This post is very personal and I hope it is very helpful to you or anyone living with Celiac disease who plans to either visit or live in Puerto Rico. Living with Celiac disease in Puerto Rico is not easy, not easy at all. There are many reasons why that is the case and I’ll try my best to explain.
First of all, very few people in Puerto Rico have any idea what Celiac Disease IS! Honestly I feel like there is absolutely no awareness whatsoever, and the experts think that the reason is because Celiac disease is mainly a USA/Europe problem, but one that we don’t see in the Caribbean. I’m telling you that there are so few cases reported that our GI doctor, with all his many years of experience, has only seen one single case of Celiac disease in Puerto Rico, we were the second. On top of that, our kid’s pediatrician, who is now about to retire, confessed that she had never seen a single case of Celiac disease.
So needless to say that the general public, restaurants, or even HOSPITALS, are generally not equipped to deal with someone with Celiac disease, gluten cross-contamination is EVERYWHERE. Not kidding, even at a local “Health Food store”, I was about to order lunch from their deli, I was told the Lasagna was gluten free. Was it? NOPE! The pain began minutes after eating it, then I call and asked for the brand of Lasagna pasta they use, and sure enough it did have wheat. Remember, this was at a “health food store”! They just didn’t have a clue!
What can you do?
Well, there are in fact a few restaurants with a gluten free menu, most of those restaurants are big chain places like P.F. Changs or UNO Chicago Grill. However they generally do not take into consideration the cross-contamination problem that someone with Celiac disease needs to pay attention to. So if you are living with Celiac disease in Puerto Rico you are going to have to cook at your house 99% of the time.
If you happen to have developed a taste for Puerto Rican cuisine, I’m happy to say that most of the dishes can be cooked gluten-free, some of the Puerto Rican foods are gluten-free anyway. The limitation is that you may have to make sure that the condiments are in fact gluten free, for example the tomato sauce, make sure it is the organic kind, we found out the hard way that the GOYA tomato sauce may contain wheat, especially since they have wheat products in their facility.
So you will have to be a “Gluten Detective”, searching for certified GF products. Costco does a very decent job at providing GF products, in fact the best price for Udi’s GF bread is found at Costco.
Need a support group? At this time there is no Celiac support group in Puerto Rico. I am actually considering starting a Celiac.Org chapter here for those of us living with Celiac disease in Puerto Rico. There is however many Autism support groups, most of which decide to live without gluten, so they share recipes and are a voice against gluten in Puerto Rico, they have fought for support and proper labeling of products that contain gluten so the shopping experience at the grocery stores is a bit easier.
So there you have it, living with Celiac disease in Puerto Rico is not easy, it is very hard. I have been ridiculed and made fun of simply because most people think this is all BS. But, just make sure you eat at home and keep your house completely gluten-free. Doing that IS possible, socializing though is very difficult if food is involved. Oh did I say expensive? Yes, very expensive, our grocery expenses nearly tripled after we had to go gluten free.
Let me know if you are living with Celiac disease in Puerto Rico (or know anyone)! Would love to share stories!