Living Gluten Free

Gluten free food: prescription or voucher?

vote for prescriptionThere’s an interesting article (and poll) in the BMJ this week, discussing whether gluten free food should be available on prescription.

The Yes camp argues that prescriptions improve outcomes for people with coeliac disease—and thereby reduce cost to the NHS in the long run.

The No camp argues for the replacement of prescription food with a national voucher scheme or personalised health budget.

So in practice, both agree that gluten free food for people with coeliac disease should continue to be part-funded by the state, in order to keep costs to the NHS down; they’re just disagreeing with the best way of doing it.

What do you think?

Do go and read the article for more detail but here’s what we know:

  • A gluten free diet is the only treatment for coeliac disease, and that lifelong adherence to the diet improves quality of life and reduces the risk of long term complications, which in turn would keep costs to the NHS down in the future.
  • Although gluten free foods are now available in supermarkets, they are often not found (or not reliably found) in local convenience or budget store (potentially disadvantaging poorer people or those with limited mobility).
  • Buying gluten free food in the supermarket is more expensive than the ‘normal’ equivalent—3 or 4 times more expensive.

NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) has quality standards for coeliac disease that highlights the role of prescriptions to ensure that a gluten free diet is affordable and accessible for all patients.

And yet the policy of restricting (or removing) prescriptions of gluten free food is being implemented all over the country.

The case for NO in the BMJ article talks about the cost and complexity of receiving the prescribed gluten free goods—and discusses the fact that the NHS ends up paying even more for a loaf of gluten free bread than we do in the supermarket.

No doubt this is true… but the fact that a system is expensive and complex doesn’t mean that it isn’t the right thing to do. It may just mean that the system needs an overhaul.

And the prices of the gluten free food in the supermarkets are kept lower than they might otherwise be because of the increasingly large people who opt to live gluten free out of choice, but are not diagnosed with coeliac disease.

It is a difficult topic in these straitened times. But I think that we, the British public, should continue to part-fund gluten free food for those diagnosed with coeliac disease. (Coeliac Daughter is no longer in receipt of free prescriptions, so I’m not biased!)

And maybe it is time to look seriously at a new way of managing the process.

When in France…

schär ciabattaAs always, we spent some time in France this summer (Beaune and the Jura, since you ask), and spent some time in supermarkets.

We usually do find some gluten free treasure, and this year we found Schär speculoos biscuits and wraps.

Speculoos biscuits are cinnamon spiced Belgian biscuits, and were very, very good—those of you who can eat gluten may be aware that Ben & Jerry’s make a speculoos biscuit icecream.

And the wrap was outstandingly successful at wrapping… soft and flexible, just as a wrap should be.

But can we find them here in the UK? No.

I called Schär to ask where I could buy them, and they confirmed that they are not available here in the UK. It doesn’t sound as though they have plans to introduce them either.

I don’t know about you, but I feel we have enough gluten free versions of everyday biscuits and chocolate muffins, popular as those are. I’d like to see more exciting and unusual products on the shelf, and Schär have plenty of those. The supermarkets here have really upped their game in the last few months, and I’d like to see more Schär products on our shelves. Bring on speculoos biscuits, puff pastry, high quality wraps and croissants!

There are many other Schär products available in other countries that we can’t get yet: how about fusilli with arrabiata sauce, ricotta and chard ravioli, or ladyfingers (for making tiramisu with)?

Schär are definitely working on bringing more things into the UK; we were sent a range of goodies to try recently, including a wide variety of breads and some frozen foods.

Their frozen range is increasingly interesting. We’ve always enjoyed the Bonta d’Italia pizzas and the white rolls (the ones that look petalled), but they’ve added chicken kievs, cannelloni and caserecce. My expert taster recommends the cannelloni and caserecce ready meals… apparently they don’t look appealing at first, but when you cook them they look much nicer and are fantastic for a quick meal.

Of the breads, our favourites were the paninis and the baguettes. The paninis were good, and were perfect for packed lunches; they are surprisingly crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. The baguettes, too, were very well received – and the salti crackers were very, very addictive. It is more than possible that I ate the whole packet of those… (oops).

The range of foods available now amazes me when I think back to when we first started out on the gluten free journey 20 years ago. What must it have been like 20 years before that?

Teal pumpkins

teal pumpkin

Do you know about the teal pumpkin movement?

It was launched as a USA-wide project in 2014 by FoodAllergy.org, following a local awareness activity run by the Food Allergy Community of East Tennessee (FACET). The idea is that if you are happy to welcome trick or treaters at Halloween (not everyone is!), and would like to make the experience better for children with allergies, you provide some non-food treats (or some safe allergy-free treats) and display a teal pumpkin so that visiting children and their parents know that you can offer something safe.

Trick or treating is becoming increasingly popular over here in the UK, following the tradition set by the USA, where Halloween is a big festival. I’m not a fan of trick or treating myself—and it hasn’t happened around here for years—but thought I’d share this idea with you.

Of course, it doesn’t take away the responsibility of the parents to choose safe foods for their child, and to teach the child to make safe choices. But it might just make the experience nicer for everyone. And it might mean that some children would be able to join in. Although part of the fun of the night is dressing up, and being out after dark with your friends, part of it is the treats—and if you know that you may not be able to join in with the feasting, that can take some of the fun out of the evening.

Although we’ve hardly ever done trick or treating (and only to known houses when we did) I do remember when Coeliac Daughter would come home from parties with sweet treats, and then pick out the few that she could eat and give the rest to her siblings. I also used to keep a stock of safe treats on a high shelf, and then swapped them for the unsafe ones in her bag. She quickly learned which were safe to eat, and which were not. The trickiest treats were those from abroad, where the ingredients list (if there’d been one) had obviously been on the outer packaging, and wasn’t available to check…

What do you think? Do you let your coeliac (or lactose-intolerant, or nut-allergy) child go trick or treating? And if so, do you think the idea of a teal pumpkin is a good one?

Free From Eating Out Awards Shortlist

eating out - FFEOA

I’m delighted to have been asked to serve as judge for the Free From Food Eating Out Awards (FFEOA) again this year. Last year was great, though it’s hard to believe that it was a year ago already…

We’ve completed the first stage of the judging process, and the results of the second stage have been announced (see below). More details are available on the FreeFrom Food Eating Out Awards website.

This is the third year of the awards, and the shortlist shows how very much easier it is getting for people with allergies to find a safe, reliable – and enjoyable – place to eat out. How many of these places have you tried? If there’s one near you that you haven’t visited yet—or even if it’s your local and you go often—go and eat there soon. And often. We need to support places that work so hard to offer safe food options for people with allergies.

The winners will be announced at the Food Matters Live conference, in November.

Cafés, coffee shops and tearooms – sponsored by Can I Eat There?

Café chains

Fish and Chip shops

Independent Fish & Chip shops

Fish & Chip shop chains

Pub restaurants –sponsored by Genon Laboratories

Independent Pub Restaurants

Pub chains

Restaurants – sponsored by Riso Gallo

Independent Restaurants

Restaurant chains

Corporate Hospitality & Venues

B&Bs and guest houses – sponsored by Thomas Ridley Foodservice

Schools, colleges and universities – sponsored by Thomas Ridley Foodservice

Food manufactured for food service

Savoury

Sweet

  • Borough 22: Raspberry Pistachio Glazed Doughnuts
  • Brakes: Gluten-free Carrot Cake
  • Brakes: Gluten-free Sticky Toffee Puddings
  • Honeybuns: Squillionaire
  • Nairn’s: GF Breakfast Biscuit Breaks (Apricot)
  • Nestlé: GoFree Corn Flakes (single serve pouch)
  • Pidy: Gluten Free Sweet Tartelette Cases 8.5cm
  • Taywell: Chocolate Dairy Free Frozen Dessert

Fancy a (gluten free) pizza tonight?

gluten free pizza

It’s always interesting when a big ‘normal’ brand moves into the gluten free market… will it work? Will their product be as good gluten free? Will they be able to sustain interest in their gluten free offering, or will it fold quietly?

I went to the launch of the Dr Oetker Ristorante gluten free pizza range this week, in London. They were running a direct like-for-like comparison of their current (normal) pizza and their new (gluten free) pizzas, with a range of side dishes and cake (all gluten free).

Apparently Dr Oetker are the UK’s favorite thin and crispy frozen pizza brand; I asked why they were launching their product now (when there are already gluten free pizzas on the market), and was told that it had taken a while to get both the base and the topping right.

As we know, the free from market is increasingly interesting to food manufacturers, because it is big and continues to grow. Like so many others, Dr Oetker has developed their gluten free product to be of interest not just for coeliacs, but also for the large number of people who choose to be gluten free as a lifestyle choice.

The gluten free versions of their pizzas are being launched across Europe now—though apparently the UK is the first to produce them. They are made on a dedicated gluten free line in a mixed factory.

The packs are clearly marked as gluten free, so it will be easy to spot them in the freezer section of your supermarket (in Iceland from September, and Tesco from October).

And what did I think of the pizza? Longtime readers will know that it is our eldest daughter who is the coeliac in our house, not me, so I was able to taste and compare both the normal and the gluten free versions—at least, the vegetarian ones. And I found the gluten free version to be very convincing—very like the normal version—and the topping stayed put nicely (it didn’t slide off, which can be a problem sometimes).

dr oetker gluten free pizzaI would like to see a wider range. Mozzarella & pesto or salami are the gluten free options at the moment. I’d like to see something more adventurous: perhaps a good vegetariana one, or goats cheese and caramelised onion. Apparently Dr Oetker will develop more flavours if enough people express interest, and obviously I could always add toppings to the mozzarella one if I wanted.

In the meantime, though, I think this is a pizza that a coeliac could share with a non-coeliac friend, and both would be happy.