Birthdays, anniversaries, holidays; they happen. And sometimes right in the middle of an elimination diet. But where most diets recommend a little "cheating" here and there for sanity, you're either on -or very, very off- the GAPS/SCD wagon. It's tough. It's not fair. But it doesn't mean you can't enjoy a night out when you're on the GAPS/SCD diet. In today's post, we'll learn how to navigate menus during gut healing without leaving in tears of self-deprivation.
If you're in the early phases of GAPS/SCD, scan the entrees for something braised, poached, or stewed. Ask the server for additional details on the cooking liquid (homemade stock? cool. Flour added for thickness? not cool). If it's off the menu (or if your poor server has no idea how the chef made his braised rabbit special and please stop asking, ok?) your next best bet is white fish or chicken. Ask that it's prepared plain -no dredging in sugar or flour- and cooked simply with butter or olive oil, salt and pepper. A wedge of lemon on the side will go a long way in adding flavor.
If you're enjoying the full diet, any meat should be OK, but -to be extra safe- assume that it'll be dredged in flour and/or sugar. Specify that it be cooked with salt/pepper/oil only. If the meat is accompanied by a sauce, check if this is a pan sauce (made individually with each order, or batch made. Both are likely to contain sugar and/or cornstarch, but if it's a pan-sauce, you can request that these ingredients are left out.
The starch is off the table, literally, so ask your server to replace it with double-veg. This request is becoming increasingly common with the surge in paleo dieters and shouldn't be a difficult one. The bigger challenge will be finding a "safe" vegetable. Most restaurants cook their vegetables with something off the GAPS/SCD diet, whether sugar (hello, caramelized Brussels!), starch (all things crispy), or a mystery sauce. Hopefully your server is able to help and direct you here, but if you're getting a blank look, ask if it's possible to steam a vegetable side for you instead. Spinach, green beans, carrots, and zucchini are all digestion-friendly options. Whatever your choice, make sure you see it elsewhere on the menu before asking for it to confirm it's actually in the kitchen. Spruce this side up by requesting -you guessed it!- some olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper.
Soups, Salads, and Sides
Soups, a healing cornerstone of many diets, can be a minefield of ingredients when dining out on the GAPS/SCD diet. Most contain added sugars, starches, noodles, or legumes. If that butternut squash soup won't stop calling your name, go ahead and ask your server about ingredients, but understand that he or she will likely have to make a trip to the kitchen to track down the chef on this one. So don't be annoying. Explain before your questions even start that you can't have sugars, starches, dairy, grains or legumes so they know what they're working with. If you're eyeing an old favorite like minestrone and wondering if they can leave the beans out, the answer is no. These foods are not made to order.
If you're tolerating salads, rock on! Beware of ingredients like craisins (these almost always have added sugar), shredded cheese (these contain a starch coating to prevent clumping), and crisps of any kind. That said, feel free to ask for salad customizations ("hold the _____"), as these are easy to fulfill. Assume the dressing contains added sugar, even if it's house-made, unless your server happens to know otherwise. If it's creamy, it likely contains milk solids and possibly hydrogenated oils. Luckily, olive oil and lemon is an easy substitute. Red wine vinegar, champagne vinegar, or apple cider vinegar are allowed alternatives to lemon but remember, as much as you love that balsamic, most varieties contain added sugar.
Navigating the other sides requires a bit more finesse. Are you tolerating cheese? Maybe there are a few selections of hard cheese from the charcuterie that you can enjoy with your glass of the dryest of dry reds. Careful around those cured meats though, as these often contain a variety of sugars. Crudo? Ask for the sauce on the side, assuming you're sharing with people who might enjoy it. Beef tartare is another excellent choice with a similar sauce-on-the-side strategy. Those hip deviled eggs, on the other hand, are likely made with sugar-added mayonnaise, so hold out for your at-home version. When it comes to cooked meat or vegetable sides and apps, follow the general guidelines for entree orders; assume these foods may be dredged in flour or sugar, or sauced with something naughty.
Judge a book by its cover (and act accordingly)
Do you have three different forks? Menu ingredients that you've never heard of and definitely can't pronounce? Well aren't you fancy! Generally, a fine dining restaurant should be more open to customized orders, and might even go to great lengths to accommodate your needs. If instead you're seeing a medley of fried foods and uninspired salads, tread with extra caution, maybe going straight for the pan-seared salmon with no questions asked (aside from "can you hold the sauce?" and "please no flour or sugar on the fish?"). Alternatively, don't assume that a fancy restaurant is just dying to create an uber custom meal for you and your gut. Be nice, be friendly, and use your judgement.
Walk a mile in my shoes...
Before you flag your server down and start listing off your food restrictions, put yourself in his/her place. Is he/she racing around? Can you see sweat beading on their forehead from across the room? They likely have a running tally of at least 15 other to-do's when they arrive at your table so be as brief as possible about your food needs and do NOT ask for a dish-by-dish deconstruction of the menu.
Instead, warn them ahead of time that you have some food restrictions and menu questions. This will alert them to return for your order when they're not rushed. When you have their ear, explain briefly that your restrictions are not due to an allergy (unless you have some, in which case start there) but can trigger various symptoms. No further details necessary. Explain that you're avoiding all added sugars, dairy (hard cheese may be excepted for you) grains, and starches (ie: cornstarch, a common sauce additive). Have a few specific dishes already in mind to ask about. Don't assume they'll know every dish's ingredient off the top of their head and try not to send them on numerous detective missions to the kitchen.
It can be terrifying the navigate the restaurant scene when you're trying to maintain a precarious remission, but don't let it keep you in hibernation. The more you get used to navigating a menu, the easier it becomes. I've traveled at length during various points of SCD-ing, and have always managed a safe meal without attracting the wrath of servers. At its simplest, it may be a burger on a small mound of spinach, or broiled salmon with steamed green beans. The harder part is not getting down about the fact that you can't get that cordon bleu you love so much, or the creamy New England clam chowder. Stay strong. Wear your menu blinkers. And remember the real reason you're out: enjoying the company of friends and family.