Gluten Free in Italy?? Is this even possible?

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I’m not going to complain.  First of all it’s not me and my diet that is being influenced but my 2 year old’s…..which actually makes it so much worse! gnocco fritto


It seems as though my skinny little baby, who has always been on the rather small side, is really starting to eat!  A lot! He loves bread, pasta, pizza, gnocco fritto, tigelle, piadine and all of the other specialty foods that this area is known for.  For the longest time he was such a picky eater, and then, all of a sudden in the last 8 months, his appetite developed and we can get him to eat most anything!  Cotolette di pesce or pollo (fish or chicken cutlets), fried calamari, tomatoe gratin….anything really.


So why is he so skinny?  Well, we just got back from our incredible vacation at the Adriatic Sea side on Sunday night, and Monday (yesterday) we had our checkup with our pediatrician who thinks he probably has a gluten sensitivity.




He was tested for Celiac’s disease and according to the test he does not have it, however, the pediatrician explained to us that there are also gluten intolerance and gluten sensitivity and both conditions cause absorption problems  of nutrients in the small intestine but neither condition have a direct test associated with them.  The best test is an elimination diet and then the evaluation of results.


It seems as though the more pasta, pizza, and bread he consumes the slower he grows, so there is a very good chance that he has a gluten sensitivity.




So what do we do?

Well, the first thing is to remove all gluten from his diet, for at least 2 months but possibly 6 so that we can evaluate how the removal of gluten affects his growth.  Our response is “not a problem”.  Until we realized, of course, exactly WHICH foods contain gluten!

ravioloni tortellinipizzasenzaglutine


Which foods contain Gluten?


For some reason I thought by just removing pasta, pizza and bread and replacing them with their gluten free counterparts that was enough….but OH NO.  You have to be careful of cross-contamination, of TRACES of gluten – all of which, if ingested could wreak havoc on his small intestine.  Even a single consumption could cause a flare up of the “infection” that is preventing his stomach lining from properly absorbing nutrients.  So now we’re talking a whole new ball game:


 If we order him french fries in a restaurant were they cooked in the same oil that breaded chicken strips were cooked in?

Was the grill used to grill fish, also used to heat flat bread?

Did they use the same boiling water for pasta and then for the potatoes we ordered him?

All of these cases of “contamination” could cause him to have a flare up, bringing us back to an inability to GROW.  So we need to be 100% careful.


Ugh. Gnocco Fritto


All of a sudden life in the bel paese just got WAY more complicated! Plus, we’re going to Portugal for a week in July and Copenhagen for two in August,,,,how do you say “gluten free” in Portuguese or Danish?


Instead of blogging yesterday, we went to the grocery store as a family on a new gluten free journey.    I was surprised at the amount of items available for Celiac’s.  Gluten free pasta, bread, hotdogs (which also contain gluten!) and TORTELLINI.  My son LIVES for tortellini.  I hadn’t even THOUGHT about the fact that Tortellini are made with pasta and therefore contain gluten.


We spent a cool 160 EURO on gluten free food of all sorts to give him the chance to test run a few different products.  Oh, and it should be said, that since he is only TWO it means that all three of us have to go on a gluten free diet.  How do you explain to a toddler, while you are chomping down on a delicious ice cream cone that he can’t have one?


How do we eat in a pizzeria, and have a pizza right in front of his face while he eats grilled fish?


Oh no.  We’re all in this together.  Last night was our first gluten free meal, and I can assure you it wasn’t like eating “normal” bread, but it wasn’t that bad either.  I’m not saying everything was good because it wasn’t, it just wasn’t that bad.


I am so happy to say that Italians, despite what I thought about these carb lovers, are VERY forward thinking about the issue.  The grocery store has SEVERAL sections dedicated to gluten free products, there are specialty grocery stores that have an even wider selection and, even in a small city like Modena there are restaurants and a caffe that are Gluten Free!!


I’m a little behind on blogging, I have SO MANY things to share, but I also find myself at a point where I really have to dedicate to my family (gluten free means a LOT more prep-work when cooking and no last minute pizzas if I do’t have time), and laundry!!!


I hope you’ll join me on our new gluten free adventure.  I’ll be blogging about where to find gluten free products and how to find gluten free restaurants in Italy.  I’ll also do a post about gluten free vocabulary if you are visiting Italy and you have Celiac’s disease or a gluten intolerance.


Wish us luck!! Day 2 of gluten free begins today!



****** A side note about fear *******


I’m trying to stay really positive about this.  But I can’t deny that having a gluten sensitivity royally sucks! Especailly in Italy.  Now, it’s not confirmed yet, so I don’t want to get too ahead of myself…but let’s just think about this.  If my son accidentally consumes gluten and there is a chance HE WILL NOT GROW.


Well that’s just dandy. I can’t be with him 100% of the time when he goes to kindergarden.  What if he really wants to taste another student’s yummy snack? A snack he’s never seen before because he can’t eat it….a snack that is INFITINALY tastier than anything he’s ever had (oh apparently gluten is the thing that makes things yummy, which is why they add it to everything!). Yesterday I opened a package of gluten-free taralli, a round cracker like bread snack from Puglia.


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As my husband lovingly described them “it is like eating little plastic disks”.  I could ONLY eat ONE, and my son ate 1/2 of one.  Well, he’s not going to gain much weight if we feed him gross things that’s for sure.


I don’t even know if the pigeons in Modena would have eaten these taralli.


What about birthday parties?  I’l have to bring his own mini cake.


What about dinner’s at friends houses?  I’ìll have to explain cross-contamination to the other parent, and be absolutely obsessive compulsive, overly involved and interfering.


“So did you add breadcrumbs to the hamburger mixture? Were the breadcrumbs gluten free? Did you wash your hands before giving my son his gluten free bread, just incase there was contamination from you handing your son normal bread? Did you lay out snacks on the table like prezel sticks, did you ensure they were out of my son’s reach?


Ok.  I’m going to stay calm.  This really does blow though.  I LOVE eating locally, and now eating out seems like an impossible feat AND WORSE then that, this isn’t about MY DIET, but about my sweet innocent little baby’s diet.  Local cookies, Christmas panettone, LASAGNA – we are in the land of carbs for God’s sake!!!


Everything is going to be fine. If you eat gluten free please feel free to leave me some encouraging words!!! If you have nothing encouraging to say I really don’t want to hear it!!!




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  • Erin

    I’m gluten sensitive too and understand how hard it can be for an adult, I can’t image a child! My family eats mainly paleo based dishes plus beans and rice (so not true paleo) and makes most things from scratch. It is more time consuming but I feel much better and that makes it worth it! Good luck, I’m cheering you on 🙂

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    • Wow Erin, I’ve never even heard of Paleo before…but I just did a google search and find it fascinating. Thank you for telling me that you are also Gluten sensitive, if you have any recipe websites please feel free to share. I’m also going to start researching all of the restaurants in Italy that prepare Gluten Free meals and i will be sure to share them on the blog! So far I’ve even found a “bar” (cafe) here that makes Gluten free gnocco fritto (his favourite) so all is not lost!

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  • Wow. I don’t even know what to say! Maybe see this as an amazing time to go eat clean – only fruits, veggies and some meats? My husband is actually going through something similar now and since Florence and I are going home for a month I’ve been just making two meals each time – that in an of itself sucks. However, when we get back we are totally in it together too!

    Luckily, you are totally right Italy seems to be ahead of the curve – even our tiny store has a HUGE gluten free section! However, we tried the pasta and I HATED it. It tasted like cardboard. Pietro refused to eat it and Florence threw it on the ground…

    Let me know if you come up with some awesome recipes!!!!

    Also – I got the carrot pills. I was trying to like just peek around the pharmacy for them (we have a big one) and couldn’t find them. So I went to the counter to buy some baby wipes (always always on sale at our pharmacy!) and low and behold they were on the counter! With a littler cartoon of aliens that basically said something like “Take these or be gray all summer…” – how can I argue with that? Don’t want to be a little gray alien!

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    • Amazing time to go clean OR get really chubby because I’m eating all of the remains of the gluten free products I buy for him that he HATES! Oh, and they cost a small fortune. 10 euro for three small panini in a bread shop. But whatever, you’re right, I am going to think of this as a “cleanse” phase for the whole family. More meat, veggies, fruit, beans etc. I’m also going to try ALL of the gluten free brands until I find the ones that he likes the most. So far we’ve found some yummy cookies and decent toast, tomorrow we’ll check out the pasta.

      Plus there are always risottos no!?

      So glad you found the carrot pills. I should send you a picture of my tan! THEY WORK. I was in the sun all day long, with little protection and I didn’t burn! As soon as my son is old enough he’ll be passing the summer with carrot pills as well. These Itals and their survival secrets!

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  • Erin

    I just found a free paleo snacks for kids book for a Kindle if you have one. Here is the link (not sure if it will work for you since you are in Italy?!)

    I will send you things as I find them. Take heart, it sounds daunting but once you get into a routine it’s really not that bad!

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    • Thank you so much for this. I found it online, and I also did a search for Paleo for toddlers and found a bunch of different recipes…..that to my surprise look DELICIOUS!!

      In September I’m going to start seriously experimenting with gluten free / paleo cooking.

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  • I’m very familiar with gluten-free food as my best friend is Celiac! Also, I find that a lot of vegan restaurants that I like also happen to be gluten-free as they cater to people with allergies – dairy being one of the major allergens around! If you have any raw food restaurants in Italy, you will be able to find gluten-free food automatically because wheat is always cooked!

    Best wishes with everything – I know it can’t be easy!

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  • Wow, this sounds quite full on A, but good luck – as you say, the Italians are aware of Celiac’s and are providing gluten free options which is great. Has your paediatrician told you to be completely cautious of cross-contamination? I only ask as if he has been growing so far – even while chowing down on carbs! – albeit slower than he should, I wonder if you need to be completely terrified, as that’s a huge pressure on you, especially as you say at nursery etc. I’m sure though that the gluten free options will get yummier and yummier as Italy is a nation obsessed with food! #AllAboutYou

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  • Oh how I feel for you! I am a celiac myself (and I’m actually 100% grain intolerant, so I don’t even eat GF breads/baked goods, etc.) but I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 29, so I didn’t have to deal with the food restrictions as a child. However, celiac disease runs in my family (my dad, my paternal grandma, etc.) so there’s a good chance any children my hubby and I have will be celiacs as well. It terrifies me to think of how to keep a toddler from gluten-filled snacks at a play date or down the road in school…how does a three year old comprehend ‘gluten contamination’, let alone have knowledge of every ingredient in the yummy snack he sees all the other kids eating around him offering to share?? I’ve seriously considered homeschooling just to reduce the gluten contamination risk (ha)! I will certainly be following your adventures in GF toddler eating. It’s so wonderful that Italy has such a great GF culture–I’ve even heard they offer a food subsidy to celiacs to help alleviate the extra cost of GF food!

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