5 food intolerance workarounds to accommodate gluten-free friends

9 October 2023

With the holidays around the corner, you’ll be trying to plan family gatherings, potlucks, work and other social events with friends before you know it. This brings to mind comfort foods. 

Comfort foods are like a warm hug, and classics such as casseroles, meatloaf, baked goods, cheesy pastas and other “stick-to-your-ribs” dishes are appealing. However, more people than ever are transforming their diet for health reasons or due to food allergies and food intolerances. 

What’s the difference between food allergies and food intolerances?

Food allergies and food intolerances often get confused or misinterpreted for one another. Food allergies affect the immune system while food intolerances typically only affect the digestive system, causing less severe symptoms.

While food allergies may appear in more headlines, food intolerances are serious and can cause major discomfort for those who live with them on a daily basis. 

Common food intolerances


Gluten is a protein found in wheat and many other grains. It’s common in processed foods and beverages such as cereal, snack foods, sauces, dressings and beer. 

Celiac disease 

Celiac disease (CD) results from an abnormal gene generating an autoimmune response to gluten. Affecting approximately 1% of the population, CD can damage the lining of the small intestine if gluten is consumed, causing inflammation. 

Non-celiac gluten sensitivity

About 6% of people have non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS). NCGS is an intolerance, so it doesn’t incite an allergic response or involve the immune system.  

The exact cause of NCGS is unknown, but it occurs when the lining of the digestive tract isn’t working as it should, resulting in damage and inflammation similar to CD. Other symptoms of NCGS are diverse and may include abdominal pain, gas, fatigue, depression, headaches, joint pain and more. 

Many individuals with NCGS also have irritable bowel syndrome, a gastrointestinal disorder. If a member of your family or close friend has NCGS, it’s important to be aware of foods that can cause these symptoms, as they may last from a few hours to several days. 

5 gluten-free life hacks

You can still prepare your favorite comfort foods that are healthy, delicious and safe for everyone. Here are five ways how.

  1. Get gluten-free (GF) pasta and oats that are available at supermarkets nationwide. 
  2. Use breadcrumb replacements like GF corn flakes, pretzels, rolled oats or crushed nuts.
  3. Replace breadcrumbs in dishes like meatloaf with almond flour. Just combine it with Italian seasoning (be sure the seasoning is gluten free), eggs, chopped onion and parsley. 
  4. Purchase GF flour instead of all-purpose flour to make pie crusts and other baked goods. Or, you can find dozens of recipes online that combine several types of flour as a replacement for all-purpose flour. Almond flour pie crusts for desserts or pot pies can also be made with butter, eggs and salt.
  5. If you prefer to make your flour from scratch, prepare an all-purpose GF flour by mixing a white starch or flour (potato starch, tapioca flour, corn starch) with a whole grain flour (millet, oat, brown rice, sorghum flours). There are also plenty of suggested mixtures for making GF pizza dough and pastry flours from scratch online. 

For quick reference, here’s a list of GF starches and whole grain flours.

Whole grain flour power

Although it may be more convenient, most prepared GF flour isn’t as nutritious as wheat flour. All-purpose white and wheat flours are enriched with nutrients such as iron, folic acid and other B-vitamins. 

Many GF flours and convenience GF products on the market are not enriched or fortified; thus, by themselves, the contents of prepared GF flour (tapioca starch, rice flour, potato starch) are not nutrient-rich. This is predicted to change with the fast-growing global GF product market.

That’s why it’s important to include GF whole grain flours as they’re an important source of vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber. 

More gluten-free tips

The Celiac Disease Foundation offers a complete list of gluten-containing products. Gluten exposure can also occur from cross contact with food preparation tools such as cutting boards, so be sure to separate GF foods from other foods and cooking tools. 

We’re here to help

When in doubt, do without and keep your meals simple, making them with fresh, whole ingredients versus processed foods. Labcorp’s health coaching programs can help support your employees with food intolerances and take them on a transformative journey toward greater well-being. 

Our team of healthcare professionals supports participants in making positive, sustainable lifestyle changes to help them lead their best lives both inside and outside of the office. Contact us to learn more.

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