Coeliac Disease Awareness Day

May 13, 2019 6:14 am Published by Leave your thoughts

Coeliac disease: what exactly is it?

On 13th May it’s Coeliac Disease Awareness Day. It’s a little odd: there’s perhaps never been more awareness of one of the aspects of coeliac disease – gluten-free food – than there is right now. There are whole shelves of gluten-free food in supermarkets (you’ll even find it in petrol stations), and all but the most basic of cafes, pubs and restaurants will have a menu with a gluten-free option. Yet awareness of the disease itself is low. Many people simply assume that anyone ‘eating gluten-free’ is doing so as a fad, or to lose weight, to be more ‘on trend’, or because they’re a bit precious about their health. ‘Gluten-free’, in many people’s minds, is shorthand for a particular kind of middle-class, diet-conscious approach to life. And ironically, while those celebrities and fashionistas who’ve embraced gluten-free as a lifestyle choice have hugely extended the options available to actual coeliacs, they’ve undermined the seriousness of this medical condition at the same time. For this Awareness Day, we thought it might be a good idea to take a proper look at the condition that lies beneath all the hype and hot air: coeliac disease.

What’s coeliac disease?

Coeliac disease has been a diagnosed – and difficult – part of many people’s lives for decades, well before gluten-free as a trend took off (indeed, the first known reference to it is in AD 100, by a Greek doctor, Aretaeus). It’s an autoimmune disease caused by a reaction to gluten (a protein found in wheat, barley and rye). About 1 in every 100 people is thought to have the condition.

If you’re coeliac, your body’s immune system goes into attack-mode when you eat gluten, turning on its own tissues. This damages the lining of your gut and means that you can’t properly absorb the nutrients in the food you’re eating.

Coeliac disease has serious consequences. Untreated, it causes bowel problems (diarrhoea and constipation), vomiting, mouth ulcers and stomach cramps. Sufferers become very tired and may develop anaemia. In children, weight gain will be lower than usual – these children fail to thrive.

The disease is diagnosed by a blood test and gut biopsy. There’s only one cure: the complete removal of gluten from the diet. Even products that have been dusted with wheat flour, or thickened with wheat flour (like gravy), are off-limits. Sufferers are also advised to avoid food packaged in an area where gluten-containing ingredients are handled, or made using machinery that’s used for food containing gluten too.

Going gluten-free

It’s clear that without awareness – as in the dim and distant past – going gluten-free would be a very difficult task. While the disease was medically identified as long ago as the 1940s, public knowledge about it remained almost zero for decades. With no requirement to indicate gluten ‘contamination’ on labels or menus, sufferers simply had to assume that most prepared foods contained gluten. Doctors could prescribe hefty bags of gluten-free flour for use at home, but eating out was a real problem and readymade gluten-free food simply didn’t exist.

Over the next few decades, this all started to change. Much of this was thanks to the work of the Coeliac Society (now Coeliac UK), founded in 1968 by a coeliac and by the mother of a sufferer. Members organized themselves into support groups and began to swap helpful advice on foodstuffs and symptoms.

Gradually, a wider range of gluten-free food came onto the market to meet their demand, with certain providers specializing in it. At the same time, labelling requirements altered: allergens had to be clearly listed and ingredients specified, while laws were passed on what exactly constituted ‘gluten-free’ (in the UK, a product must come in at under 20 ppm – parts per million – of gluten to be labelled as such). It became much easier for coeliacs to see at a glance whether a suspicious product contained gluten.

Buoyed with a new optimism, coeliacs grew into a purchasing force to be reckoned with, swapping advice and recommendations online for products that met their requirements and for eateries that had a sympathetic approach. Even without the boost from celebrities and clean-eating enthusiasts, gluten-free food became big business.

Three basic messages

Coeliac UK now has 60,000 members and continues to provide advice on all aspects of the disease, while funding vital research. On this important awareness day, we wanted to help the organization get a few basic messages about coeliac disease across.

Get tested

 If you think you might have coeliac disease, you need to get tested. If you’re suffering from continual mouth ulcers, extreme fatigue, stomach pain, diarrhoea, anaemia or weight loss, then it might be worth trying out Coeliac UK’s online assessment tool. If you then think a diagnosis might set you on the right track, you’ll need to visit your doctor.

Get informed

If you’re already a diagnosed coeliac, or trying to help someone who is, make sure you make the most of the Coeliac UK website. With advice on everything from accessing gluten-free school meals to eating abroad safely, and a wealth of recipes and handy gluten-free food apps, it can help you transform an upsetting diagnosis into a new way of eating healthily and happily.

Get what you need

If you’re looking for gluten-free food, buy the highest quality you can find. Too many brands use poor-quality ingredients, at too high a price, covering up their shortcomings with excess sugar, salt and fat. Remember that ‘gluten-free’ doesn’t in itself equal ‘healthy’. You need to ensure that in removing gluten, you’re not getting rid of a host of other nutrients too – especially protein and fibre.

Naturally Good Food specializes in the best gluten-free food, selecting products that are rich in vitamins and minerals, with ingredients naturally high in gluten-free protein and fibre. We want to help everyone – regardless of their dietary restrictions – eat naturally, healthily and happily. We can supply gluten-free food in individual packs or in bulk, as required.

Check out our full gluten-free range here and take a look at the Coeliac UK website here. You might also find the following articles on gluten-free diets useful:

The Guardian: Not just a fad: the surprising, gut-wrenching truth about gluten 

The Guardian: Grain drain: should everyone adopt a gluten-free diet?

The Huffington Post: Coeliac disease is not a fad 

Naturally Good Reads v2

 

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This post was written by Yzanne

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