Covid-19 exhibited “significantly higher risks” of many autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, Sjögren’s syndrome, lupus, psoriasis, celiac disease, and inflammatory bowel disease, among others.
Back in 2021, researchers hypothesized that damage to the gut caused by Covid-19 might increase permeability, thus allowing a component of gluten called gliadin to pass through through the intestinal barrier, thus triggering an autoimmune response in the portion of the population who are genetically predisposed to celiac disease.
Whatever the reason, there are more and more people suffering with gastrointestinal symptoms after a Covid-19 infection, a percentage of them finding out they have celiac disease despite being previously asymptomatic.
I hope this page, with my long country guides and gluten free translation cards, helps the newly diagnosed and those who have been diagnosed for years feel more confident eating out whether at home or abroad.
Digital gluten free translation cards and celiac travel guides
When I embarked on my travels in 2008, I realized that needing to be strictly gluten free was an added stressor over and above the worries that crop up on the road. A friend and I started this blog around that time, but I rarely wrote about travel with celiac disease. (Hence, Legal Nomads; there were two of us initially!)
She went back to being a lawyer, which was what I had planned all along too. But I deviated from what we’d said we’d do, and kept roaming indefinitely as a digital nomad as my website and freelance writing took off. I traveled with gluten free restaurant cards that I found and purchased or downloaded online.
The problem is, I still got sick when I used them.
So in 2016, after hearing from others with celiac disease who struggled to eat safely on the road, I decided to build my own detailed cards. My cards would be longer, and more detailed, with special mention of cross-contact and cross-contamination, two issues that got me ‘glutened’ around the globe.
I started with Japan, and built a very long guide to accompany the card. Initially, the cards were donation-only, but no one donated. Since I was paying for translations, and working many hours on the free guides that went with the cards, I decided to start charging for them.
As of 2023, I am offering 15 languages with several others (Croatian, Swedish, Khmer, etc) in the works for this year.
I hope these cards help you stay safer when you travel, and give you more peace of mind to explore with joy.
I understand what it’s like to worry about what you’re eating. The effects of eating gluten for me last for days, and can come from something as innocuous as consuming something that was fried in contaminated oil. So if I eat a spring roll made with rice paper that was fried in the same oil as a breaded product, I will still get sick.
You may have seen other gluten free restaurant cards, and many are great for those following a GF diet. As a celiac who is extremely sensitive, I still got sick using them. I very much appreciate the work and effort that went into the freely available cards—but sadly they were not enough.
The Legal Nomads cards are:
✅ Researched by a celiac who loves to eat (me!)
✅ Available for immediate download. You can save this card on your phone, or reduce the size to print and use as you travel.
✅ Provide detailed instructions with local ingredients and lists of what you can/cannot eat help you eat safely.
✅ Have a clear mention of cross-contact, care with preparation, and contaminated oil.
✅ Are polite but firm: they apologize for any inconvenience, but make clear eating that gluten free is not optional for celiacs.
✅ Go through two sets of translations for accuracy, with at least one native speakers who is familiar with celiac disease.
“If you’re traveling with a health-related dietary restriction like celiac disease, as Ms. Ettenberg does, keep a series of handy translation cards that accurately convey your dietary needs. If you’re gluten-free, Ms. Ettenberg’s own cards account for cross-contamination and many local dish names.”
For roughly the price of an appetizer, you can travel safely, with less anxiety as a celiac — and eat well while you do so.
These cards will not only explain your needs as a strictly gluten free diner, but also address cross contamination using local food names to get exactly the meal you want and need.
CLICK ON THE IMAGES BELOW TO ACCESS THE PURCHASE PAGE FOR EACH.
On that page, you’ll find a description of the card. English translations are also sent upon purchase!
Note: The card is available for purchase via trustworthy 3rd party site that uses https, so you know your information is safe. If you have purchased a restaurant card before May 15, 2022, you will receive a card with royal blue header and footer. After that date, the cards will be white with the new LN logo to reflect the Legal Nomads redesign. Same content, different look!
Restaurant cards available in the following languages (click to jump to the purchase page for that language):
Latin American Spanish (Mexico, Central America, Cuba, Ecuador, Chile, Peru, Paraguay, Venezuela, Colombia, Bolivia, Uruguay, Argentina)
Malaysian (Bahasa Malaysia)
Portuguese (Brazil and Portugal)
Modern Standard Arabic (for use in Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tanzania, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Western Sahara, Yemen, and more)
NOTE: If you’d like to be an affiliate for these cards, please follow these instructions.
Catalan (Spain) restaurant card (for Catalonia – Barcelona, Tarragona, Girona, etc)
Dutch restaurant card for the Netherlands
French restaurant card (for travel to France)
(General French card available here)
German restaurant card
Greek Restaurant card
Italian restaurant card
Japanese restaurant card
Latin America Spanish restaurant card (tailored for Mexico, Central, and South America)
Bahasa Malaysia restaurant card
Moroccan Arabic restaurant card
Note: if you purchase this card, you will receive two images: a Darija (scripted Moroccan Arabic card), and a transliterated one. Some restaurants or vendors prefer reading in Darija, but per the translators it is also useful to have both versions on hand.
Polish restaurant card
Portuguese restaurant card (for Portugal and Brazil)
Spanish restaurant card (foods mentioned are specific to Spain)
Modern Standard Arabic restaurant card
(While spoken Arabic differs from country to country, a Modern Standard Arabic will communicate effectively in written form throughout the Middle East. This card can be used in Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tanzania, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Western Sahara, Yemen, and more.)
Thai restaurant card
Vietnamese restaurant card
Free English restaurant card
Since I started offering these cards, readers have asked for an English version with similar text. I already had my own card that I used in English-speaking countries, so I have made it available for free, via Gumroad (the same platform that houses all my other cards above). You can grab it here, or click on the card below.
IN THE WORKS: translation cards for South Korea, Egypt, China, Sweden, Finland, and Cambodia. If you are traveling to Iceland, many people have found that the English card above suffices. It is what I used when I was there.
Find out a little more about the translation cards and why I started them:
Testimonial from a reader named Nicole who used the Japan gluten free card:
Testimonial from a different reader named Nicole who used the Spain gluten free card:
Free, Long (3000-5000 word) Gluten Free Travel Country Guides
In addition to the cards above, I’ve also created long celiac guides that I am offering on this site for for FREE.
Each guide has foods that are safe, foods to avoid, where to shop to buy gluten free products, local celiac societies, further reading, and more. In the pipeline: South Korea, Cambodia, Egypt, and more! My “Essential Celiac Travel Guides” series are a continuing project. So far there is the:
Essential Gluten Free Guide to France
Essential Gluten Free Guide to Germany
Essential Gluten Free Guide to Greece
Essential Gluten Free Guide to Egypt
Essential Gluten Free Guide to Italy
Essential Gluten Free Guide to Japan
Essential Gluten Free Guide to Mexico
Essential Gluten Free Guide to Malaysia
Essential Gluten Free Guide to Morocco
Essential Gluten Free Guide to Poland
Essential Gluten Free Guide to Portugal
Essential Gluten Free Guide to Spain
Essential Gluten Free Guide to Vietnam
Gluten Free City Guides on Legal Nomads
In addition to the country guides above, there are region-specific guides on Legal Nomads. These are less about specific dishes to avoid or eat, and more about restaurant recommendations you can enjoy. I try to focus on restaurants that aren’t catered TO celiacs, but rather ones where we can eat safely but without restricting friends who may not have the same food requests.
(not a city, but a post about the region)
(general guide for the city, including a long list of celiac-friendly restaurants and a gluten free bakeries section)
These cards helped me travel safely as a celiac, so I wanted to help readers travel with less anxiety about getting sick.
For only $8.99, you can communicate your needs – including cross-contamination – and explore the world with more confidence.
Testimonial from Janice, who used the Spain gluten free card:
General Resources About Celiac Disease
At the bottom of the page are the city-specific guides I have written for celiacs or for those who are seeking to avoid gluten but still roam the world. These are in addition to the long free guides above.
Since the disease is more and more commonly diagnosed, I wanted to also provide some resources for readers to avail themselves of as they traveled. These are divided into categories, and were articles and sites I bookmarked as I began my own work and started traveling as a celiac. When first diagnosed, I was younger and resistant to learning more. As I started working as a travel writer, I found myself more and more interested in food and certainly needing to know as much as possible to keep me safe. I hope these links are useful!
Celiac Disease Foundations:
- United States Celiac Disease Foundation, including a discussion of related conditions.
- Beyond Celiac
- Canadian Celiac Association
- International celiac disease foundations, listed by country.
Celiac Primer: For those who want to understand what exactly celiac disease is, and isn’t, see this guide.
Books to Read:
- Gluten Freedom: The Nation’s Leading Expert Offers the Essential Guide to a Healthy, Gluten-Free Lifestyle, by Alessio Fasano. As the founder of the Center for Celiac Research, Fasano is one of the pioneers for celiac disease research and management, and his book is one of the more helpful ones out there. Not only does it go through the basics, but it separates facts from myth, and details suggestions for some of the scarier symptoms of glutening, like depression, anxiety, foggy mind, and joint pain. A comforting read from an expert.
- Celiac Disease: A Hidden Epidemic, by Peter H.R. Green M.D. & Rory Jones. This book, revised and updated in December 2020, provides thorough information about celiac disease and gluten intolerance / sensitivity, as well as talking about the identity shifts that come with being diagnosed with a chronic illness. It also includes guides for safe eating (what’s safe to consume) and is especially helpful for USA readers as it collates national support groups and manufacturers.
- Mayo Clinic Going Gluten Free: Essential Guide to Managing Celiac Disease and Other Gluten-Related Conditions, by Joseph A. Murray M.D. This book is practical and specific, written by some of the leading experts in celiac disease management and diagnosis. It includes recipes, travel, and how to manage the diet changes as a parent with a celiac child.
- Celiac Disease Cookbook for the Newly Diagnosed: Guidance and Recipes for an Easy Transition to the Gluten-Free Diet, by Rebecca Toutant, RD LDN CDE. I send this cookbook to people who are newly navigating the rules of celiac disease, and it’s a great introduction to the differences in the kitchen and outside of it, written by a registered dietitian.
Interesting Articles About Gluten Free Eating and Celiac Disease:
I’ve included a few articles below about gluten and other dietary restrictions and diagnoses that might be related to sensitivity to certain foods. While some of these pieces are controversial, I do think they are important to read as the more we know about celiac disease, the better we will be able to eat safely.
- This is Your Brain on Gluten, The Atlantic, Dec. 2013
- When Gluten Sensitivity isn’t Celiac Disease The New York Times, Oct. 2014
- Against The Grain: Should you Go Gluten Free? The New Yorker, Nov. 2014, and the response written by the National Society for Gluten Awareness, here.
- Gluten-free: health fad or life-saving diet? The Guardian, Feb. 2015
- 4 Surprising Facts about Wheat and Gluten Mother Jones, Mar. 2015
- Is Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity a Real Thing? Healthline, Apr. 2015
- Alan Levinovitz on fanaticism and myth in diet The Atlantic, May 2015
- Why Food Allergy Fakers Need To Stop Boston Glove, Oct. 2015
- A survival guide for celiacs who travel The Guardian, April 2016 (by me)
- 5 Myths about Celiac Disease US News & World Report May 2016
- Here’s how an otherwise humdrum virus sparks celiac disease Ars Technica April 2017. “In people with genetic predispositions, viral infections can tip immune responses.”
- The Dilemma of the Gluten Free Diet WSJ April 2018
- Not Just Gluten Sensitive: What People With Celiac Disease Want You to Know US News May 27, 2022
- Collaborative brochure about getting started with the celiac diet, from several celiac associations.
Recipes from the Road: I have a list of gluten free recipes that I’ve posted on the site.
- For other great gluten free recipes see Viet World Kitchen’s list of Asian GF recipes
- Jamie Oliver’s Gluten Free recipe page.
- For gluten free Indian and vegetarian recipes see Manjula’s Kitchen for their landing page on gluten free.
- Downshiftology has all of her best gluten free recipes under one tag, here.
- The Minimalist Bakers have a gluten free recipes section here.
- Gluten Free Living’s recipes landing page is here.
- My GF Kitchen’s site has a long list of recipes to search through here.
- Love and Lemons’ page lets you search by added parameters, like vegetarian or dairy-free. Great recipes, here.
- I follow My GF Guide on Instagram and her recipes are scrumptious and creative. You can find them all here.
Shop – Tote Bag for Celiacs
Now in the Legal Nomads Shop: a section for celiacs. A percentage of proceeds from the Bull-Woven Tote will go to the Beyond Celiac Foundation. Donations are made on a rolling basis. The celiac section consists of tote bags and t-shirts with the slogan, “I’m not being trendy, I have the disease”.
Thank you for reading and safe eating!