Eating gluten-free in Iceland is a lot easier than you might think. Especially if you’re coming from America where restaurant staff asks if gluten-free means dairy-free.
All the places I went to were incredibly accommodating, respectful, and aware of gluten-free needs. At first, I wondered if this is because Iceland shares a higher prevalence of celiac like its Scandinavian friends, but when I looked it up, the prevalence was comparable to every other country which is around 1:133 people.
So, I guess it just comes down to the friendly and accommodating nature of the Nords. As always, I did not eat out much. I reserved much of my stops for coffee (and free wifi) but still, I have some tips to share from my 8 days in Iceland.
So here’s how to thrive (yes thrive, not survive) while gluten-free in Iceland…
In this gluten-free guide to Iceland, I will walk you through general tips to traveling gluten-free here, some resources for gluten-free restaurants in Iceland, and then I’ll share what I ate.
First things first, book yourself a place with a kitchen. Trust me, your stomach and your wallet will thank you. Make sure if you do this, make sure you’re preventing cross-contact.
Learn more about avoiding cross-contact in an Airbnb and other shared kitchen in my Celiac Crash Course. It is a self-paced course where I, a dietitian who’s had celiac for over 10 years, teach you the basics of celiac safety so avoiding gluten and cross-contact feels routine. Including giving you an entire video tutorial and checklist on how to set up your Airbnb for safety!
I booked myself an Airbnb and unfortunately the cooktop was broken so I could only cook in the oven (tell that to the pasta and rice I bought after arriving).
The next step is to go grocery shopping when you arrive. Shockingly most of the food labels I ran into came with ingredient lists translated into English. So no stumbling through the food labels for me.
Things I bought at the Grocery Store included:
I have to say, you have not lived until you’ve had nordic milk, cheese, butter, and meat. I can not explain how much more delicious they are but trust me, so good.
Other things to buy if your Airbnb does not have them include foil, parchment paper, and sandwich bags for packing meals.
Things I packed in my checked bag:
Iceland is a part of the European Union, which means it follows their gluten-free labeling laws. So eating gluten-free in Iceland requires your to be familiar with these laws.
Per Celiac.org, “The European Union has adopted universal labeling laws for gluten free food. If the food contains less than 100 mg/kg, it may be labeled “very low gluten,” while if it contains less than 20 mg/kg it may be labeled “gluten-free.””.
For reference, 20mg/kg is the same as 20ppm of gluten. So as long as products are testing to this level they are allowed to be named gluten-free.
However that said, one key difference between European gluten-free labeling and American FDA gluten-free labeling is that in Europe they allow hydrolyzed gluten to be in gluten-free products as long as the test to <20ppm of gluten, despite not having any validated testing measures for these products.
This means you may see “gluten-free barley malt” and other clearly gluten derived ingredients in products that are not considered safe in the USA. This means you should still make sure you’re reading the ingredients in gluten-free marked products to make sure they are safe for you when shopping gluten-free in Iceland.
First things first, when you get to where you’re staying (whether it be an Airbnb, camper van, etc.) you want to set it up for celiac safety. Meaning, you want to take some cross-contact precautions. My routine when arriving at a new kitchen includes:
(For a complete checklist on how to set up your Airbnb for gluten-free cooking, check out the Celiac Crash Course!)
Eating gluten-free Icelandic cuisine wasn’t as hard as I thought. Icelandic cuisine is a lot like other nordic countries. It includes potatoes, rye bread, lamb and other meats (which are all raised in Iceland), fish, and dairy.
Get a true Icelandic experience by eating the gluten-free Icelandic foods that make up their diet. For me that included a lot of butter on bread (gluten-free of course), smoked salmon on bread or salads, whole milk and coffee, lamb and potatoes, and cheese on pretty much everything.
The good news is to get an experience of an Icelandic Diet while gluten-free is not hard. Especially if you prepare things by yourself.
My suggestion? Buy some different cuts of lamb to enjoy while you’re here. Buy some different fish to enjoy. Definitely stock up on butter and cheese (if you can tolerate dairy) and enjoy the cuisine.
If you’re lactose intolerant and gluten-free, Iceland is the perfect place to visit. Interestingly, all the grocery stores I visited had plenty of lactose-free options.
I found this interesting as much of the Nordic population are lactose persistent. That is, they are not prone to lactose intolerance. This is because they’ve evolved to be able to tolerate lactose.
To give you an idea of how I ate a lot of Icelandic food while gluten-free without dining out a ton, I’ll walk you through what I ate on my trip to Iceland below. A note: this is to give you an idea of what you can eat in Iceland not what you should eat. Some food might have been forgotten. Use this as inspiration, not as a rule.
Below are the breakfasts I ate in Iceland. Every single breakfast was paired with coffee, cream and sugar. As the cab driver said on our way to our Airbnb “we drink coffee all day in Iceland” – as a coffee lover, I welcomed the challenge (not that it was hard because I drink coffee all day at home too – the Swedish blood in me).
My gluten-free breakfasts included:
I spent most of my lunches outside of the house so they typically involved a gluten-free sandwich, leftovers, and some kind of snack as a side.
The typical sandwich I made included gluten-free bread, butter or hummus, cheese slices, and either sliced pickles, cucumbers, or tomatoes.
I made sure to be home for dinner everyday. Dinner is usually my heaviest meal and dining out in Iceland was expensive. For gluten-free dinner in Iceland I had:
In Iceland my snacks were pretty much all the same. They included coffee, and some kind of gluten-free bread with butter and cheese. Otherwise, it was sliced cucumber or tomato with cheese.
There were a few sweet treats I enjoyed in Iceland but I found in general, the fat from the whole milk, butter, and cheese kept my sweet tooth at bay. The desserts I enjoyed included:
On the way to and from Iceland I flew on Delta Airlines. Delta airlines will provide a special gluten-free meal if you request it. I felt safe as they were all fairly pre-packaged.
While I have a ton of tips for eating gluten-free in Iceland, there are some other key things to know about traveling to this stunning country.
Overall, eating gluten-free in Iceland was pleasantly not as hard as I anticipated. Many of the food labels had english translations and it was fairly easy to pack lunches and snacks on my ventures outside of the Airbnb.
I did not attempt to dine out as many of the gluten-free friendly restaurants were expensive (and your girl travels CHEAP). However, during my time outside of the house I did overhear people talking with service staff about gluten-free options and the service staff seemed very accommodating and kind.
Overall, I’d 10/10 recommend Iceland as a place to travel if you’re gluten-free.