Availability of Gluten-Free Meals and Allergy Information in Restaurants in Saudi Arabia

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Background: Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disorder affecting nearly 0.5-1% of world’s population, while the prevalence of coeliac disease in Saudi Arabia is about 1.4%. Because of the lack of availability of gluten-free (GF) options, eating out in restaurants is often associated with poor adherence to a GF diet (GFD); this may cause an increase in health risks while decreasing the quality of life for people suffering from coeliac disease. This study investigated the availability of GF meal options and food-allergy information on the menu in restaurants in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Methods: An online survey was conducted among the restaurants in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Information related to GF options and the labelling of food-allergy information was extracted from the publicly available online menus. Results: Among the 26 restaurants (n=30; however, online menus of 4 restaurants were not found and hence were excluded from the analysis), only 11 restaurants had GF meal options and included food-allergy-related information on their menu. However, no significant relationship was found between the restaurant types (independent or chain) and the availability of GF options (p=0.257). Of the 11 restaurants with GF options, fewer than half (n=5, 45.45%) had a separate menu that would be suitable for people with coeliac disease or gluten-sensitivity. Conclusions: A lack of availability of GF meal options in restaurants in Riyadh is evidenced from this study. This may challenge adherence to a GFD for people with gluten sensitivity or coeliac disease who wish to eat out at restaurants and so may result in severe symptoms and or complications. Thus, the inclusion of GF meals as well as food-allergy information needs to be addressed in the restaurants of Saudi Arabia as a means of supporting people with coeliac disease who need to maintain a life-long GFD.