Coeliac disease affects 1 in every 100 people in the UK. For those affected by the disease, eating gluten (most commonly found in wheat, barley and rye based foods) can result in some very uncomfortable and even dangerous symptoms.
Only a few years ago coeliacs struggled to get their hands on good quality gluten-free products, but according to Sarah Collar, Coeliac UK’s Food Policy Officer, nowadays "you can find a wide range of specialist gluten-free foods in the supermarkets such as gluten-free pasta, bread and cakes." In fact, Asda recently won four awards for their gluten-free breads earlier this year!
And thanks to EU-wide rules about labelling foods with allergens, it's now very easy to tell from a label whether a product contains a gluten-containing ingredient or not.
With this week being Coeliac UK’s Awareness Week (May 14 - May 20), we put some questions to Coeliac UK to find out how you and your family can eat a well-balanced diet whilst accommodating for the disease.
What is coeliac disease?
Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disease triggered by eating gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye, and in the UK it can affect 1 in 100 people. It is not a food allergy nor a simple food intolerance.
“If someone in your immediate family has the condition the chances of you also having the condition are significantly increased to 1 in 10,” says Sarah. Your immediate family includes your parents, children, or siblings.
Sarah says: "While we know that around 1% of the population has coeliac disease, the number of people who have a medical diagnosis of the condition is much lower with research indicating only 24% of those with the condition have a diagnosis. This means there are around half a million people in the UK who have coeliac disease, but as yet, have not been diagnosed.”
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms can vary widely from person to person, from very mild to severe.
Some common symptoms of coeliac disease in adults and older children include bloating, diarrhoea, nausea, wind, constipation, tiredness, mouth ulcers, sudden or unexpected weight loss (but not in all cases), hair loss and anaemia.
In younger children and babies, symptoms include failure to thrive, diarrhoea, muscle wasting, poor appetite, lethargy and behavioural change.
How do you get diagnosed?
Sarah says: "The first stage of getting diagnosed is a simple blood test to check for antibodies which can indicate coeliac disease.
"If the blood test is positive or there is clinical suspicion of coeliac disease, your GP will then refer you to a gut specialist (a gastroenterologist) for an endoscopy with biopsy. This is a simple procedure which looks for damage in the gut typical of coeliac disease. It involves passing a thin flexible tube (an endoscope) through the mouth and into the small intestine where tiny samples of the gut lining are collected."
If you suspect you or your child has coeliac disease, it is important that you discuss your concerns with your GP.
"For children, a biopsy may not always be necessary,” advises Sarah.
"New guidelines recommend that children with symptoms of coeliac disease whose blood test shows a high level of antibodies may not need a biopsy to confirm the diagnosis.”
What's the treatment?
"The good news is that treating coeliac disease doesn't require medication,” says Sarah.
"Currently, the only treatment for coeliac disease is a strict gluten-free diet for life. Gluten is found in wheat, rye and barley and some people also need to avoid oats - even if they are special gluten-free oats.
"Common foods that contain gluten include bread, pasta, pizza, cakes and biscuits. It is also found in some processed foods like ready meals, cooking sauces, sausages and stock cubes.”
But have no fear - while there are many foods that contain gluten, there are also plenty that don’t, including:
- Meat, poultry, fish
- Rice, beans, pulses
- Fruit, vegetables
- Eggs, cheese, butter, milk, plain yogurt, cream
Be sure to check the label to make sure the product is suitable for you. Ingredients that contain gluten and other allergens will be emphasised in the ingredients list in bold lettering, for example.
How do you accommodate for coeliac disease in your child’s diet?
"One of the key challenges for parents of young children is making sure their child understands that they have coeliac disease and the importance of not swapping foods with other children or trying their packed lunch instead,” stresses Sarah.
Will you miss out on all of your favourite foods?
There are plenty of small swaps you can make so you or your loved one doesn’t have to miss out on the gluten-containing foods that they love.
Asda also stock a large range of award-winning gluten-free puddings, bakes and sweet treats, like our raspberry and coconut flapjacks, our cranberry and orange oaty biscuits and our tiramisu-style coffee dessert, so you don't have to miss out on your favourite cakes or desserts either!
"For snack ideas, why not try a small pot of houmous* with carrot batons or celery sticks and gluten-free grissini*. Cold gluten-free pizza* can be a great way to use up leftovers for packed lunches the next day. Fromage frais, crème fraiche or natural yogurt can be used as a sweet dip for eating with sliced apple, pear and strawberries.”
You can still eat the rainbow on a gluten-free diet, says Sarah: "Fruit and veg is the ultimate fast food – apples, kiwi fruit, bananas, satsumas, grapes, berries, carrots, cucumbers, peppers and celery are healthy, gluten-free snacks."
*Check the label to make sure you choose a suitable product.