The term disease is an unfortunate one as there is nothing contagious about this condition, making it difficult for newly diagnosed young people. The Coeliac UK website explains exactly what this condition is: “Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disease. Gluten, which is found in wheat, barley and rye, triggers an immune reaction in people with coeliac disease. This means that eating gluten damages the lining of the small intestine. Other parts of the body may be affected.”
I was diagnosed with Coeliac disease about 14 years ago and have seen the world’s perception of this condition completely turn around. Back in 2000 it was difficult to get any gluten free products at all, leading me to create a delicious and nutritious diet based around fresh produce, meat, nuts and dairy – all naturally gluten free items.
While the awareness of Coeliac disease and gluten-free diets has grown, it has brought along with it a fashionable trend towards gluten-free diets for weight-loss benefits; young girls following in celebrity footsteps. As a nutritional therapist I do believe that a diet lower in wheat and processed/baked items is a healthier one, but there is a danger when self-diagnosing and self-treating to actually do more harm than good.
Anyone with Coeliac disease will remember the pain, discomfort and embarrassment they went through before medical diagnosis. Being told you need to follow a gluten-free diet for your entire life is generally a scary, worrying and problematic time. It is also a diet that can’t be dipped in and out of whenever you feel like it. If you have stomach/digestive/bowel symptoms it is really important to rule out coeliac disease before changing your diet. The reason for this is by removing gluten from the diet (and therefore from the bloodstream) you can end up getting a false negative result. For full details of medical testing, visit the Coeliac UK website here.
I have recently met with a wonderful group of ladies in Jersey who are trying to promote awareness of this condition among restaurants, cafes and schools,and to highlight the support they can offer to local sufferers. You can visit their Gluten Free Jersey Facebook page here.
As coeliac disease is still a relatively rare condition there is a lack of support and understanding from restaurant staff and chefs. Many people simply assume that the customer is being difficult or fussy, possibly just for weight loss reasons. Of course, this is not the case. If you are a true coeliac it is imperative that you adhere to a strict 100% gluten-free diet to ensure symptoms do not return and put you at risk of developing complications in the future.
If you’re a sufferer you will no doubt have plenty of bad experiences to recount: restaurants blatantly serving you regular wheat-based pizza and claiming it’s gluten free; boring choices on the menu; cafes with only one gluten free option (normally a chocolate brownie which is generally oversweet and crumbly!) So, what can you do to help raise awareness and change perceptions? Power is in numbers: join your local Coeliac organisation or start a local group yourself, promote awareness through local events or start writing letters to restaurants and cafes. School meals may also be an issue, so if you’re the parent of a coeliac child perhaps think how you could tackle the issue – maybe offering to cook gluten free cakes with primary school classes or doing a presentation to secondary school pupils.
Finally, I would like to share with you some of the naturally gluten-free meals and snacks that I enjoy. For more recipes you can visit my website here: BeetrootBrownie.com
I look forward to hearing your comments and successes.