Many fast-food chains specialize in breaded or fried foods, and many items on their menus contain gluten. However, several popular fast-food restaurants now offer gluten-free choices.
When eating at restaurants, a person should be wary of cross contamination, because if a naturally gluten-free food is breaded, fried, or cooked in the same oil as gluten-containing food, it can become contaminated with gluten.
In this article, we look at the best fast-food restaurant chains for gluten-free options, including Arby's, McDonald's, and Burger King.
Fast-food restaurants for gluten-free food
Many popular fast-food and casual-dining restaurant chains are now offering gluten-free menus or options. Some restaurants that cater for gluten-free diets include:
A number of fast-food chains now offer gluten-free menu options.
Chick-fil-A offer one of the most comprehensive gluten-free menus of any fast-food restaurant. The chain's grilled chicken nuggets, many sides, and dipping sauces are all gluten-free. Many of its sandwiches become gluten-free without the bun.
However, Chick-fil-A recently made it possible for gluten-sensitive people to enjoy their sandwiches with a bun. Their new gluten-free buns are made from gluten-free ancient grains, including millet, quinoa, and amaranth.
Arby's offer a large gluten-free menu. Most of their usual foods are gluten-free if eaten without bread.
However, the chain's potato-based foods, including homestyle fries and potato cakes, can be cooked in the same oil as gluten-containing products. So people who must avoid gluten altogether should avoid these foods.
Because the company maintains a comprehensive list of allergen-free foods, it may also be a good choice for people with celiac who have other food allergies.
McDonald's does not have a gluten-free menu, though it is possible that some of their foods contain no gluten.
When prepared without the bun, the meat from their burgers may not have gluten. However, this depends on how the restaurant cooks them. Individual diners should ask the manager about the risk of cross-contamination before they order.
McDonald's fruit parfaits, yogurt snacks, and some salads also contain no gluten. To avoid gluten, people must look for products that do not contain any grains.
Burgers sold by In-N-Out Burger are gluten-free when eaten without the bun. This is a popular option for people with celiac disorder who can order a burger wrapped in lettuce, a preparation dubbed "protein-style."
This chain also prides itself on allergy sensitivity. Customers can activate an "allergy button" to ensure safe-food practices. However, staff training varies from location to location, so it is important to talk to a manager about any food allergies that are serious health concerns.
Though not technically fast food, Chili's is a casual dining restaurant with popular take-out options. It offers an allergy-sensitive menu that includes both gluten-free and vegetarian options.
Chili's bone-in buffalo wings, bottomless tostada chips, and fresh guacamole are all gluten-free. However, the restaurant cautions that cross-contamination is likely, so people are advised to speak to a manager before ordering.
Burger King boasts a large gluten-free menu but with a big caveat: the menu is broken down by ingredient, not menu item. This means that people with gluten intolerances must carefully review the ingredients of each menu item.
A Whopper without the bun should be gluten-free. The chain's apple slices, sausage patties, bacon, and milkshakes are also gluten-free.
Are gluten-free options trustworthy?
Gluten is a protein that is present in most grains. It is also found in foods that are coated and cooked in grains or the same oils as gluten-containing foods.
Because many fast-food restaurants specialize in breaded and fried foods, many of the items on their menus contain gluten. For example, okra is naturally gluten-free, but when fried and breaded it will contain gluten.
Fast food, as with any other food, should be gluten-free so long as it does not contain the following ingredients:
- wheat, plus wheat derivatives such as wheatberries, semolina, spelt, and graham
- brewer's yeast
- wheat starch
When gluten-free products are cooked in the same oil or pans as gluten-containing products, they can become contaminated with gluten. A 2017 study of bakeries in Brazil found that cross contamination is common, with 21.5 percent of gluten-free products containing some gluten.
So, it is essential for people with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity to ask about how food is prepared in each restaurant they visit.
Fast-food employees may not always be trained in how to avoid cross contamination, so people must always talk to a manager about what foods and preparation methods are acceptable.
Some foods that are naturally gluten-free include:
- fruits and vegetables
- seafood and fish
- dairy products
- beans, nuts, and legumes
It should be noted that these foods may contain gluten if fried, prepared in a sandwich, or otherwise prepared in a way that includes gluten-containing grains.
Checking with the restaurant about their food preparation should help to ensure that food will not be contaminated by gluten.
Fast-food employees are not typically food experts, and different stores may prepare their food differently. There is no guarantee that even purportedly gluten-free menu items will be free of cross contamination.
People with serious gluten intolerances should speak with a branch manager ahead of time, and ask for specific details about how their food is prepared.
People who are avoiding gluten for health reasons may wish to avoid fast food altogether. While it is possible to eat a healthful meal at a fast-food restaurant, gluten-free does not necessarily mean healthy. To get a nourishing, relatively low-calorie meal, check the nutrition label and review the ingredients.
Due to the increasing availability of gluten-free options, people with celiac disease, gluten sensitivities, or who are avoiding gluten for other reasons no longer have to avoid eating out.
As with all dietary restrictions, it is essential to do research ahead of time and speak to a manager. A little planning can mean more time spent enjoying fast-food meals on-the-go.