Some of you may by now have seen the new Coeliac UK TV advert, the one with a woman having her midriff squashed by a snake and carrying her own bodyweight in fatigue around with her.
It's a great idea to encourage people to get tested for coeliac disease if they have the symptoms and have so far not been given a satisfactory diagnosis. You can go to the Coeliac UK website and work through a list of symptoms to find out if you could be one of the estimated half-million or so undiagnosed coeliacs in the UK. If you tick the right boxes, you will be recommended to go and see your doctor and ask for the tests.
But at the same time, there is a growing body of people who are 'going gluten free' on their own initiative because they have self-diagnosed having 'non-coeliac gluten intolerance'. So allow me to tell you something about the difference, as I was diagnosed as having coeliac disease on my sixtieth birthday. It's no laughing matter, I can tell you
Coeliac disease is a serious lifelong autoimmune disease called by intolerance to gluten. The only treatment is to avoid all traces of gluten, no matter how minuscule, for the rest of your life. I won't go into all the symptoms, as some are not pleasant, but fatigue is a significant one.
I'm not talking 'I don't feel like going for a long walk with the dogs today' fatigue. I mean 'sorry dogs, by the time I've got you into your harnesses and put my boots on, I have no energy left to take you for a walk.'
Once you have your diagnosis, done through a simple blood test and a not so pleasant gastroscopy, it sounds simple enough to manage. You just cut out gluten, right? Except it's not that simple. That means no more wheat, barley or rye (and for some coeliacs, oats, too). Barley, of course, means watching out for malt, which can often catch out the unwary. No more malted milk at bedtime, no more Mars bars. Bearing in mind, too, that the safe cross-contamination margin for coeliacs is 20 parts per million.
Having friends to stay? You'll need to issue them with their own bread board, knives etc to avoid cross contamination. They'll want to eat their own bread because, believe me, most of the GF varieties, even those you bake yourself, are disappointing. I've tried most recipes. It comes out of the oven looking delicious.
The first slice is quite nice but by the time it has cooled down, it usually takes on the density of a house-brick
You can make some nice cakes, luckily, substituting things like ground almonds and rice flour. But even a simple treat like shopping for chocolate becomes a bit of a minefield. Have a quick glance at some of the chocolate brands you find on the shelves in your local supermarket and see how many of them contain the dreaded words 'may contain traces of gluten.' That's fine if you have a slight intolerance. If it's coeliac disease, it means put it back.
Home made gluten-free cakes for tea -Editor: Look yummy to me!!
So does it matter if people want to go gluten free because it's the latest eating craze? Well, yes it does. Aside from the fact that a gluten-free diet using proprietary GF products is not always nutritionally correctly balanced, there is the knock-on effect which the food fashionistas seldom think of – the effect their ever-changing dietary obsessions have on those of us with no choice.
It's a little bit like those signs for fly-posting on cars whose thoughtless owners park in disabled spaces when they have no need to. My sign would say, 'If you want my disease, please take the symptoms that go with it.'
I'm extremely lucky here in France that in most restaurants I visit, they are kind and helpful, and the French equivalent of Coeliac UK issues us with a special card to show it is an actual serious illness, not a fashion fad. But most of us with the illness will experience, at some time, the exasperated roll of the eyes from a waiter and the comment, 'well that dish only has a bit of gluten in it, you should be all right with that.'
That's because a lot of the wannabes will announced themselves as 'gluten intolerant' then, at the sight of the dessert trolley, say they can't possibly resist the profiteroles, or the chocolate gateau or whatever gluten-laden pudding looks the most delicious.
If you have any of the symptoms mentioned in that TV advert, do please go and get yourself checked out because, once you have the diagnosis, you will start to feel better – honestly.
Meanwhile, if there is anyone in your family who has decided to go gluten-free, or lactose-free or anything else, without any diagnosis, please have a quiet word with them
They're not only putting their own health at risk, they're also making it even more difficult that it need be for the approximately one in 100 people who really do have coeliac disease.