Living with Food Allergies in Mexico

Being gluten and dairy free isn’t easy, ESPECIALLY when you live in a foreign country!  People constantly ask me “But what CAN you eat?”  It’s pretty simple…I eat a lot!  And living Mexico hasn’t changed that.  Gluten free and dairy free products have become mainstream in the U.S. but a lot of areas in Mexico haven’t caught on yet.  Luckily, Cabo is getting more options every day!   Over the coming months, I will be sharing shopping tips and some of my favorite gluten and dairy free friendly restaurants in the Baja.  But first I need to stress, if you have a severe allergy or are very sensitive to cross contamination, some of my suggestions may NOT be for you.  I have learned over the years that I am not super sensitive to gluten cross contamination but I am very susceptible to dairy.  Even a small amount of dairy can cause a terrible migraine.  Luckily, I CAN tolerate a small amount of goat cheese when I want to splurge a little.

I am also not perfect when it comes to being 100% gluten/dairy free.  Do I eat gluten or dairy on purpose?  No.  But do I stress every time I go out that the kitchen has taken every precaution to minimize my exposure like I did when I was first diagnosed?  No.  Am I sometimes SO hungry that I forget to check my to go order and come home to find a sprinkle of cheese garnish that I carefully scrap off, pop an allergy pill and pray I don’t get sick from the delicious meal I am about to eat?  YES!  My life used to be filled with anxiety about going out to eat or going on dates (are they going to think I’m being difficult?).  Potlucks or dinner at a friend’s house was terrifying (is it rude if I don’t eat?)  And going to the grocery store was just plain exhausting!  Now I’ve learned to relax and enjoy the things I can eat.  I accept the fact that I MAY occasionally get sick, but my life is not restricted by my diet.

Enter Mexico:  When I first started coming to Cabo I would think to myself, “does this waiter really understand what I am saying?”  “Am I going to be able to read grocery labels in Spanish?!?” “What is the Spanish word for Imodium?” My Spanish is conversational but I am by no means fluent.  But living here turned out to be easier than I thought!  In general, Mexican cuisine use far less flour and cheese than their American counterparts.  Corn tortillas or “tortillas de maiz” are everywhere, and tacos, fajitas, tostadas and ensaladas are usually pretty safe.  Grocery stores like Walmart, La Comer and Soriana carry many gluten free and dairy free products, and there are a few specialty grocers for hard to find items.  And best of all, restaurants in Cabo are starting to take note!  I am beginning to see more gluten free, vegetarian and vegan symbols on menus, and there is even and a 100% gluten free restaurant AND a new vegan restaurant downtown Cabo (more on these in my next blog).

Yet I still find that many places in Mexico have not heard of celiac disease, gluten or even know what products are included in the dairy family.  However, an allergy is something that is globally understood. For this reason, whether you are allergic/intolerant/celiac etc. I would typically say something like this:

“Soy muy alergica a gluten y todos los productos lácteos incluyendo trigo, harina, queso, mantequilla, yogur y leche”

“I am very allergic to gluten and all dairy products including wheat, flour, cheese, butter, yogurt and milk”

 I typically don’t see a lot of rye, barley or oats in dishes here, so I don’t usually list them.  But you should always use your best judgement depending on what you are ordering.  Of course most major restaurants in Cabo have English speaking waiters but don’t count on it.  It’s always best to know how to say it in Spanish so if the waiter flashes you a confused look, you can explain your restrictions with ease.  So don’t let a fear of food allergies prevent you from traveling to Mexico.  The food is incredible, the people are warm and accommodating and the experiences will last a lifetime!  Feel free to contact me if you have any questions. PROVECHO!

Photo: Salad with chicken and goat cheese at Bar Esquina

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