Gluten-free is now better understood as being more than a diet trend, due to the increasing number of people being diagnosed with coeliac disease and committing to living coeliac safe, or ‘GF for life’.
Coeliac New Zealand is now aiming to remove the stigma of being different for these people during its annual awareness week, from June 18 to 24.
Coeliac New Zealand General Manager, Dana Alexander, explains the theme of Coeliac Awareness Week 2018, Together we are gluten-free for life.
“It reflects how crucial it is that consumers – particularly those yet to be diagnosed, as well as the hospitality, food manufacturing industry and health professionals – understand the difference between gluten-free for life, and gluten-free by choice,” she says.
“People who need to be coeliac safe can often be seen as difficult to cook for, cater for or eat out with but that’s really not the case.”
“For some it can prevent them from seeking diagnosis, which means they won’t get to the bottom of what’s making them feel consistently unwell and could risk them developing a potentially lifelong chronic illness,” Ms Alexander says.
Coeliac disease is a permanent auto-immune disorder that causes a reaction to dietary gluten, which is found in wheat, barley, rye and oats. It causes damage and inflammation in the small intestine meaning key nutrients cannot be absorbed properly.
It is estimated that 65,000 New Zealanders have coeliac disease but 80 per cent are unaware that they do.
“For most people with coeliac disease inadvertently eating something with gluten in it can cause a dramatic immune reaction, which usually causes sudden cramping and diarrhoea, vomiting, fatigue and irritability, and over time extreme anaemia and weight loss, particularly in children – although others are non-symptomatic,” Ms Alexander says.
This was certainly true for both Coeliac New Zealand’s new ambassadors with the disease, 2016 national rally champion Dave Holder, and medal-winning weightlifter Charlotte Moss.
Before he was diagnosed, Dave Holder would refuse food on race days to avoid unwanted and unpleasant pit stops, and while he didn’t understand what caused the frequent stomach upsets, he knew eating made his problems in the car worse.
Charlotte Moss says that at the age of 18 she was a mess – her hair was falling out, she was having trouble swallowing food, and even walking home from the bus stop was so exhausting it could reduce her to tears.
Both have made the lifestyle change to be gluten-free, and it has immeasurably improved their lives and also allowed them to excel in their sports.
Coeliac New Zealand’s other new ambassadors are Sachie Nomura of Sachie’s Kitchen, Vanessa Baxter of The Fearless Kitchen and Sally Holland, author of the book Goodbye Gluten. Coeliac Awareness Week is also being supported by the New Zealand Chef Association and Jimmy Boswell from Taste of Home
Coeliac New Zealand chairwoman and High Performance Sport New Zealand dietitian, Kath Fouhy, agrees eating gluten-free is an easy and healthy option.
“Being diagnosed with coeliac disease gives people the chance to drive their own health and wellness through the choices they make. Not only are there an increasing number of gluten-free products on the market but eating at home and out is not as daunting as people think,” she says.
“Being gluten-free is just a different way of having a healthy, well-balanced diet. Yes, it’s crucial to avoid inadvertently eating gluten – at other people’s houses, at work or corporate events, or when dining out – but it’s not difficult if everyone knows what they need to do.
Coeliac New Zealand offers support and practical advice to those of all ages with coeliac disease, and it’s Dining Out Programme provides training and independent accreditation for the hospitality and catering industry to ensure gluten-free food is produced and served safely.
During this year’s Coeliac Awareness Week is also Coeliac New Zealand’s annual conference. It is open to everyone, from Coeliac New Zealand members to others living with coeliac disease and gluten sensitivity, family members and health and medical professionals.
The aim of the conference is to ensure everyone is informed and inspired about living well gluten-free, and the line-up of speakers includes doctors on the latest research and testing methods for children and the new ambassadors sharing their stories.
visit www.coeliac.org.nz or www.facebook.com/CoeliacNewZealand
log into the self-assessment tool http://www.coeliac.org.nz/coeliac-disease/online-assessment.