A gluten-free meal is a meal that does not contain any gluten. Gluten is a protein comprised of glutenin and gliadin that is found in grains like wheat, barley, and rye. Some people are allergic to this protein and can experience severe physical reactions if they are exposed to it. Others are gluten intolerant and may have difficulty digesting gluten. Gluten-free meals are designed for these individuals.
For people with gluten allergies, gluten exposure can come with serious health risks. The most serious allergies may result in anaphylactic shock in response to gluten exposure, and if medical aid is not provided quickly, the patient can die. Lower-level allergies can cause problems like skin rashes, difficulty breathing, and chronic rhinitis. For people with gluten intolerance, the inability to digest foods that contain gluten can contribute to malnutrition and other chronic health problems. If medical testing reveals that someone has gluten allergies or an intolerance, the patient will need to eat a gluten-free diet for life.
At home, gluten-free meal preparation can be accomplished by carefully controlling ingredients that enter the house. A number of companies specifically make gluten-free foods that people can use in meal preparation. For common ingredients like condiments, it is important to read labels carefully to ensure that a food does not contain gluten, because wheat is a common filler material. If foods aren't explicitly labeled as being gluten-free, it should not be assumed that they are safe.
Eating a gluten-free meal out can be more complicated. Some restaurants are sensitive to food allergies and intolerances and are aware of all possible sources of allergens in their kitchen. They can accommodate people who need to avoid gluten and other types of allergens. In other cases, restaurant staff may confuse gluten and wheat allergies, not realizing that foods containing rye and barley are also dangerous, or staff might not think to check condiment labels with care. Reminding staff that customers are willing to wait while a staffer confirms that a meal will be gluten-free can ensure that people are fed appropriately.
Hospitals and other institutions as well as catering services can prepare gluten-free meal service by request. People usually need to make arrangements ahead of time, as when airline passengers request a gluten-free meal with their ticket. These services have extensive training in preparing food suitable for special diets and mistakes are rarely made, especially in hospital environments where prescription diets can play a critical role in treatment.