Maria Caranfa is a registered, licensed dietitian and a certified health and fitness specialist by the American College of Sports Medicine. For more than a decade, she has helped restaurant and retail companies develop better-for-you products and menu items. Maria is currently the lead Dietitian for Carrabba’s Italian Grill and other Bloomin’ Brands restaurant concepts. She oversees healthful menu development, nutrition regulatory affairs, nutrition analysis and nutrition communication. Maria was recently named one of Today’s Dietitian Magazine’s “TD10: Ten Exceptional RDs Who are Making a Difference.”
May is Celiac Awareness Month, and in honor of that, I am going answer your most common questions about Celiac Disease, gluten and our Gluten-Free Menu. Each day Carrabba’s Italian Grill receives dozens of questions concerning gluten and our Gluten-Free Menu from our curious and loyal guests. If you’ve got more for us, just post them in the comments section below. We love to hear from you!
Q1.What is gluten?
A1. Gluten is a combination of proteins naturally found in the common grains wheat, rye and barley. It is also found in foods made from these grains such as malt, which is made from barley, and in even less obvious places like soy sauce.
Q2. What is Celiac Disease?
A2. Celiac Disease is an autoimmune disorder. If people with Celiac Disease eat gluten, it damages the lining of the small intestine causing it to lose its ability to absorb the nutrients found in food, leading to malnutrition and a variety of other complications. Currently, there isn’t a treatment that can cure Celiac Disease. Removing gluten from the diet, however, controls the disease and limits many of the related complications.
Q3. Are there any other gluten-related disorders?
A3. The science behind gluten and its effect on the body is evolving and is being connected to many other disorders, including non-celiac gluten sensitivity, which is estimated to affect 18 million Americans. Individuals with non-celiac gluten sensitivity experience a wide range of symptoms, such as headache, “foggy mind” and joint pain.
Q4. How does Carrabba’s Italian Grill come up with its Gluten-Free Menu?
A4. Our registered dietitians and culinary team review each ingredient carefully to ensure that it can be used to create flavorful gluten-free dishes. From there, we work with our training team to teach the importance of understanding what gluten is, how to prepare gluten-free menu items, and best ways to serve the needs of our gluten-free guests. It’s important that we execute out gluten-free menu items flawlessly and understand the needs of our gluten-free guests from the minute they walk in the door to when they take their first bite. We call this our “Door-to-Plate” Gluten-Free Program.
Q5. Are Carrabba’s seasonings gluten-free?
A5. Yes. All Carrabba’s seasonings are gluten-free, including our signature grill baste. In November 2014, Carrabba’s made it easier to order from our Gluten-Free Menu by changing the ingredients in its grill baste to make it gluten-free. Now all of our grilled items are infused with Carrabba’s signature flavor.
Q6. When will Carrabba’s offer gluten-free pasta?
A6. We have been searching for the best gluten-free pasta for our menu and guests, and we are currently testing one in select markets! Thank you for your patience as we conduct this research, and please stay tuned.
Q7. Does Carrabba’s have a gluten-free kitchen?
A7. We strive to offer gluten-free menu options, but do not have gluten-free kitchens. Because our dishes are prepared-to-order, during normal kitchen operations, individual foods may come into contact with one another due to shared cooking and preparation areas. Thus, we cannot guarantee that cross-contact with foods containing gluten will not occur, however, we take every step possible to prevent this.
Q8. How does Carrabba’s reduce the risk of cross-contact with gluten?
A8. Carrabba’s provides gluten-free education to all of its employees and has a protocol for each time a gluten-free menu item is ordered. This includes: hand washing, glove changing, using clean cooking equipment and utensils, and special ordering instructions for our chefs.
Q9. Is a gluten-free diet healthful?
A9. For people with Celiac Disease, a gluten-free diet is essential because it is the only treatment. For those without Celiac or other gluten-related disorders, a gluten-free diet can be a way to focus on increasing the consumption of healthy foods like fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, seafood, beans, nuts, healthy fats and naturally gluten-free whole grains like brown rice, amaranth, millet and quinoa. However, if not careful, a gluten-free diet can lack essential vitamins, minerals and fiber. Also, be aware that some gluten-free products can contain more sugar and fat than its gluten-containing counterpart. Whether you need or choose to eat gluten-free, thoughtful planning and label-reading are essential components to a healthful gluten-free diet.
Q10. Are Carrabba’s gluten-free menu items certified as gluten-free?
A10. Carrabba’s works with a third party expert to oversee and validate our Gluten-Free Menu and processes, but the menu items do not have a gluten-free certification. We also have strong ties with the Gluten Intolerance Group. Their gluten experts help guide us in the right direction and keep us on top of gluten-related topics, consumer needs and scientific research.