How to Eat at Restaurants on The Specific Carbohydrate Diet

by Steven Wright

When I grew up, eating out at a restaurant was a treat. Nowadays, it seems like it is as normal as owning a cell phone. Well, that all changes when you start the Specific Carbohydrate Diet. While doing the SCD diet, it can be nearly impossible to guarantee a meal that is prepared by someone else is legal. Because of that, it is generally always discouraged to try to eat out while on the diet, especially if you are new to the diet.

However, there is going to come a point in time on the diet when you might end up in a situation where you are eating out. With so many functions of our society taking place around food, there is a possibility you might be in that position. In order to try to ease your dining experience, I wanted to put together some useful ideas that I’ve learned.

Qualities to Look for in a Restaurant

First off, from my experience, many issues regarding the eating out experience are mitigated by properly researching a restaurant. Usually you won’t find SCD legal foods at a chain restaurant. Typically, you’ll have to search out the higher end of the value scale. Many lower end chain restaurants don’t actually cook their meals. Instead, they end up re-heating mass-produced entrees that almost always have been chemically altered on a food assembly line off site. So, even if they wanted to prepare the dish SCD legal they couldn’t.

A good quality to look for is gluten-free menus. These can often be found online if available (although not always), as I’ve found that restaurants that are truly capable of preparing SCD legal meals are very good at promoting the fact that they cater to people with food allergies.

Another helpful clue that a restaurant might be able to accommodate me is if it is a seafood or steak house, due to seafood and beef usually not being marinated.

The next step in the due diligence process is to actually call the restaurant and tell them that you have multiple food allergies and would like to speak to a manager about them. The first thing I tell them is that I have to eat gluten-free and grain-free.  If the’re knowledgeable about this,  normally we are off to a good start. I don’t start describing the SCD diet, because I’ve found that if I list too many “can’t have things” in a row, they easily become overwhelmed.

At this point, depending on what they’ve already covered with me, I start going through the following list of questions (making sure I get an answer to them all at some point in the conversation).

6 Questions to Ask When You Call a Restaurant

  • Do they marinate any of their meats?  If all their meats are marinated it is a no-go.
  • Where does their meat come from? Be careful of frozen chicken as it normally has been injected with an SCD illegal broth solution.
  • How do they receive their vegetables and fruits? Frozen and fresh are normally okay, canned is no good.
  • Can they prepare my meal in a clean area separate from other diner’s food? Avoid cross contamination as much as possible.
  • Does the restaurant cook with butter or margarine?
  • What kind of oil do they cook with? Olive oil is good to ask for, to avoid any man-made sprays or vegetable oils.

If a restaurant can pass all these tests, then the next step is using common sense when ordering in person.

Action Steps Once You’re at the Restaurant

Make sure to make it clear to your server that you have food allergies. It’s always safest to ask for only salt and pepper as seasonings. (Bring your own spices into the restaurant if you want.) If you’re ordering a salad, ask for only olive oil or no dressing. Always try to get steamed vegetables or a fruit cup as your side dishes.

If you get stuck in an emergency situation, and after looking at the menu you don’t feel comfortable ordering anything, don’t be afraid to make up your own dish on the fly. I’ve worked with servers to create my own salads combining a meat they use for an entree and eliminating any illegal ingredients from the salad.

Lastly, don’t be afraid to bring in your own meal if you are confronted with a social situation in which you need to be at a restaurant. Just let your server know that you have severe food allergies and need to eat your own food. Ask them to heat it up in the microwave when everyone else’s food is ready (I’ve never had a problem with this request). The important thing to remember is that you are always taking a risk whenever you eat out and someone else is preparing your foods. There could be consequences in even the most careful restaurants. The decision to eat out is not a light one to make, and it’s probably best to wait until some healing has taken place before even considering it.

If anyone else has any tips, please leave them in the comments section below, thanks!

-Steve

P.S. – If you’d like more help with getting started on the diet, grab a copy of our book here.

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About the author

Steven Wright Steve Wright is a health engineer and author. In 2009, he reached a breaking point when IBS took over his life and the doctors didn't know how to help. Since then, he has transformed his health and started SCDLifestyle.com to help others naturally heal stomach problems. You can check out his story here and find him on Google+, Facebook or Twitter.

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

TBooker27 August 16, 2010 at 12:17 am

I always bring my own salad dressing with me when I go to a restaurant, discreetely in a little Tupperware container. If nothing looks okay on the menu, I order a plain side salad with just lettuce and maybe a tomato and no dressing, then use my own.

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Steve October 27, 2010 at 11:15 am

@ Tbooker27 – That is a great idea thanks for sharing! Then you know for sure what your eating is not going to make you sick.

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Jessica May 23, 2012 at 8:48 am

The better the restaurant the more likely they’ll work with you. I consider it special treatment, not embarrassing, when the chef comes out to take my order. At Italian restaurants I an usually get a piece of broiled chicken or fish with a bruschetta sauce on top that they make to order.. Basically fresh tomatoes, basil, onions and garlic with olive oil all broiled together and Parmesan cheese of course. I actually enjoy a plate a steamed vegetables cooked just right with a drizzle of butter and salt. I usually save fish for restaurants (only if it’s fresh that day) because I don’t like to cook it at home. So Ill ask for broiled fish with only olive oil or butter to cook it with (make sure they don’t batter it which they usually do if it’s pan fried) but a coating of egg is alright on it’s own. A squeeze of lemon and you’re good to go! Don’t worry about calories on scd.. Make sure you’re food tastes good and you’ll stick with it!

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Jordan Reasoner June 2, 2012 at 3:55 am

Great tips Jessica, thanks!

Jordan

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Nicole October 19, 2012 at 9:31 am

Thanks Jordan & Steve- I just added this to my ‘favorite articles’ list on my blog. Super helpful since as a 20-something living in the city dining out has become such a huge part of my social life : )
http://sweetsandrelief.wordpress.com/articles-i-like/

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Jordan Reasoner October 19, 2012 at 9:19 pm

That’s awesome Nicole – thanks for the props! Let us know how it goes for you.

J

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Coralie Eichler March 7, 2013 at 3:23 pm

This sharing is really valuable. The bruschetta sounds like a great sauce for most meats and veges, even fish! I can just about taste it!

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Helena Duran August 23, 2013 at 8:17 pm

I would like to know if would be legal to buy chicken
at a grocery store?

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Anna January 10, 2014 at 7:35 am

I have found Seasons 52 to be absolute Heaven for me trying to eat out. Thanks for the screening questions. I look forward to using them on my next trip. The tip I’d share from my experiences so far: if the wait staff can’t answer a good question confidently- speak to the manager or chef directly. I’ve had several translations between wait staff and chef go awry (ie gluten free vs grain free, no starch vs no fat, sauces ordered on side so I could skip them were only scraped off and that’s not good enough for me).

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Robin January 25, 2014 at 8:09 am

I’ve also had luck iwith diners. Less expensive, and usually serve “breakfast” all day. In a pitch, a make-your-zone omelet, or your favorite eggs, with a side salad is safe and satisfying.

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Nadia Sunde June 23, 2014 at 6:09 pm

Great tips and advice. I find good quality Greek restaurants usually great. The seasonings of salt, pepper, olive oil and lemon are a part of their culture and yummy for me!

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Janet August 8, 2014 at 8:10 pm

Yup, the higher-priced the restaurant, the more likely they are to accommodate. Sad, but true. It’s surprising how kind they can be about it, though!

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Karen September 12, 2014 at 8:28 am

I usually choose broiled steak or fish with salt and pepper only, and substitute ingredients from other dishes for those that come with my protein. Many restaurants have avocado on their salads and nicer restaurants are starting to include vegetables as sides, like grilled fresh asparagus with olive oil or sautéed fresh spinach in olive oil. I’m also sensitive to garlic and onion, so I have to be specific that I am allergic to them. I’ve been most successful when I look at the menu online, call the restaurant ahead (during a non-busy time) to ask questions, and type/print my order to hand to the waiter. It’s a pleasure to be able to eat out again without having to bring most of my own meal.

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Tom Dolan January 20, 2015 at 2:20 pm

The best advice ever was given me by the 106-year-old proprietor of a health store in San Diego about 25 years ago. When I asked him for the “secret” of his longevity, said, “Don’t eat out.” My partner of 20+ years loves to eat out and can eat anything, anywhere, any time, which makes eating out doubly challenging. I’m pretty sure he’s tired of hearing “I’d prefer not to.” If I can’t wriggle out of eating out in the future, I’ll stick with unmarinated, unseasoned meat or fish. If I attempted to follow all advisements in this fine post, my partner would die of embarrassment.

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Laurie September 22, 2015 at 8:47 pm

I am fairly new to the diet. Still at the puree stage, but I always “cheat” with fruits and just get no 2 baby food fruits. They are pretty good and easy to carry on a purse, so if nothing at the restaurant works. I pull it out and eat that. Just a note though baby food veggies are awful. I take the time to cook and puree my own veggies.

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Nancy December 22, 2016 at 3:55 am

I print (and sometimes laminate) cards that list “I am allergic to” foods and “I can eat” foods. This gives waiters something to bring to the chef/cook and removes the vagaries of memory. I travel a lot internationally and translate the cards into the languages of the countries I visit.

On top of marinating, I find it is a good idea to ask if the restaurant brines foods. It is startling how many steaks and chickens spend their last night soaking in a sugar/salt/water bath.

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Kyle January 31, 2017 at 3:08 pm

If you’re going for a coffee but worry about all the sugar drinks and plain coffee just doesn’t excite you, Panera Bread offers sugar free Almond Milk at every one of their restaurants. Just ask them to steam the almond milk, and its a fun alternative to a coffee drink that works!

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D June 6, 2017 at 8:16 am

If I were you, I’d skip the microwave. Do some research on this. Microwaving food kills al the nutrients and can make it extremely unhealthy to eat. Better to eat nothing than microwaved food!

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