Life

Coeliac disease: Key to managing outside the home is awareness

Often confused with irritable bowel syndrome, coeliac disease affects the small intestine of people who are hypersensitive to gluten, a protein substance found mostly in wheat. And though it's on the increase, so is awareness of the condition, writes Roisin Armstrong

Coeliac disease is a painful and serious condition that is becoming increasingly common
Roisin Armstrong

IN our little part of the world it can be quite tricky to eat out if you are not coping with wheat in your diet.

We are so fond of toast, sandwiches at lunchtime, wheaten bread with our soups and salads and of course the ubiquitous fry, usually served with at least three types of bread per portion.

Magnify that problem if you are diagnosed coeliac, were eating foods containing any kind of gluten can cause hours or days of misery. This painful and serious condition is becoming increasingly common. It is estimated that there are four times as many coeliac sufferers today as there were 30 years ago.

Irritable bowel syndrome is often mistaken with coeliac disease, sharing similar symptoms such as diarrhoea, constipation, tummy pain, bloating and wind. Both affect intestinal parts, with IBS hitting the colon or large intestine while coeliac disease affects the small intestine.

One British study found that the chance of having coeliac disease was as much as seven times higher for patients with IBS than for other members of the general public.

I recently met the developers of a fabulous website, www.glutenfreeireland.com, which offers lists throughout the island of Ireland, county by county, for restaurants, pubs and producers of gluten free (GR) foods.

Christina Thompson was diagnosed with coeliac disease 12 years ago and, like all sufferers, struggled to find suitable places to eat out. Her husband Derek began to compile lists but it was their son Mike who came up with the idea of the website, as he figured there must be many people struggling with the same issues.

As Derek says: "When we first launched our website, finding somewhere offering a GF option was very difficult but over the past five years the situation has improved dramatically. More people asking for GF options has encouraged producers to provide new and better products.

"The restaurant trade has also recognised the need to provide their diners with options. New labelling laws for producers and the hospitality trade has forced venues to look at how they deal with allergens (including gluten) and some have recognised this as an opportunity.

“Sadly, not everyone who claims to be providing GF products knows enough about the illness and this lack of knowledge may make someone very ill. We urge our followers to always check the labels on the food they purchase and always ask questions when visiting a restaurant or café.”

Derek told me they had 6,000 followers on Facebook and 3,000 on Twitter. The venues listed have been sourced by the Thompson’s through personal experience, from friends or, often now, through recommendations provided by their followers.

Despite the extensive time commitment to this excellent site, it has been difficult for the Thompsons to cover their costs. The site is one of the few such sites to give its information for free.

“Without Mike’s input by way of building the website and maintaining it on a weekly basis it would never have got off the ground as he has done it all with no recompense. The small income we do generate comes from Gluten Free food suppliers who advertise on our site and a number of restaurants who also advertise," Derek says.

"Many restaurants are listed with just their name and address while those that pay the small annual fee also have their telephone number, email address, logo, website link and social media links also included; it’s a really useful to help generate business. “

Gluten Free Ireland hold occasional Gluten Free Food Fairs around Northern Ireland; the next will be on Saturday April 16 in the Marine Hotel, Ballycastle from 1pm-4pm. For more information check out www.glutenfreeireland.com, or 028 9263 9992.

:: r.armstrong@irishnews.com

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