Going gluten free and don’t know where to start? Rosie Henley has been a coeliac since she was a baby, but it hasn’t stopped her having a healthy diet – here’s how
Recently been diagnosed with coeliac disease? I bet you’re wondering ‘What exactly can I eat now?’ ‘How am I supposed to survive?’
Don’t fret. Gone are the days where rice cakes were the only gluten free option available. Now, you can walk into any supermarket and be overwhelmed with choice – with everything from gluten free bread, to pasta, cereal, biscuits and more.
So, is sticking to a gluten free diet as hard as everyone makes out?
‘Coeliac’ refers to an autoimmune condition where the stomach reacts to gluten – a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. A gluten free diet involves removing those foods, like bread, pasta and cakes.
So don’t be tempted to eat that slice of cake – the tiniest amount of gluten is enough to cause the villi in the small intestine to become inflamed and damaged, when you are coeliac. This will affect your ability to absorb nutrients and can also lead to severe abdominal pains, constipation, fatigue and weight loss.
I’ve been coeliac since I was a baby, so have had years of experience coming to terms with the change in lifestyle and diet.
These 21 eating tips are what I have learned along the way.
1. Do your research
If you’ve recently been diagnosed with coeliac disease, Coeliac UK is your go to website for advice about living on a gluten free diet. The website guides you through what not to eat, advice for eating out and travelling, as well as educating you on the foods gluten can be found in – some will surprise you, like stock cubes and soy sauce.
2. Organisation is key
There’s nothing worse than frantically rushing around with friends or family to find a restaurant last minute that has gluten free options. It’s always best to book restaurants in advance and make sure chefs and restaurant staff are aware of your dietary needs, so that they have options available for you when you arrive. Most restaurants will be happy to adapt the menu, all it takes is a quick email. You’d be surprised at the lengths restaurants will go to, to make you happy.
3. Allergy translation cards
Allergy translation cards are absolute life savers, so don’t even think about stepping foot on a plane without them. You can bring these printable allergy friendly cards to restaurants when you’re abroad and they allow you to communicate your dietary needs to waiters in their native language, who can inform the chef of your allergies. Genius, right?
4. Choose your destination wisely
Let’s not lie, travelling with allergies isn’t the easiest. Some countries are better than others at catering for gluten free diets.
If it’s gluten free MacDonald’s you’re after, then head over to Amsterdam ASAP. Yep, that’s right, you can order any burger of your choice and it comes in a Schär gluten free bun.
Patisserie lover? Paris is the place to be. Helmut Newcake, 28 Rue Vignon, 75009 offers a range of delicious gluten free and dairy free eclairs, tarts and mini cakes that are trés chic.
Rome has got to be the ultimate gluten free destination though. The city has tonnes of gluten free options, from gluten free ice cream cones, to top with your favourite gelato and gluten free pizza, which is literally the norm there. Voglia di Pizza specialises in gluten free pizza – rumoured the best in Rome and in the heart of Pizza Navona. Dreamy or what?
5. Take familiar snacks with you
Please please PLEASE remember to pack your favourite free – from snacks, as you’re not always guaranteed to find food you can eat.
Why would you want to put yourself through translating lists of ingredients when you’re out and about, when you could have just bought the snacks you know and love from home? You might pick something up, thinking it’s gluten free and then find yourself having an allergy. It’s not worth the risk.
6. Be prepared
Always carry your ‘Epipen’, antihistamine tablets and prescription in your bag. You never know when you might need them and it’s better to be safe than sorry. Don’t take unnecessary risks. Make sure you inform those travelling with you about your allergies and check that you and they know how to administer an Epipen.
7. Ask, ask and ask again
So what if its awkward? Even if you’ve asked 100 times already, don’t worry if you think you’re being ‘a pain’. If you’re at a restaurant and made to feel uncomfortable or an inconvenience, then simply get up and leave. Your custom is as valid as anybody else’s – remember your health always comes first.
8. Gluten is in alcohol too
Yep, its’s not just food, gluten is in alcohol too.
You’ll want to stay clear of most beers, but don’t let that stop you from enjoying the many other gluten free alternatives available: Celia, Green’s Premium Pilsner, Gluten free Peroni are some of Healthista’s favourites.
9. Download the Eat Safe App
Finding all your gluten free restaurants just got easier.
Eat Safe is the latest app which helps people with multiple allergies. You can create a profile, that you can filter, with the allergies you have and then at a click of button, you’ll be updated with the restaurants nearby which offer gluten free menus. You’ll be able to discover great restaurants and instantly see what you can eat.
How amazing is that?
10. Check for cross contamination
If you’re out at a restaurant its always wise to ask how the food has been prepared. Is it in an area where there’s gluten present? Have utensils been cleaned?
Even a tiny bit of gluten can be enough to trigger symptoms for someone with coeliac disease. So, make sure you wash surfaces, use separate toasters for bread and utensils for jams.
11. Inform hotel staff
Holidaying at a hotel? Beware of the buffet…With so much food around you, it’s often tricky to work out what’s exactly in each dish. Make sure you email the hotel before visiting, so that they can provide suitable alternatives for you when you arrive.
There’s no reason why you should miss out.
12. Trust your gut
Even if someone has claimed that everything is 100 per cent gluten free but your gut is telling you something’s up – you’re probably right.
Don’t ever feel guilt tripped into eating something, just to please someone. You need to feel 100 per cent happy before you put something in your mouth. Once you have that small bite, there’s no going back and there’s nothing worse than the fear of having a massive allergy in front of a bunch of people.
13. Download Coeliac UK app
Do you find yourself going around the shops wondering what exactly you can or can’t eat? The Coeliac UK app is perfect for you.
When you’re next out shopping, just take a screenshot of the product’s barcode and the app will tell you whether it contains gluten or not.
It’s great on the go and to be honest, I don’t know how we’ve survived this long without it.
14. If in doubt, stick to plain food
Yep, sometimes when you’re out and about simple is safer. As boring as it may be, its best to go back to good old faithful grilled fish, steamed rice and plain salads.
Often, the more complicated the dish, the more likely it is to contain gluten. It’s helpful when you’re eating out to use words like ‘steamed’ and ‘baked’ instead of ‘fried’- as fried food are usually coated in flour and that’s something you definitely want to stay away from.
15. Home cook meals for the win
As glamorous as eating out may be, you really can’t beat the comfort and safety of eating in.
First off, you can always trust home-cooked food because you know what’s gone in it. Secondly, there’s no stress about what ingredients have been used. Finally, it’s healthier, since you’re able to control how much fat or sugar you want in it and can tweak ingredients according to your dietary needs.
16. Learn how to budget your weekly food shop
If you haven’t realised already, gluten free food isn’t cheap. Foods like pasta and bread can be up to four times more expensive compared to normal gluten containing foods.
That’s why it’s important to stock up on staple foods like rice, fruit, potatoes, beans and vegetables becaus they’re not only superhealthy they also help meals go further.
17. Double check food labels
Double checking packaging should become second nature. I know it’s tiring, but I’m sure you’d rather spend a couple minutes longer looking over ingredients instead of finding out when you get home that those biscuits that cost you a fiver that you thought were gluten free actually aren’t.
The main grains to watch for that you might not be aware contain gluten are barley, wheat, rye and spelt and they’re found in a lot of products, so its important to keep your eyes peeled. That doesn’t mean all grains are off limits, though – just opt for gluten free ones such as quinoa, polenta, buckwheat and corn.
18. Watch out for condiments
In case you didn’t know, be careful with sauces, like gravy and pasta. These often contain gluten, especially flour. Instead, look out for gluten free alternatives. Sacla do a range of Italian free-from pasta sauces, from tomato and basil to pesto, which can be found in the Free From aisle in most supermarkets. Bisto have also recently launched gluten free gravy in Sainsbury’s – so there’s no need to miss out on your Sunday roast.
19. Check your Health Insurance is up to date
Did you know that the European Health Insurance Card is free?
That means you can get free medical care in all 28 countries in Europe. So, before you do anything, make sure that this is up to date, because you never know when you might need it. Especially if you do have an allergy abroad – you’ll be covered. Phew.
20. In-flight meals, sorted
Travelling long haul? Chances are you’re going to get hungry – so make sure you reserve your gluten free meal before your flight.
Log onto the booking section of your airlines website and make a note explaining your allergies, so that they can organise something for you during the flight.
21. Social Media is your friend
I started my blog: @rosiesfreefromlife on Instagram a couple of years ago now and I can honestly say that it was one of the best decisions I’ve made. As a result I have met some incredible people who share in similar allergies to me and it’s great to belong to a community of people who just get it.
Why not start up your own blog? Or connect with food bloggers on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook, to help give you inspiration, advice and support.