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Gluten free diets, staying healthy and the media

gluten free diet

You may have seen a lot of articles on the internet over the last few days, saying that the gluten free diet could be bad for ‘healthy children’.

I’m assuming they mean children without a diagnosis of coeliac disease—thank you, my child is perfectly healthy as long as she doesn’t eat gluten—and you may be wondering whether that means the gluten free diet could be causing your coeliac child a problem.

This is following comments by Dr Reilly, from Columbia University Medical Center, who was discussing some misunderstandings about the gluten free diet, and was explaining that there is no evidence that a gluten free diet is beneficial for children without coeliac disease (or a wheat allergy). She has a Commentary scheduled for publication in The Journal of Pediatrics, and various media outlets have picked up on the press release about this.

The first thing to note is that many of the media articles – particularly the headlines – are missing the point, and articles with headlines such as ‘Gluten-free diets may be risky for kids’ or ‘Could a gluten-free diet in kids do more harm than good?’ are not helpful.

Coeliac children absolutely must follow the gluten free diet. This is not, in itself, an unhealthy diet. You do not need gluten for a healthy diet. In fact, many people end up with a healthier diet than they had before… if they eat properly.

The point that Dr Reilly was making was that some (most?) of the manufactured gluten free foods (cake, bread etc) contain more fat or sugar than ‘normal’ versions. Therefore, if someone relies overmuch on these processed products, then they would be eating more fat/sugar than the ‘norm’, and that there might be a risk of some nutritional deficiencies because gluten free bread, say, tends to be unfortified. Some ‘normal’ products, of course, such as some cereals and breads, are fortified with vitamins/minerals, which can be found in other, non-gluten, foods too.

This is true.

In addition, there are undoubtedly quality of life issues with having to follow a gluten free diet, as many studies have shown. Obviously, there is reduced choice of food items, but in addition, spontaneity is difficult, and potentially a problem with food-issues could develop if anxiety levels over food limitations are high.

And then there’s the cost of eating gluten free…

So I don’t disagree with Dr Reilly, and the media articles reporting her commentary are not her responsibility. But I do think that the scare headlines are irresponsible and unhelpful to parents of children with coeliac disease. I can see that ‘Doctor says children should have a healthy diet’ doesn’t make for a high click rate!

If your child has a diagnosis of coeliac disease, or a wheat allergy, or other medical condition that requires a gluten free diet, please don’t be alarmed by the media headlines, and don’t, whatever you do, go back to a gluten-full diet. A gluten free diet can be healthy or unhealthy—but so can one that is stuffed full of gluten.

What to do?

1. Stick with the gluten free diet: no compromises.

2. Make it as good a diet as you can: a wide variety of foods to get the nutrients needed to maintain health and to feel good.

3. Don’t stress over it: as long as your child is safe (not eating gluten), then eating should be a pleasure, not a problem. Your child does not need gluten for a healthy life.

Gluten free Niche in London

Niche - gluten free restaurant in London

I visited Niche (London’s first Coeliac UK accredited 100% gluten free restaurant) for the second time last week — and again, I was too greedy to think about taking pictures for you…

I’ve been twice so far, and will definitely visit again; ideally, so I can try their evening menu. So far I’ve tried a few items from their daytime menu:

  • eggs florentine (part of their brunch menu) which were perfectly cooked
  • beer-battered onion rings – these were crispy and delicious
  • parmesan and cheddar doughnuts – these were fab, with a crispy coating, and good chutney to ‘cut’ and contrast with, the cheese
  • apple and blackberry crumble with cinnamon icecream – good pastry

It is very filling; after eating the doughnuts, I didn’t have room for a main course, and had to move straight on to the crumble! Note that I don’t eat meat, so I haven’t tried any of their meaty dishes.

The food I have tried is fab and the service is good too; both times I’ve met helpful and attentive waiting staff, who are happy to talk about the menu and reassure visitors. And the art on the walls is worth looking at too – it’s a showcase for London-based mobile photographers.

It’s only about 10 minutes from Euston station (take the tube to Angel, and then it’s a short walk), so it is surprisingly easy to get to for those of us who aren’t based in, or familiar with, London.

I am definitely going to have to take Coeliac Daughter there, or maybe buy a gift voucher so she can visit with a friend. She would love that she could eat anything she chooses from the menu.

If you’re looking for a gluten free restaurant in London, and you haven’t been to Niche yet—perhaps because, like me, you don’t live in London—I can wholeheartedly recommend it for a gluten free meal (there are also some vegan options if you need to be dairy free as well). Let me know what you think!

FPIES and Allergy Awareness Week

smiling baby

Yesterday, at the Free From Food Awards ceremony, I learned that FPIES UK were their charity of the year and would receive 10% of all Awards entrants fees.

Now I’d never heard of FPIES (say it f-pies), so went to learn something about it…

It turns out that Food Protein Induced Enterocolitis Syndrome (FPIES) is the most severe type of delayed food allergy, and typically affects babies and young children, who projectile vomit 30 minutes to 6 hours after eating whatever the problem food is. They may become lethargic or sleepy. They may develop low blood pressure. And about 20% become extremely unwell, experience symptoms of shock, and have to be hospitalised.

Now Coeliac Daughter used to projectile vomit after eating, at least until we got a diagnosis of coeliac disease (aged 1) and changed her diet: usually over me, and on one occasion, memorably and extensively into my cleavage while in the doctor’s office. At least he got some idea of the problem!

But nobody ever discussed FPIES with me, though she was tested for giardia and cystic fibrosis, among other things. I’m not saying that she had FPIES—she didn’t; but you’d think it would have come up as an option…

Since it is Food Allergy Day in the UK Allergy Awareness Week, I thought I’d help spread the word by telling you about it.

So here’s what I’ve learned:

  • FPIES is something that can be outgrown, typically by the age of five (coeliac disease, of course, is not something you can outgrow), though not everyone does.
  • FPIES vomiting is dramatic, with babies vomiting forcefully many times. Afterwards, the child may be lethargic, and in more severe cases, may seem non-responsive. Some children go pale grey or blue, or suffer from diarrhoea and abdominal pain. If it is a chronic condition, the child may lose weight and fail to thrive. (Pain? Diarrhoea? Lethargy? Failure to thrive? The more I think about it, the more I think I should have known that FPIES existed…)
  • Foods that can cause an FPIES reaction are many and various: typical ones are cow’s milk, soya, rice, oats, barley, bananas, peas, beans and sweet potato and chicken. FPIES children won’t react to all of these, and will probably only react to 1 or 2.
  • FPIES is thought to affect as many as 1 in 300 children.
  • Most doctors in the UK haven’t heard of it.

Want to know more? Find out more at the FPIES UK website or the US one

Free From Food Awards 2016

free from food awards 2016Since I’d helped out by judging the TeaTime category again this year, I was invited to the Awards ceremony for the Free From Food Awards last night. The image on this page is of the list of gluten free beers available on the evening…

You can find the full list of winners on the Free From Food Awards website, so I’ll just give you my own highlights of the evening, based on my notes:

  • I was delighted that White Rabbit Pizza won the Pasta and Pizza category. We tasted their pizza at the Allergy Show in Liverpool this year, and it is simply the best gluten free pizza we’ve had.
  • I’m going to look up Oast to Host products (their quiche won the Food to Go category) – sadly, it looks as though there’s nowhere near me that stocks them, so it might have to wait until I can get south again.
  • I’m also going to check out the Coconom Coconut Aminos, which is a soy, gluten, dairy and wheat-free soy sauce replacement containing 17 essential amino acids, B vitamins and minerals. This sounds amazing.
  • To nobody’s surprise, Tesco won the Retailer of the Year category. They really have worked wonders over the last few years, with fab new products seemingly coming out all the time (they won in the Breakfast category for their garlic baguette, in the Down the Pub category, their onion rings were highly commended, and in the Food for Children category, they won with their chicken fillets, and their Free From Carl the Caterpillar birthday cake was highly commended)
  • I also noted that Tesco sponsored the Start-up/New Business category, offering mentoring to the winner—I think this is a great prize, and likely to be very useful to the winner (Seed & Sage, this year).

There are a long list of other products I’m going to investigate, from Rollagranola’s granola to SweetPea Pantry’s pancake mix… do look at the list of winners and see what you’d like to try.

That’s the thing about the Free From Food Awards; they’re a great way of spreading the word about your products. I chatted to MummyBakes last night (one commended and two highly commended products in the TeaTime category this year, and one product shortlisted last year) for whom the Awards have been very helpful—they’re now stocked in Fortnum & Mason.

So if you are a manufacturer of an amazing free from product – or know someone who is – do consider entering next year. You never know…the overall winner was Nutribix this year, but next year, it could be you!

Review: The Allergy Catering Manual

allergy catering
Like many families where one or more people have coeliac disease, we only eat out at a place where Coeliac Daughter can safely eat—and ideally, at a place where she can have a choice. When we have had to eat out (when travelling, for example), for years her only option has, typically, been a baked potato.

Things are getting a lot better now. A lot!

But there is still a way to go—and it seems that many caterers are still missing out on a big opportunity. The Free From market is big, and getting bigger. According to Mintel (2015), nearly 40% of the UK population avoid at least one food on a regular basis; 3 million of those are people who suffer from serious food allergies, 650,000 with coeliac disease, and up to 7 million who suffer from other food-related problems.

By failing to provide food that one member of a family of five (like ours) can eat, a restaurant misses out on selling a meal for five. And once we’ve found somewhere that caters for Coeliac Daughter, we are very, very loyal customers, and tell as many people as we can about a good experience.

So the opportunity is in fact even bigger than the statistics indicate… If you’re in the food service industry, you’ll want to make sure you can serve this group of people.

Michelle Berriedale-Johnson, who runs FoodsMatter and the FreeFrom Food Awards, has used her experience as a caterer and food manufacturer to write The Allergy Catering Manual designed to help the food service industry reach this market.

I’ve read a preview copy of this book; it will be essential reading for people in the food service industry, but also extremely valuable for those of us who cook at home for friends and family with allergies and intolerances.

  • It explains clearly the difference between food allergies and food intolerances; the law covering the 14 major allergens; and the problems of accidental contamination.
  • There is a chapter that discusses each major allergen (and some others) in detail, and where you might find them unexpectedly—they aren’t always called by the same names!
  • And there are some clear guidelines about the issues involved in each of the key areas: menu design; recipe design; front of house; ordering and storing food; and preparing and cooking food. All establishments should read this to ensure that their processes and procedures are well-formed—and their staff well-informed and trained.
  • And finally there’s a section on using alternative ingredients and products, and a useful resources section at the end, including information on training courses for managing allergy in food service.

All in all, I think the Allergy Catering Manual will prove invaluable. It’s written clearly and as simply as possible, and is full of useful information. It would make a great addition to the reading list for food technology students from GCSE up—I’ve certainly seen enough questions from young people studying food technology to know that there’s a demand for this kind of material.

And from our point of view—the consumers—the more people that have an understanding of the issues involved in managing allergies and intolerances the easier life will be!

If you’re interested in buying a copy, the The Allergy Catering Manual is available via Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), priced at £3.99 until 21st May 2016 (usual price, £5.99).