BETTER DAYS FOR COELIACS
Readers who have followed me since 2010 will know that in 1988 I was diagnosed as a Coeliac. Basically that means my body cannot absorb GLUTEN which is found in things like Wheat, Barley and some types of Oats. My diagnosis came on the back of a swift and alarming wight loss accompanied by bowel malfunctions and a general loss of energy. At the time, I was sent to the Hospital Dietitian having had my problem explained to me by the Consultant. The Dietitian repeated the cause, presented me with an A4 sheet of what not to eat and that was that.
In the succeeding years, it is therefore no surprise that, having quickly regained weight, energy and general health that my attention on what not to eat lapsed. In my defence, whilst you were told what not to eat, actually what you should eat, and recipes for that were in very short supply. Asking for "GLUTEN FREE" in Supermarkets etc. brought only blank looks and negative responses.
THUS, MY DIET RETURNED TO WHAT IT HAD BEEN FOR THE FIRST 48 YEARS OF MY LIFE, AND GIVE OR TAKE THE OCCASIONAL BOUT OF DIARROEA, I THOUGHT NOTHING OF IT AS THE YEARS ROLLED ON.
Then in 2010 I met my July bombshell in the shape of a perforated bowel, subsequently confirmed as being, in all probability, brought on by my reckless disregard of what I had been told back in 88. During the operation a mesenteric mass, later diagnosed as a Non Hodgkin Lymphoma was diagnosed, and so began the double whammy of recovering from a life saving emergency operation and chemotherapy alongside each other. Now, in remission from the Cancer and due a further consultative update in 10 days time and feeling in decent shape, I am, thanks chiefly to the discipline and eagle eyes of my wife, following a strictly GLUTEN FREE diet as stressed by the Consultant Oncologist.
Now this preamble is purely to stress to anyone with a similar problem, to ensure they get checked out clearly. My Consultant in 88 put a camera down my throat to confirm his then, for the time, enlightened suspicions and no doubt today, a similar simple procedure will be used. The big difference is what then follows, for 24 years on, the options for Coeliacs have thankfully improved dramatically.
The problem is all about what the sufferer eats and drinks, end of story, though me being me insists that an element of good old exercise and activity is also a help. EAT LESS, MOVE MORE applies just as much to Coeliac sufferers as ordinary folk ! Back in 88 little was known other than how to tell patients what not to consume. What was virtually non existent was how to both purchase and then cook the things that were able to be consumed without causing inflammation and ulceration in both stomach and intestines.
Drink was the least of the problem. Alcoholic consumption meant changing Beer for Wine and care taken if spirits were drunk to know what they derived from. Fruit Juices and Soft Drinks posed no problem, so ,as indicated, a Coeliac with half a brain has no problems with liquid consumption. The problem lies with solid foods, for want of a better inscription and back then Coeliacs were effectively scrambling in the dark to find acceptable foods and then even worse, recipes on how to make them at least edible.
Happily in 2012 we have a much brighter picture. Dietitians are better informed, food producers are aware and thus labelling is so much clearer. For example, anyone who was unfortunate enough to like Sausages will know that most of them are not for Coeliacs because of what they contain. Some specialist Food Halls, presented what they called Gluten Free Sausage but the trouble was they were practically inedible. Thus, my joy to be told by a Daughter in Law of a brand available at our very local Supermarket. We found them, confirmed them by labelling, bought and cooked them, and found them to be excellent. Another small, but significant step for this Coeliac !
However, the example above is far fro the whole story, for many food producers and retailers are making vast strides to encourage the Gluten Free market. Supermarkets, where shelf space is at a premium have also begun to expand both their gluten free products and their Marketing. Just asking a Supermarket employee if they had a gluten free product was effectively speaking "Moon Language" just a few years ago. Now most can instantly direct you to the aisle that houses their "FREE FROM" section. Believe me that is an advance! Thus, anyone now newly diagnosed will have no problem finding a range of ever increasing products that fit their use. Of course the products tend to cost more than non gluten free, but we may hope, in time to see the parity restored.
VALUATED HELP AND ASSISTANCE.
As awareness and product availability have improved, so has information on how to cook and present gluten free products in a totally palatable manner for Coeliacs and non Coeliacs alike. Television Chefs deserve praise here for putting gluten free cooking on air and by providing in books and on the Internet, excellent recipes and stages of cooking and presentation for all.
I commend any Coeliac to Google, "COELIAC RECIPES" and marvel at what is available to be done. Remember this disease is all about what is in the product you use and there is excellent information in both quantity and quality now available here. Beyond that, each will have their own established references. Most of my reference works appear as Christmas presents and non has yet disappointed me. Naturally I have my favourites but others will have their own, quite rightly.
Valuated information, recipes and advice in my personal experience are as follows:
1. Seriously Good Gluten Free Cooking by top Chef Phil Vickery.
2. The G FREE Diet by Elisabeth Hasselbeck.
3.Gluten- free cooking by Lyndel Costain and Joanna Farrow. This compact book is a real bargain and is produced with the backing of Coeliac UK, an organisation dedicated to improving the lives of people with Coeliac Disease and also Dermatitis. Herpetiformis. As well as a wide range of recipes, this book has 37 pages explaining the disease and various related problems in clear, concise, easy to read and understand terms. How I wish it had been available in 1988.
4. Gluten Free Bread and Cakes. Anyone with the disease knows how tough it is to miss out on bread and cakes and will always be searching for new ideas to improve on current standards available as gluten free.
As indicated, those are personal favourites, no more, no less.
As a schoolboy, I soon learned that the hardest thing in building a big snow ball was to get it started, put in the right place and then pushed carefully to start it rolling down the hill gaining both size and momentum. I do feel that now, the GLUTEN FREE snowball is doing just those two things and that has to be the best of news for sufferers. Medical Research into the disease continues with efforts to identify and isolate the exact causes of the disease and why it affects, say 1 in 100 people and to seek treatments not diet related that may in time result in pharmaceutical treatment evolving.
For the immediate, even medium term however, sufferers seem by far the best advised to adhere strictly to that GLUTEN FREE DIET. Consequently, immediate future hopes must be placed on greater gluten free product availability, even wider stocking outside Supermarkets, and within those Leviathans, better and bigger displays to enhance awareness, not to say also that they will use their buying power to put gluten free products on a more level cost playing field. Coeliacs themselves can assist by asking, on a continuing basis for certain products to be displayed. Currently, certain Supermarkets are far more in touch than others it seems and client pressure should not be dismissed lightly.
Even given the above, the Coeliac"s lot is much brighter, clearer and indeed easier than before and for that as a Group we should offer our thanks to all concerned in the progress that has been, and continues to be made. Now, where has my wife stored my alcoholic Ginger Beer ?