For many, being gluten free is an option. But for others, like me, it is a requirement of life.
I would like to share a little about how it is to be gluten free in Brazil. I hope this will be useful for those with Celiac or any kind of gluten intolerance.
The Bright Side: The Law is On Your Side
Federal Law 8,543, from 1992, mandates that all industrialized foods that contain gluten must bring a warning that they contain gluten. The warning needs to be clearly and visibly printed on labels and packaging. The law specifically says that its goal is to prevent problems for those with Celiac Disease.
In 2013 there was an update. Federal Law 10,674 was published determining that all industrialized foods must indicate on their labels and packaging the phrases “Contém Glúten” (Contains Gluten) or “Não Contém Glúten” (Does Not Contain Gluten).
As I see this, the new law eliminated questions one may have about gluten in their food. There is no wondering whether the warning is just missing in a product. Every food product needs to say whether they have gluten or not. It is the law in Brazil.
So this is great news. When I am at the supermarket I can easily see if an item has gluten or not. I was looking for curry seasoning, for example, and the packaging said “Contém Glúten”, and went on to explain that the product itself did not contain gluten, but was packaged in a facility that processes products with gluten.
I love this level of detail here in Brazil. With so many people today going gluten free by option, in the US I see products that claim out loud that they are gluten free, but when I read the small print in the back I see that they are processed in facilities that are not gluten free.
For all you lucky people who do not have a problem with gluten, this might all seem a bit much. But for us gluten intolerant people, this is the difference between being healthy or spending 3 days in pain because you ate something that was tainted with gluten. Even tiny amounts of gluten coming from cross-contamination will hurt us.
So thanks, Brazil, for making this labeling mandatory.
Availability of Gluten Free Products in Brazil
Things are getting much better here. Today you can find gluten free breads, crackers, pasta, etc. in health food stores here in Brazil. They are very expensive, but I am happy that they are available.
In a regular supermarket you won’t have much luck buying gluten free products. At least this is still the case here in Recife. So look for health food stores.
The Dark Side of Being Gluten Free in Brazil
Almost all Brazilian snacks are full of gluten. The ones who are not, become contaminated because they are kept together with the gluten snacks.
Additionally, people in the restaurant industry here have little to no awareness of gluten problems.
In restaurants, many servers don’t even know what I am talking about when I ask if a certain dish has gluten. I explain and ask if it has wheat flour or oats, and they say no. I add that I am very allergic to gluten and will get sick if I eat it. I have to explain about cross-contamination from pots, pans, and oils. They go ask in the kitchen and come back to tell me that there is gluten in the food, yes.
When I was here this past January, I was silly enough to eat pão de queijo and tapioca in coffee shops. Yes, these are naturally gluten free foods. However, in two weeks of vacation I had two health episodes. I had not eaten anything with gluten. Then I noticed that the food is all kept together: pão de queijo, coxinha, pastel, everything. In one place I asked and was told that they use the same baking tray for all baked goods, and they do not wash the tray between loads. This surely explains the source of my problems.
So now when I meet friends in coffee shops I have coffee only. That is kind of sad, isn’t it?
I went to a brigadeiro store and found out that several of them have gluten ingredients to give them a taste of this or that. So no brigadeiro for me either, unless it is home cooked.
Gladly my brother’s girlfriend Jessica is a sweetheart and always bakes me fresh pão de queijo, gluten free cakes, and brigadeiro 🙂
I hope this post will help you enjoy your time in Brazil if you cannot, or do not want to, eat gluten. Now all you need to make the best out of your trip is to speak Portuguese. Imagine how much better your trip will be if you are able to approach Brazilians in Portuguese. It is so much easier to find your way around, connect, and make friends when you can speak the language.
Before you pack to Brazil, book a trial lesson with Street Smart Brazil to see how effective our one-on-one Portuguese lessons via Skype are. Having some Portuguese up your sleeves will allow you to make the most out of your time in Brazil.