Sunday, 28 April 2013

Understanding Coeliac Disease

Gluten free snacks
Gluten is a protein composite ingredient found in wheat and other grains. One in every hundred people living in the UK is intolerant to it, and this condition is known as “coeliac disease”. The digestive system is unable to break down any amount of gluten and so consumption causes digestive issues such as nausea, diarrhoea and stomach cramps. Long-term effects of undiagnosed or untreated coeliac disease include infertility and nutrient deficiencies.

The only treatment is a completely gluten-free diet. Although very effective, it can be difficult in practice because the condition is not universally acknowledged. Unfortunately, gluten is found in common foods such as bread, pasta, cereals and cakes. Surprisingly, most brands of oven chips and sausages have added gluten, as do beer, soy sauce, ketchup and ice cream, to name a few. These foods should be avoided, or replaced with gluten-free alternatives.

In overseas markets, a gluten-free diet is catered for almost as readily as vegetarianism. In the UK, coeliac sufferers find it hard to eat out in restaurants and on-the-go, as gluten-free food is not very affordable or widely available. Many people are restricted to eating salads for lunch in the city, since most mainstream brands and companies are unaware of the demand for gluten-free products. Coeliac disease is slowly becoming more widely understood and accounted for in British culture but we are still far behind places like America and Europe. It really should be much simpler for coeliac sufferers to maintain a healthy diet.

There are already a few gluten-free alternatives to bread, pasta, cereal, biscuits and cake available in the UK, produced by brands like Dove’s Farm and Genius. There are also a few other established brands like Mrs Crimbles and Eat Natural whose recognisable logos make shopping a bit easier. Waitrose, Marks and Spencer Asda provide the biggest product ranges that are also labelled as gluten-free. South Londoners can also shop at smaller chains like Whole Market Foods in Clapham, which sells many gluten-free products, and check out Planet Organic in central London.

People with coeliac disease can also obtain gluten-free food on prescription from the NHS, available through your doctor. The foods on offer are generally dietary staples such as bread and pasta, rather than biscuits and cake items, and the list has been agreed by a body called the Advisory Committee on Borderline Substances (ACBS). Make sure you’ve approached your GP about this option if you are a sufferer.  

Widely recognised gluten free symbol
You can find many useful sources of information via the internet written by coeliacs themselves. Blogs like Gluten Free Guerrillas and Gluten Free London offer reviews and lists of coeliac-friendly restaurants, shops and recipes in an accessible format.

Please visit for lots of reliable information and advice. If you think you might have undiagnosed coeliac disease, please make an appointment with your GP to confirm or rule it out as soon as possible. 

By Catherine Heath

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