My gluten-free journey and the best restaurants for this diet | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

Cover art by Ysa Lanza

I went gluten-free not to hop on a dietary trend but because I actually needed it



In 2016, I found myself at a very stressful job and was very sick for most of that year. I had been on antibiotics three times during that time, with a seemingly never-ending cold and allergies. I was bloated with stomach pains, but perhaps the worst part was the continuous mouth sores (singaw) that would show up in groups of two or three all over my mouth. 

Towards the end of the year, I decided that something must be wrong with my immune system—it was probably due to stress. I found myself at the office of an immunologist who recommended getting a barrage of tests. I told him I did not want to spend a huge amount of money on them, and that he should pick one he thought would solve my problem.

He recommended the celiac panel, which had just come out a few months before. Celiac disease was something I thought only foreigners had. Though, he reminded me that I did have mixed blood so it was possible. 

READ: Mesa ni Misis: Brown rice for the win

A few days later, the test results were out and it showed that I had a very high intolerance for gluten. Rather than go through another barrage of tests, he said that I could simply cut out gluten from my diet and see if I felt better. Celiac disease and gluten sensitivity can be passed down through genes. The symptoms can present themselves later in life, especially after abdominal surgery—mine presented itself shortly after having my second child. When I asked my parents about symptoms the family had, they said that people did have iron deficiency, anemia, and “bad stomachs.” Perhaps the gluten sensitivity was there all along, with no way to diagnose it. 


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What I had was then classified as non-celiac gluten sensitivity—and boy was I sensitive. Shortly after consuming gluten, I get lethargic and feel like I’ve been hit like a bus—this can last for up to three days. After two to three days, mouth sores appear. On top of all these symptoms, I found out that I had iron deficiency anemia, another facet of the disease. When a person who is highly intolerant to gluten ingests it, the villi—the small fingerlike parts of the intestine that are responsible for absorbing nutrients—lie flat and cannot absorb nutrients. The result is a person becoming malnourished, anemic (for children), and even stunted growth.

I have found that I can still get sick from a bite of gluten. Those who tell me “Why don’t you cheat and have gluten today” do not understand the severity of it—nothing is worth feeling that bad. Just the other day, I tasted my sister’s frozen yogurt, which she warned me might have gluten but of course, I took a tiny bite. The result was a mouth sore two days later. 

Not everyone will experience exactly the same symptoms I did. Most common symptoms are diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss, bloating, gas, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, and constipation. Yet others experience skin rashes, nervous system injury, cognitive impairment, reduced spleen function, and even joint pain. 

A couple of years ago, I finally decided to go through with the other tests that I did not pursue the first time I was told I had non-celiac gluten sensitivity. I wanted to be completely sure of what I had. I took a couple of blood tests, one to check for antibodies and another was a genetic test. On top of that, there was an endoscopy and colonoscopy to verify everything. For a person to have true celiac disease, all the tests would have to be positive, and the endoscopy and colonoscopy would show lesions and flat villi. Thankfully, I only had a couple of things turn up positive, and everything on the inside looked good. I can officially say it’s not full-blown celiac disease. 


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These days, there are more and more people turning up to become very sensitive to gluten—not all as bad as me, but enough for them to feel better when avoiding it. It took me years to navigate and manage my illness. I spent half a day in the bathroom of a very pretty Korean mall because I had eaten kimchi thinking it was safe. Kimchi is usually made with rice flour, but many restaurants that serve “unli” kimchi buy from China, where wheat flour is added to extend it (yes, even in Korea). 

I completely cut out gluten, which is found in flour, bread, pasta, soy sauce, barley, couscous, and several sauces, especially bottled ones. I started to read labels carefully and completely avoided anything that could be contaminated with gluten. At home, we changed all the pasta to gluten-free ones, and bread with gluten for the kids was toasted in a separate tray from mine. 

In the Philippines, restaurants are still not up to date with what gluten is or what gluten sensitivity is, so it was very tricky to find safe places to eat. The months that followed were trial and error—I would try to eat food that the restaurant declared ‘gluten-free’ but would end up sick. While the main symptoms of bloatedness and mouth sores went away with a gluten-free diet, once I accidentally ingested gluten, the result would be terrible. Immediately, I can feel my throat get tight, my voice becomes hoarse, and I need to either throw up or run to the bathroom with a bad stomach. 


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Over the years I have figured out places to eat in Manila as well as certain snacks and things to buy if you are avoiding gluten. I’d like to share my list to hopefully help those going through the same thing. As of this year, regular supermarkets started carrying gluten-free pasta such as San Remo, and my favorite find, Lee Kum Kee soy sauce. My favorite bread comes from the bakery of Healthy Options, the multi-grain loaf that has a lower calorie and fat content. Be careful though as most gluten-free baked goods tend to have a high fat content due to the lack of “stretch” of the flour. Most potato chips are also gluten-free if you buy the plain version—this includes my favorite childhood snack, Clover chips. 

For gluten-free restaurants, always tell them you cannot have flour, breadcrumbs, or wheat just to be sure. If I am in a new place, I try to scare them by saying it’s super severe—and sadly that’s the only time they really try to be safe. Still, I can only vouch for these places that I’ve tried personally and so far, have not gotten sick. These are places I have found are careful and pay attention to food allergies and cross-contamination.

At the end of the day, managing my gluten sensitivity has made me careful about what I eat. The connection between the mind and gut is so strong, that you literally are what you eat. I’m sharing my personal list of restaurants that I have found to be safe and this is because of the management and staff that pay careful attention to how they prepare food, which shows that they understand a high level of service.

  1. A Mano (they carry Barilla gluten-free pasta)
  2. Cibo
  3. Blackbird
  4. People’s Palace
  5. Sala
  6. Sala Bistro
  7. Fukudaya
  8. Bijin Nabe
  9. Citti HotPot
  10. Xiaolongkan
  11. Wildflour
  12. The Wholesome Table
  13. Kiwami
  14. Canton Road
  15. Raging Bull
  16. Samba
  17. Indus
  18. Kashmir
  19. Chungdam (Korean)
  20. Tang (Korean)
  21. Made Nice
  22. Bubu Bars BGC
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