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Having a Happy Gluten-Free Holiday

It's easier than you think.

The number of people with an allergy, intolerance, or sensitivity to gluten is on the rise. Gluten, a protein present in certain grains, is most commonly found in bread, pasta, and other products that contain wheat and flour. Many processed foods, canned soups, salad dressings and even soy sauce contain the protein. Living on a gluten-free diet can be challenging, but eliminating the substance from your meals doesn't have to ruin your life or your holidays.

Those who are gluten-free, either for medical reasons (like having celiac disease) or by choice now have more options than ever before.  Trader Joe's, which has a store on U.S. Route 1, not far over the border in Darien, provides a list of "G-free" products sold in its stores, and the list is pages long. Whole Foods Market also offers a list of gluten-free products on their web site.

Good ol' Betty Crocker has come out with a line of gluten-free cookie, brownie and cake mixes sold in most supermarkets. Stop and Shop has a gluten-free section, offering items such as pasta, crackers, bread, frozen waffles and entrees made with rice or corn flour.

, located at 100 Westport Avenue, makes delicious gluten-free chocolate cookies available in its bakery. The store also carry Udi's brand of gluten-free bread, muffins, and bagels.

If you're avoiding gluten, you don't have to be afraid of dining out. There are many gluten-free friendly places to choose from in Norwalk. The , 9 Wall Street, Fat's Pizza, 4 New Canaan Avenue, and , 500 Connecticut Avenue, all offer gluten-free pizzas.

, located at 86 Washington Street, , 168 Main Street, and Sugar & Olives, 21 Lois Street, all have several gluten-free items to choose from. , 172 Main Street, cooks up a Venezuelan specialty called "arepas," which are handmade corn cakes, available with a variety of fillings such as chicken, ham, cheese, avocado, shrimp, salmon, bacon, lettuce and tomato. If you're craving a hot sandwich, arepas are highly recommended.

Even some national chains are getting into the act. The Olive Garden, Chili's, Ninety Nine, Uno Chicago Grill, Outback Steakhouse (which has a restaurant just over the border along U.S. Route 7 in Wilton) and Bertucci's (near Norwalk on U.S. Route 1 in Darien) are just some of the restaurants now providing gluten-free menus.

Fast food chains, including Boston Market and , are also jumping on the gluten-free bandwagon. Gluten-free menu items from each of these chains are available online. And, here's some really good news: the frostys at Wendy's are gluten-free, provided you don't order one with cookies blended in. You're also safe with most of Wendy's salads and dressings, as long as you avoid the breaded chicken, blue cheese, and croutons.

To avoid cross-contamination, it's always a good idea to let any establishment where you're ording food know that you keep gluten out of your diet. Most places are more than willing to oblige.

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