Eating gluten free in the hospital

Amy Keller, MS, RDN, LD, is a dietitian and celiac support group leader from Bellefontaine, Ohio.




Q:  I have been eating gluten free for the past three years. I’m going to have my right knee replaced and will be in the hospital for three days. What do I need to do to make sure I get safe meals? 

A: A hospital stay is stressful on many levels, but it can be even more worrisome when eating gluten free. The good news is that most hospitals have had patients who eat gluten free before. However, it’s still a good idea to plan so you’ll have less to worry about when you get there. Ask your doctor to include a gluten-free diet in your post-surgery orders. I recommend that my patients ask to have gluten, wheat, rye, barley and oats entered into the allergy section of the chart. Allergy information is shared with the pharmacy, nurses, physicians and the nutrition department. If the hospital uses allergy wristbands, ask to have these specifications included on yours.


Consider informing the hospital’s registered dietitian about your planned procedure and the dates you will be there. Ask questions about what gluten-free foods might be available and how you can request them. Is there a gluten-free menu that you should ask for? Do they have room service-style meals, or will you be marking your choices on a paper menu? What procedures are in place in the kitchen to keep your foods separate from others? Ask if the hospital allows food brought in from home; a box of your favorite cereal, crackers or cookies is easy to keep in your room.

Of course, some hospital admissions are emergencies and unplanned. Make sure that family members or close friends are aware that you need a gluten-free diet in the hospital in case you are unable to speak for yourself. Keep a current list of medications readily available. If your admission is unplanned, ask to talk to the registered dietitian or foodservice director as soon as possible (it may be the next day if you are admitted late in the evening or in the middle of the night).

For more of Amy Keller’s advice on following and thriving on the gluten-free diet, check out these Q&As:


To read resident pharmacy expert Steve Plogsted’s advice and information on gluten-free medications, check out these Q&As:

Learn more about the health and medical experts who who provide you with the cutting-edge resources, tools, news, and more on Gluten-Free Living.
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