A Celiac in Scotland: Managing Celiac Disease Abroad

Caroline Karnatz is a graduate of Georgia College and State University and an ISA Guest Blogger. She studied abroad with ISA at the University of Stirling in Scotland.

If you’re like me, you (or your family) were nervous about studying abroad because of the limitations of Celiac disease. I’m here to soothe your nerves with some (gluten-free) chicken soup for the soul: it was easier to find gluten-free food in Scotland than it was for me back home. Here’s my firsthand experience thriving in Scotland with Celiac disease:

A photograph taken on the grounds of the University of Glasgow, Scotland’s biggest city

We’ll begin with the basics. The United Kingdom, which includes Scotland, is years ahead of the United States in terms of food labeling. The majority of food items I found in grocery stores or restaurants clearly stated whether or not they were Coeliac (the British spelling) friendly. When it was unclear if a food contained gluten (for example, pastries from the chain Café Nero), a quick word with the staff cleared it up in seconds because they already knew.

That’s because the public in the United Kingdom is much more aware of Celiac disease. We’ve all gotten strange looks from waiters when we ask if the soup of the day is gluten-free, but you’ll be delighted to know that just about everyone in the Scottish food industry is educated on gluten. That awareness extends beyond just the food industry, though; even most pharmacists know off the top of their heads which medicines are safe for Celiacs, and which ones aren’t.

A view down the Royal Mile of Edinburgh, where I found many Celiac-friendly restaurants

Not only that, but options for Celiacs are substantially bigger than I’ve found them to be in the U.S. For example, about half of the restaurants I discovered offered a specifically gluten-free menu. I also enjoyed three different snacks (three!) from the trolley on the train trip from London to Stirling. Even more surprising, I ate gluten-free brownies in the literal middle of nowhere (seriously) in a teahouse on an island a ferry boat and taxi ride away from the nearest city.

Additionally, both the Universities of Stirling and Glasgow offer gluten-free meals; the staff at Stirling even went out of their way to supply me with alternative snacks during orientation. However, if you prefer to prepare your own food, you’ll find extensive gluten-free foods in the “Free From” isle at your local grocery. Options there range from pancakes to seafood to Thai.

e standing in front of The Elephant House, a Celiac-friendly tea shop in Edinburgh

As always, make sure your server knows you have Celiac disease, and double-check that the dish you’re ordering won’t make you sick. There are an abundance of gluten-free options in Scotland, so here are recommendations to get you started:

  1. EDINBURGH: For the best potatoes you’ll ever have, visit Makars on North Bank Street, just off the Royal Mile.
  2. GLASGOW: Scotland’s biggest city boasts hundreds of dining options, so you’ll have no trouble finding a Pizza Express to get your pizza and breadsticks fix!
  3. STIRLING: My recommendation sits just minutes away from the dormitories at the University of Stirling: the Refresh café is an excellent breakfast spot.
  4. ISLE of SKYE: Antlers Bar & Grill offers second-to-none venison and salmon.


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