South America

Guest Post: Glimpse of South America (Part 2)

This guest post comes from my friend Kathleen. You can read more about Kathleen here.  Kathleen does not let her gluten-free diet deter her from traveling the world. She does extensive and impressive research before each trip and she was excited to share her South American adventures with my readers. You can read part one of Kathleen’s South American adventures here.  

In both Brazil and Argentina, labeling for packaged foods is fairly easy to see. They speak Portuguese in Brazil and Spanish in Argentina. English is fairly well understood in the more cosmopolitan areas though many spoke no English. I had no difficulties communicating wherever we went. When you make an effort to use the native language too, it seems to be appreciated. It might help you eat safely somewhere else. Many have heard about gluten because it is law in those countries. Industrialized foods and drinks are more regularly labeled “contains gluten” or “does not contain gluten” (translation: “CONTÉN GLÚTEN” or ““NÃO CONTÉN GLÚTEN”). Despite this, many people don’t know exactly what it means or how to deliver safe Gluten-Free. The translation of barley, oats, wheat and rye is ” malte”, “aveia”, “trigo” and “centeio” (from  I had no problems in the markets shopping for Gluten-Free food. What goes on in a kitchen is another matter. Here are 2 links to help understand and manage better.

Brazilian Celiac         

Argentina isn’t quite up to the same awareness as Brazil but these links should help.

I always carry Celiac diet cards. Those are available from several sources and in many languages. They each may differ slightly. I make mine conform to my particular diet requirements. Here is one such link – Celiac Travel Cards:  [Ed note: Here are more translation card resources]

As one who must avoid gluten always, in any form, I keep a vegetarian diet. The most unlikely foods during processing often are enhanced with, come in contact with or are derived from wheat, rye, barley or oats. Avoidance is the only cure for celiac. (I highlighted this for the tour company to understand dietary importance.)

These above Argentinian and Brazilian sites offer translations. These and others offer venues that might be accessible for traveling celiacs to eat safely and possibly better than what was offered during our recent South American tour. For future celiac guests, it would be beneficial if a few eateries from Rio and Buenos Aires nearby the destination hotels could be identified to inform your gluten sensitive guests. Tour people know better than travelers which places are nearer than others. Since diet is the only medical way to cope with Celiac Disease, this step would sufficiently enhance a celiac’s visit to your countries.

Many celiacs have dietary issues other than Celiac so a diet can be more restrictive than some with Celiac alone. Celiacs have to avoid Wheat, Rye, Barley and Oats but fully appreciate good flavor, like all other travelers. Food should be part of the travel fun.

These conditions do not have to confine Gluten-Free travels for several reasons. I contact hotels and tour companies well in advance and confirm at several points prior to arrival that they expect to serve a gluten intolerant guest. If tour companies would release hotel emails, this would greatly simplify this step as it is not easy frequently to find emails directly to the hotels. If I had the tour guide’s name and email, I would email them directly to assure they have my information in time to prepare, in a timely manner. This makes guides and the company all look good. Frequently tour companies say one thing yet do a bit differently in forwarding such health information to their guides in a timely manner.

Food choices were not nearly as generous for Gluten-Free compared to the goods for “regular” guests but I was cared for, other than too much sugar – which causes other problems. Meat-eaters have much more variety, as was the case throughout Brazil and Argentina. If dairy is tolerated, the selections expand nicely. There really is no reason celiacs cannot eat well other than a lower level of preparation in the kitchen or by the company. If places even provide a range of vegetables (not just salad) – grilled and/or seasoned –  that would be appreciated. There are wonderful Gluten-Free pastas, bakeries and breads available in both Rio and Buenos Aires. I was not offered these alternatives where the tour went as a group in Brazil or Argentina, although Internet sites indicate they are available.

Rio and Buenos Aires appear to eat a great deal more meat and much less vegetables. As a non-meat-eater, U.S. vegetarian’s daily diet is much richer in fiber, vegetables and fruits than I found were available where we were scheduled to visit. Some Gluten-Free foods I experienced in these two countries were flavorless or they tended to be overcooked, cool or dry. A best first step would be for the tour company and travel guide to exchange vital information about a celiac traveler at least one week BEFORE the first tour meeting. This gives the venues better lead time than guest showing up expecting to have Gluten-Free. It is most frustrating for celiacs to have completed all forms, requirements and requests, only to find out that same information was not transmitted in time to have Gluten-Free food available after a long flight or at any point along the way. It is impractical for celiacs to pack a week of food in a suitcase. This is one alternative if communication cannot be timely.

Stay tuned for part 3 of Kathleen’s story including where she ate throughout South America. For a sneak peek, check out Kathleen’s South American restaurant reviews on GlutenFreeTravelSite.

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