Tomorrow marks the start of Coeliac Awareness Week and the Gluten Freevolution. This year, Coeliac UK, its members and other supporters are campaigning for more accessible gluten free food options.
Since being diagnosed with coeliac disease in August 2015, I’ve been wary of eating food that I haven’t prepared myself. Out of necessity, I’m now an expert at reading labels. I can spot rogue gluten or cross contamination risks easily. I often feel like a bad dinner guest because friends and family have to prepare food separately and make sure that kitchen surfaces are spotless. I struggle to find suitable food on the go, so I usually pack lunch and always carry snacks with me. To reduce anxiety about eating in unfamiliar places, I research safe options before travelling. Spontaneity is off the menu.
These may sound like extreme precautions, but this is the everyday reality for sufferers of coeliac disease. Not following a gluten free diet has serious short-term and long-term effects. For me, an accidental “glutening” begins with a familiar pulsing headache that quickly intensifies. Soon after, I experience stomach pains and sickness, becoming well acquainted with the nearest toilet. I am drained of energy – worse than my usual fluctuating levels – and need to spend days in bed recovering. Along with increased joint and bone pain, the chance of improving my osteoporosis (a related condition) declines. To top it all off, my immune system takes another hit, which leads me to catch viruses that are hard to overcome.
Common misunderstandings about coeliac disease and gluten free diets often make our experiences as food consumers frustrating. If a person who does not have coeliac disease asks for gluten free options whilst reassuring restaurant staff that they don’t have to be too careful, they put us at risk. It doesn’t help that prescriptions are being cut and NHS England’s Chief Executive has claimed that providing gluten free food is a waste.
Despite this, restaurants and products with Coeliac UK accreditation are useful. Pizza Express, Carluccio’s, Pho and others follow Coeliac UK protocol when preparing and serving gluten free food. Other outlets don’t handle gluten on the premises at all. On Pancake Day, I enjoyed a crepe and frozen yoghurt at Yorica in London. I’m happy to say they were entirely gluten, dairy and anxiety-free.
The gluten free market is a huge opportunity for the UK hospitality sector. If restaurants and other food outlets want people with coeliac disease to become and remain customers, they need to continuously improve their standards. We want to be able to purchase food without anxiety or hassle, so I hope that more companies will listen and take action.
If your business would like to get involved with the Gluten Freevolution campaign or become Coeliac UK accredited, find out more here.
If you are a fellow coeliac, look out for the #GlutenFreevolution on social media and share your experiences. I would love to learn more about local, independent options in Sussex, so please share any recommendations too!
If you suspect you may have coeliac disease, learn more about the condition and diagnosis here.