Gluten free reading

IBS and Living Gluten Free: Sophie’s Story

Are you an IBS suffererer? Do you think you might be?

Sophie Lee is—has been for 20 years—and she sent her new book to me to review for you. It’s called, appropriately enough, ‘Sophie’s Story’.

It might seem an odd statement, given that her book details her pain and embarrassment over the years, but I loved it.

The book is full of personality and humour, as well as conveying some very important messages about the importance of communication.

Tell others you have a problem

Sophie spent years not telling: not telling her parents, her friends or her employer. So—like many other IBS sufferers, I’m sure—she spent a long time feeling alone.

You can’t expect people to understand unless you tell them.

Find others to talk to

Communicating your difficulties to non-IBS sufferers is one thing—and perpetually educating others can get wearying—but communicating with others with IBS, even if their symptoms are different, can be very helpful.

Go to Sophie’s site, IBS Tales, to start with, and join the conversation. Maybe you can find others in the future, and help them get over their embarrassment and talk.

Tell the world

I don’t mean that everyone should talk about their bowels all the time! But by bringing these problems out into the open, and talking frankly about the day-to-day difficulties they cause, will help all IBS sufferers. Sophie does this via her website, but has also done interviews with print and broadcast journalists.

Another example of speaking despite embarrassment: Ally (who has Crohn’s), on the UCB corporate website. If you haven’t read her story yet, do.

Get the message out: it helps everyone.

IBS, CD and the gluten free diet

We don’t do IBS in this house (thank goodness!) but we do ‘do’ coeliac disease: I know about the Bristol Stool Chart, and about steatorrhoea. And we also, of course, do gluten free, and have done for years. A gluten free diet is one of the things that have helped Sophie manage her symptoms (go and buy her book for the full list).

In the past, Sophie turned down opportunities because of her worries over symptom-management. Coeliac disease comes with a treatment plan – live gluten free – but we too have made choices because of the condition, though in our case it is about managing the treatment plan rather than managing the symptoms; all part of living with a chronic condition.

There is a degree of misdiagnosis and confusion between these various disorders. Ovarian cancer is sometimes misdiagnosed as IBS; so is coeliac disease. So: if you’re reading this, it’s probably because you have, or care for, someone who has, bowel problems. Whatever your symptoms, make sure you’ve had a full suite of tests, so that the correct diagnosis is reached.

Get tested. And get talking.

Book Review: Coeliac Disease by Alex Gazzola

I recently received a review copy of Coeliac Disease*, written by Alex Gazzola. Alex is a health journalist with a special interest in digestive health and coeliac disease.

And his expertise shows… This is a slim volume, but packed with information, covering everything from symptoms and diagnosis, through shopping and nutrition, to the history and future of treatment, via a range of practical issues.

Note: no recipes. You’ll need another book (or two) for those…

It would be an ideal book about the condition for the newly diagnosed, and also for those seeking diagnosis, but even for those of us who have been dealing with the issues for well over a decade, the book includes interesting information.

My copy of the book is now covered in Post-Its: I was particularly interested in the section discussing coeliac disease across the world. There are also explanations of technologies developed since we went through the diagnosis phase, such as video capsule endoscopy, and discussion of the downsides of the ‘free-from’ market. Lots to think about!

Discussion of the testing process is particularly useful for those seeking a diagnosis, covering reasons for testing, the types of testing available, the importance of remaining on a gluten-filled diet before the test and the benefits of diagnosis. I was pleased to see the emphasis on being tested by your medical professional; something which the gastroenterologists were also keen to impress upon us at the recent conference. This is because some of the privately available tests, and alternative testing techniques have very little evidence behind them.

This is a UK-based book: the information about labelling and about prescriptions is UK-specific, and likely to become outdated over time as regulations change – as is, I hope, the chapter on the future outlook for treatments, as they progress from being possible options towards fully tested solutions. No doubt this book will have been reprinted in later editions by then! However, there is much in the book that applies to anyone, no matter where they live.

I predict it will be very popular – it’s launching on May 12 2011, but you can pre-order it at Amazon now*.

* affiliate link

Book Review: Gluten-Free Good Health Cookbook

gluten-free-good-healthI recently received a copy of The Gluten-Free Good Health Cookbook: The Delicious Way to Strengthen Your Immune System and Neutralize Inflammation, by Annalise G Roberts and Claudia Pillow, to review here.*

It’s always interesting to review books intended to help make life easier for coeliacs, and although I don’t agree with the authors about the need to neutralise acids in the body (the science of which I’m not going to discuss here), there is a lot of good sense and helpful advice in this book.

The thesis of the book (and parts of it do read like a thesis) is that many people have lost touch with what constitutes a healthy diet, and are eating too much refined processed food, particularly foods based on wheat and sugar – and that this has an adverse effect on the immune system. The authors recommend a mixed diet using a variety of fresh foods, particularly whole foods, including seeds, vegetables, fruit and fish.

No-one would suggest that the ‘breakdown of today’s daily diet’ suggested by the book is a healthy one; 10 pieces of bread, two sodas, a chocolate bar, a hamburger and a chicken breast, butter, fries, orange juice and an apple is a long way from Five-A-Day or the standard food pyramid. And the recommended mixed diet of a variety of fruit and vegetables and a range of different proteins (including beans, nuts and fish) and grains and grasses (rice, oats, millet and quinoa, for example) is one recognised by almost everyone as the ideal.

Not that the ideal is always easy to achieve (I’ve a weakness for red wine, black coffee and dark chocolate, myself) but there are some good suggestions in the book for how to move closer to the ideal. And the authors are realistic about what is achievable – I love the idea of leaving 5% of the daily diet for ‘goodwill’ (those little extras that you want but probably shouldn’t have).

Providing instructions on how to cook various things from scratch is helpful to those who aren’t sure how to begin to cook gluten free. Examples here include:

  • how to make a gluten free white sauce
  • how to make a soup
  • how to make gluten free gravies
  • the basics of how to roast, grill, fry etc
  • some recipes for gluten free flour mixes

For people who aren’t used to cooking for themselves, this is invaluable instruction. And even those of us who are accustomed to cooking from scratch at home can learn something new from each new recipe book: a demi-glace, for example, is a new term for me, and I have discovered that the brand recommended by the authors is available here in the UK, at The Good Food Network.

The recipes vary from the very simple ‘how to make scrambled eggs’ or ‘how to compose a green salad’ to ‘how to make a citrus beurre blanc’ and ‘how to steam mussels’. What the authors do well is explain clearly and simply how to do all these things, so that whatever your level of expertise, they seem achievable. We’ll definitely try some of the recipes – the butternut squash and sage risotto appeals, as does the pesto brie pizza with jalapeno peppers. And the caramelised pineapple sounds delicious!

These recipes would appeal to anyone, not just coeliacs or the gluten-intolerant (and the authors do a good job of explaining the difference). In fact, using these recipes, you could eliminate a lot of gluten from your diet without noticing. Though as we know all too well, you do have to pay very close attention to eliminate it completely!

I’m not quite sure who the intended audience is: some parts of the book are quite technical, discussing macrophages and epithelial cells, among other things (and the footnotes and appendices are still more medically technical); other parts are clearly aimed at the brand-new cook. The latter are perhaps the most useful parts of the book, and a newly diagnosed coeliac could go straight to those to get started on the diet, thinking about the science later when they feel a little more confident.

Helpfully, the authors have also included US-measures to metric-measures conversion tables at the very back (this is something I often get confused over, because the UK and US pints are different measures!). Some of the brand recommendations are US specific, some of the recommended pantry ingredients are highly specialised (bottled clam juice isn’t a standard pantry item here, but everyone will have their own pantry favourites) and some of the language is US-oriented (cilantro and zucchini, for example, are what we’d call coriander and courgettes, and I think the closest thing we have to heavy cream is double cream, though the fat contents are different) but since the book is US-oriented, this is only to be expected.

However, I’m told that the book will be distributed in the UK, Australia and New Zealand, as well as in the US, and it is available to buy at Amazon.com (or Amazon.co.uk) as well as on the Agate Publishing website.

*Disclosure: I received a review copy, and this post contains affiliate links.

Review: Let’s Eat Out

Let’s Eat Out!A few weeks ago, I received a copy of Let’s Eat Out! Your Passport to Living Gluten and Allergy Free, together with some pocket-sized books from the same series intended to go out and about with you. The idea was that I should review these for you – and I was thrilled to receive the pack. It’s glossy, well-produced and has deservedly been nominated for many awards (and won lots!).

I have been intending to review these. I have, honestly! But I have found it extremely difficult to know what to say.

Not because I don’t think this is an extraordinary piece of research, or a very valuable asset to eating out, because I do. This is clearly a very detailed inventory of cuisines, with some very helpful advice on what to think about before eating out – and what questions to ask.

And I know that many people find it difficult to eat out, because they lack confidence in the restaurateurs, and don’t want to be ill – understandably! So I think this may prove to be a huge help to a great many people.

So why am I struggling to review it?

  • Partly, possibly, simply because there is just so much material, so densely packed. This book deals with 10 different allergens, most of which aren’t relevant to my family (though will clearly be relevant to somebody else), and so identifying which paragraphs are appropriate is a bit of a chore.
  • Partly, perhaps, because the countries I’m interested in haven’t yet been included. Not surprisingly, Let’s Eat Out have focused on the most familiar cuisines. I would have too! But I’d like to see sections on eating Greek and Turkish, and I’m very interested in eating gluten free in Finland at the moment (because my coeliac daughter really does want to go to Finland) – so there’s lots of scope for expansion!
  • And, of course, much of the advice in each section is similar to those in other sections, (such as discussion of stocks, sauces, cooking oil and coatings) and so there is a degree of repetition. But as the authors point out, this book is not to be read cover to cover, but dipped into at need – so these things do need to be repeated in each section. Just in case you only ever read the section on Italian cooking, say. And it doesn’t hurt to have these things reiterated … It is easy, sometimes, to forget that what is very familiar to me may be brand new information to someone who’s only just been diagnosed.

One way that this company could resolve this would be to enable a pick and mix approach, so that people could create their own allergy-pack by picking and choosing elements to be incorporated into their personalised book. That way, if you couldn’t eat gluten or dairy, you could have just the relevant pages; if you couldn’t eat eggs or dairy, you’d have a different set; and if you just wanted pages relevant to nut allergies, that’s all you’d get. If you only wanted to know about eating gluten free in a Thai restaurant, that’s all you’d buy, but if you wanted to know about eating dairy free in French, Italian and Indian restaurants, you’d buy a different set. (See my very recent post on creating your own cookbook).

The parts of the main book that I’d like to point out as particularly useful are:

  • the section on ingredient and preparation techniques, broken down by allergen, and explaining why, for instance, you should be careful about mashed potato in North America
  • the sections on breakfast, and on snacks – with a wide range of options listed under each
  • the section on allergy-free drinks
  • the appendices – books, websites for support groups by country, websites for allergy-free shopping, by country

And I like the small handbooks – though a guide to pronunciation might have been helpful.

I found the quick reference charts unhelpful, as so many of the items ‘could’ contain gluten that looking at the list was quite demoralising – and weakened the authority of the book. How could orange juice or mineral water contain gluten? Also, of course, these things vary from country to country: pork sausages in the UK will almost certainly contain gluten in the form of breadcrumb or rusk (you have to look quite hard to find those that don’t) while in France the butcher will probably look at you in horror at the very thought of bulking out his sausages with this kind of filler.

Overall, though, this series is just astonishing in the depth of information available. And if I were taking a holiday in, say, Italy, I’d definitely pack the multi-lingual phrase passport. I’m really looking forward to seeing the expansion of this series into a wider range of national cuisines.

Have you bought this? I know its been out for at least a year now, because I commented on it back in October 06, so chances are you’ve seen it …

Gluten Free Quick and Easy: recipe test

Gluten Free Quick and Easy I wrote yesterday about my first impressions of Carol Fenster’s new book, Gluten Free Quick and Easy – and you can read my interview with Carol here. Today, I’m going to tell you about the recipes I’ve tried …

First batch: Chocolate Chip Cookies

I set out to make Double Chocolate Chip Cookies first – wouldn’t everyone – and I have to confess that they were a complete disaster. Husband rudely described them as moonrock … but it wasn’t Carol’s fault.

I do have a dim memory of my mother possessing two different sets of cup measures – one for UK measures, and one she’d acquired while living in the US. I only possess one set, and these were, of course, the wrong ones. As I set to, mixing and measuring for my choc chip cookies, this faint trace of memory did surface briefly, but didn’t make enough impact to change my process.

As no doubt you all know, a US cup is 8 fluid ounces; in the UK, it is 10 fluid ounces. As I tried to make the mix bind together to form a dough, I did think it was rather dry – no wonder, since I was using significantly more dry ingredients than Carol’s recipe called for, and my poor, lone egg didn’t have a chance. As a rule, here in the UK, we don’t use cup measures for baking, but pounds and ounces, so I was setting off at a disadvantage anyway.

Still, I think if I mix the moonrock with icecream, it will make very nice choc chip cookie icecream. See, I’m following Carol’s system of re-use already.

Once I’d done my research on the net, and found that the only US cup measures available on line here in the UK are out of stock (now, why would that be? Gap in the market here, folks), I decided to do complicated sums in my head, and convert cup measures to ounces …

baking cup measuresSecond batch: Scones

Now these turned out really rather well. None of the ‘gritty’ taste that often comes with gluten free products … I’ve eaten three already.

Carol’s baking process isn’t one I’m used to – her recipes all seem to start with blending the egg and fat, while I would usually rub the fat into the flour first – but it does work, and I was very pleased with the scones.

Third batch: Plain cookies/Raisin cookies

I’m beginning to crack the conversion technique, and these were a whole lot better than my first attempt! The ingredients pulled together to form a lovely workable dough.

Still perhaps slightly on the dry side – I’m cooking in an Aga, which brings its own unique style to every dish. Next time I’ll put the cookies higher up, and remove the cooling sheet part way through to let them brown.

I’m enjoying this review process – but I bet Carol never expected her recipes to be tested using UK measures on an antique Aga!

gooseberriesFourth batch: Gooseberry Cobbler

This was fabulous. I used gooseberries because we’ve a lot of those in the garden at the moment – and it was gorgeous. The topping is much lighter than a crumble topping, and went very well indeed with the gooseberries. I shall be producing this again at the weekend, when I have family coming.

All in all, I’d say that these recipes worked well, once I’d got over the initial cultural differences! I’d be happy to recommend this book, especially if you were based in America. And I think it would be particularly useful for someone new to the diet, because of the information surrounding the recipes.


For those of you not familiar with the conversion of US measures to UK measures, this might help:

1 cup = 0.5 pint. In US, 1 pint = 16 fluid ounces. In UK, 1 pint = 20 fluid ounces.

butter: 1 UK pound = 2 US cups
flour: 1 UK pound = 4 US cups
syrup: 12 UK ounces = 1 US cup
sugar: 1 UK pound = 2 US cups
milk/water: 0.5 UK pound (or 8 fl.oz) = 1 US cup

The differences are due to the different densities of the stuff to be measured.

I’m still working in imperial measures – if you’ve gone metric, you’ve got a different calculation to do