Allergies and Changing Your Diet

After a month of going gluten free with my family, my perspective on food allergies and intolerances has completely changed



The anti-wheat brigade

Before my brother was diagnosed with coeliac disease two years ago, I was a bit unimpressed with the anti-wheat brigade. Seeing and hearing so many people foregoing their lunchtime sandwich and claiming to be 'wheat-intolerant' niggled me.

Since when did 'oh, I'm cutting out bread, it bloats me' become a valid medical reason to sever ties with a dietary staple? 'Get over it,' I used to think, 'be grateful you've got bread, plenty of starving people in Africa' etc. etc.

Now however, I think slightly differently. I decided to show solidarity for my brother and go gluten free for a while, just to see how easy it was to cut gluten from our family diet. My brother often ate with us, so I would have to embrace this style of cooking on occasion anyhow, and I was amazed at how easy it was.

Going gluten free

The most surprising thing was discovering how little gluten we actually ate in the first place. Apart from bread, which disappears from the kitchen like escaping steam, we only really ate pasta and the odd treats such as biscuits and cakes, and they really needed to go anyway!

I learned how to bake my own gluten free bread and cakes, and also use malt vinegar substitutes such as cider vinegar, and white or red wine vinegar, all of which taste absolutely great.

Surprising benefits

After only a few days, I have to admit we all felt really good. Since the calorific value in gluten free bread can be slightly higher due to the amount of sugar used, my weight stayed the same, but even so, I felt more energetic and lighter somehow.

Even my skin and hair seemed better. Having suffered from the dreaded 'bread bloating' myself on occasion, I really didn't miss that over-stuffed feeling after eating it. It was really nice to tuck into a sandwich and not remember it for two hours afterwards.

The experiment lasted a whole month, and now I know exactly how to avoid gluten when I need or want to. The kids really didn't notice at all, and I think the valuable lesson for me is just knowing how easy it is to cut certain things from your diet - a practice newly diagnosed allergy sufferers must find really daunting, especially those who have children with allergies.

Finding alternatives can be easy

I can now knock up gluten free meals quickly and easily, even by just avoiding certain things - Worcester sauce, malt vinegar, soy sauce, certain makes of stock cube - all have easily available alternatives that taste equally as good or better.

You don't need to get caught in the trap of buying specialised products; just a tiny bit of searching around and reading the backs of packets will produce surprising results. A lot of everyday branded products you think contain gluten actually don't.

Children with allergies

Luckily, this is a choice for me. I don't need to permanently cut anything from my diet if I don't want to, but since doing this, I've spoken to a couple of mums at school whose children have nut or egg allergies and, although difficult at times, they've also agreed that it's worst at the start.

Once you get used to avoiding certain things and, obviously keeping a hawk-like eye on your child in situations where food can be contaminated, achieving the right diet can be less scary than you think.

Jayne, Working Mum and Freelance Editor

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