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Guest Post: A week as a vegetarian coeliac

19 May

My lovely wife Abby went gluten free for Coeliac Awarness Week to show support, here is her guest post on the experience:

AbbyYesterday marked the last day of Coeliac UK’s Awareness Week. Although I don’t have coeliac disease myself, since Kev’s diagnosis three years ago I am now an expert on all things coeliac and gluten free, and I’ve become an outspoken advocate for the rights of coeliacs to enjoy eating good food, both in restaurants and at home. Thousands of people use Awareness Week to raise the profile of coeliac disease by not eating gluten for seven days in support of sufferers of the disease. My participation in Awareness Week adds another restriction to my already restricted diet – for strong environmental and ethical reasons I am a vegetarian (no fish) of almost 25 years. Before Kev’s diagnosis he never ate meat in our house, an act of support which I truly appreciated. Unfortunately, I can’t show this solidarity when it comes to gluten because, as a vegetarian, protein is a top concern and most meat substitute products, such as Quorn or Linda McCartney products, contain or are contaminated with gluten. To ensure we both get protein, Kev and I often cook two versions of the same meal – one with real meat and one with Quorn. During Awareness Week this was not an option so last weekend Kev and I carefully planned out our meal plan for the upcoming Awareness Week.

As you know from Gluten Free by the Sea Mexican food is a staple in our house so we ate black beans (refried and as chilli) several times during Awareness Week. We also went to the Plymouth Coeliac UK Support Group dinner at JD’s Grill – I know Kev raves about JD’s all the time but it’s because the place is great for coeliacs and they have a good veggie menu too. The set menu for Awareness Week had two veggie options for starters and a veggie burger for the main course (plus a delicious sweet-potato-fries-with-vanilla-ice-cream dessert). OK, that was an easy version of eating out since it was pre-arranged, but last year I found myself in Padstow during Awareness Week and basically just walked around asking restaurants what they could do for a vegetarian coeliac until one chef offered to make me gf pasta with fresh wild mushrooms. Actually, that was only the second restaurant I approached so it pays to ask questions.

The majority of our food during the week was home cooked, but we did try two ready-made products: Clive’s Pies and a veggie lasagne and a burrito from Amy’s Kitchen. I’ve loved Clive’s Pies since I first tried them two years ago and it was convenient to have a ready-made gf and veggie product in our freezer to throw in the oven for dinner when I got home late one night. The only downside was that we had to walk into town to purchase them at Holland and Barrett – I wish they were more widely available. As for the Amy’s products, I don’t normally like ready meals, but it turned out Amy’s frozen meals are not like normal ready meals! There was no grease, they weren’t over salted and they tasted great. I was really impressed.

Overall it was fine being a veggie coeliac during Awareness Week since 1) we cook most of our own food, 2) I’m assertive and not afraid to order off-menu while eating out, 3) as a vegetarian I’m an avid label-reader, and 4) I was in the UK. I am on the road for work much of the time and the vegetarian coeliac abroad experience would have been much harder, particularly in China or Japan where veggie food is confusing due to the language barrier and lack of understanding about the concept. The best part of Awareness Week was not having to worry about my gluten-containing food contaminating the gluten free food in our kitchen – I normally have to wash my hands constantly while cooking to avoid cross contaminating Kev’s food. I also don’t know what I would have done had we had a barbeque – I love halloumi and veggie skewers but it’s not the same as a veggie burger or veggie sausage (don’t worry – we have a gluten free meat barbeque and a separate barbeque for veggie products and gluten). If Quorn had some gluten free options vegetarian coeliacs would have a lot more choice for protein and I could eat gluten free at home all the time.

Abby – @anaturalstate

My Gluten Free Heroes!

17 May

As it is coeliac awareness week, I thought it would be nice to give a big thank you to some gluten free heroes who have made my life so much easier to deal with since I was diagnosed with coeliac disease.  Some of those listed are heroes for providing advice and support, whilst some of them are heroes for providing amazing gluten free food that has helped to persuade me that life isn’t all doom and gloom and in fact I can still eat amazing food and there really is no need to compromise.

There are many more who could have been on this list, but for all of those who have given me advice or support over the last few years I really appreciate it.  The gluten free community have been such a rock for me, and have inspired me to try and help others.  For all those who work so hard to bring coeliacs safe and delicious gluten free food, I thank you all!

2014-01-18 12.24.51Clare Jones of Clare’s Gluten Free Catering: Clare has been a coeliac for over 40 years and last year started a gluten free catering company.  This year with, some huge help from husband Jon, she has opened Plymouth’s only completely gluten free eatery.  Clare’s Gluten Free on Bretonside provides a huge range of gluten free sweet and savoury food that is simply delicious.  Pasties, pies, chocolate eclairs, lemon meringue pie, scotch eggs, the list foes on.  If Clare doesn’t make it she will always respond to demand and give it a go.  The cafe is not only a safe haven for coeliacs from a food perspective, but you will find such a friendly atmosphere and you will usually find yourself chatting away to Clare, her family or other coeliac customers.  Clare has also been a big supporter of our work at the Coeliac UK Plymouth Group.

2013-06-24 19.31.51Dave Cossar & Justin Meaney of JD’s Grill: Finding somewhere to eat out safely is always a massive challenge, finding somewhere to eat safely where the food is good even more so.  Fortunately for coeliacs and those following a gluten free diet in Plymouth JD’s Grill can do both.  I simply love this place, the food is right up my street and Justin and Dave have really gone the extra mile since my original review to expand their gluten free range.  They are on a mission to try and find a gluten free option for anything they list on their expansive menu.  Fancy a half pound burger made in house from local meat, topped with delicious pulled pork and cheese on a gluten free bun with Cajun spiced fries, that are of course fried in a separate fryer?  I am always made to feel so welcome at JD’s and the staff are so knowledgeable and treat gluten free like it is the norm, I am never made to feel out of place.  JD’s have also been big supporters of the Coeliac UK Plymouth Group and this week hosted 40 of us for a fantastic gluten free night.

LTEC-LisaLisa Hackett of Let Them Eat Cake: Lisa herself is gluten free due to Crohn’s disease, and set up her company Let Them Eat Cake to ensure those on a gluten free diet could enjoy food that actually tasted good.  Let Them Eat Cake have recently re-branded to Let Them Eat to reflect the increased savoury options they now produce.  The company is based in Hatt in Cornwall and I love their ethos of using ultra local produce.  Many of the cakes are baked with vegetables to reduce the sugar content and keep them moist and also dairy free, and all vegetables used are from producers in the Tamar Valley, meat is sourced from a local farm and honey from Lisa’s own bees.  Lisa is not only a huge supporter of local businesses and but has been a great support to Gluten Free by the Sea along the way.

honest + beerTom and Phil of Honest Burgers: Tom and Phil will always be heroes of mine for a moment I experienced in Brixton in 2012.  Still in the early days of my gluten free diet after diagnosis I followed a recommendation and set off to Brixton to find a tiny little restaurant in the middle of nowhere (at least to a tourist from Plymouth) called Honest Burger.  The restaurant was so busy that we had to wait a long time for a table but when we got one it was worth the wait.  I sat down and ate the most delicious burger I had ever tasted, topped with some amazing red onion relish on a gluten free bun with some ridiculously good rosemary salted fries.  There was a also a gluten free beer to wash it down with.  This blissful moment was the moment I learned that gluten free food didn’t have to be a poor substitute and that by following these recommendations I could actually eat better than before.  Honest have grown considerably since and I’m thrilled for their fully deserved success, and I’m always a frequent visitor when I head to London.

mugsAnn Perkins of Perkier Foods: Ann is someone who I have had the pleasure to meet at a few of the gluten free “tweet ups” in London.  A coeliac herself, she plays an extremely active part in the gluten free community on social media.  Her company, Perkier Foods, is one that I love as they have really managed to put the fun back into living gluten free.  The company just oozes fun from it’s brightly coloured packaging, playful competitions, hilarious social media banter and not to mention delicious gluten free treats.  The personalities of Ann and fellow Perkier founder Steve Turner very clearly come through.  Ann always seems to find time in her very busy schedule to give the gluten free community a voice, supporting local Coeliac UK groups and being vocal about coeliac disease.

GFChipsJo Haimes of Eggbuckland Fish and Chip Shop: Many coeliacs will tell you that not being able to eat fish and chips is one of their biggest losses when diagnosed.  One of the worst things about my lunch time walks around the Barbican is the smell of chips everywhere!  So when Jo decided to take a Coeliac UK training course and open her chippy especially for gluten free customers once a month I could not have been more excited.  What many customers fail to appreciate is that a gluten free night was a two day event for Jo, as she would have to spend her Sunday’s steam cleaning the fryers and making sure everything was ready for Monday.  I always look forward to the first Monday of every month and it feels like a real treat.  It’s also so lovely to see so many happy customers when I stop by.  Sadly Jo is moving on to pastures new, so this seems like a good time to thank her for doing gluten free nights for the last year and a bit and wish her every success in the future.  Thankfully Jo has convinced the new owner to carry on gluten free nights so I am extremely grateful to her for that too.

Alex Gazzola, Health Journo: I really must give a special mention to Alex.  A journalist and author of books which include “Coeliac Disease: What you need to know”, Alex is not gluten free himself but plays a huge roll in the gluten free community.  His blog, Food Allergy and Intolerance Ink, is loaded with articles helping us wade our way through some of the more complex issues of living with coeliac disease and other allergy/intolerance, not least the minefield of food allergen labelling.  I always feel that Alex has our back and is ready to lead us into battle, but the fact he is a gluten eater and all round level headed guy means he is equally well placed to tell us to stop being daft when our battle march is (often) misplaced.  Alex seems to have a unique ability to be able to bring us back down to earth when someone has upset us, and give an alternative point of view that will always give us food for thought.  It’s great to have someone that can so eloquently give a viewpoint for both sides, and this makes him an important and respected member of the GF community.

Bloggers: There is a fabulous network of gluten free bloggers out there.  There are so many giving their time to provide recipes, eating out recommendations and tips for living gluten free.  I have found so many blogs so helpful since being diagnosed and these guys play such a vital role in the gluten free community.  I really appreciate the time you all spend to bring us the latest information and news, and thank you for inspiring me to get involved and have a go!  Some of my favourites: Gluten Free Mrs D, Chatty Daisy Days, Fabulously Free From, Gluten Free B, Gluten Free Blogger, Little Missed Gluten, Love Free From, FreeFromFairy, Not a Trace, Positively Coeliac and Wuthering Bites.  So many more I could mention and please see my links page for more.

Coeliac UK and the local group committees: It would be remiss of me to talk about those who do great good for coeliacs without giving Coeliac UK a mention.  We have seen so many more gluten free options recently and this is in part down to the amazing work that this charity do to raise awareness of the condition and encourage and train businesses to provide us with safe options.  There has been a great spirit amongst the coeliac community this week for awareness week.  I would also like to give a huge pat on the back for all of those volunteering their time for the local groups.  Having been on the inside for the past year I’ve been able to see how much work goes into planning events by people who are giving their time for free to help others.  If you’ve got good ideas for your local group I really would encourage you to get involved with the committee and help make these things happen.

AbbyThe wife: Of course one last big thank-you from me must go to my wife Abigail.  She is the one who cooks me delicious gluten free food on a daily basis, listens to me drone on endlessly about the latest cake or packet of crisps I have found, and looks after me when I have been glutened.  She has also be known to fulfil the role of gluten free beer wench at Coeliac UK Plymouth events!  I really couldn’t have come as far as I have without her support on a daily basis.

Well there are my gluten free heroes, I would love to hear yours so please comment below.  A huge thank-you to all the heroes out there!

Kevin, Gluten Free by the Sea

Coeliac Awareness Week 2014

12 May

This week is Coeliac Awareness week, an event which run annually by Coeliac UK to help raise awareness of Coeliac Disease.  As many of you know I was diagnosed with Coeliac Disease in 2011, and I now spend much of my time spreading the word and trying to help fellow coeliacs.  The disease affects an estimated 1 in 100 people in the UK according to Coeliac UK.  However only around 15% of this number have been properly diagnosed.  That means a massive 85% of those with coeliac disease are still being made ill, with the long term risk of osteoporosis or even bowel cancer remaining without treatment.

When a coeliac ingests gluten, an autoimmune response will cause the body to attack the lining of the small intestine.  This leads to damage to the villi (small finger like projections lining the gut).  These are flattened reducing the surface area of the gut, preventing food and nutrients from being properly absorbed.  This can lead to malnourishment and anaemia.  There is currently no medical cure for the disease, and the only treatment is a lifetime gluten free diet.  This means strict avoidance of wheat, rye and barley.

Gluten is commonly found in foods such as pasta, bread, cakes, biscuits, pizza, pastry and flour.  Food is not the only issue, as many drinks such as beer and cheep cola’s can also contain gluten.  Other symptoms include abdominal pain, diarrhoea, bloating, headaches, joint pain and fatigue.  Coeliac disease is also a hereditary condition, so if you have a family member with coeliac disease you are at an increased risk.  Many patients are also incorrectly diagnosed with IBS.  So does this sound like you?  Make sure you see your GP and get tested.


Coeliac UK are this year running an awareness week campaign to encourage supermarkets to sign up for a “gluten free guarantee”.  The campaign aims to improve availability of gluten free food for coeliacs, and the charity is asking supermarkets to  guarantee the following core items are always stocked: fresh white bread, fresh brown bread, bread rolls, breakfast cereals, pasta, flour, crackers and cereal bars.  You can read more about this campaign and how to get involved here.

For more information on coeliac disease, please take the time to read the story of my diagnosis here.  I would also be really grateful if you could share this post to your Facebook and Twitter feeds to help spread the word.  If you think you could be suffering from Coeliac Disease visit the Coeliac UK website for more information, and above all please visit your doctor and get tested before eliminating gluten from your diet.

Kevin, Gluten Free by the Sea

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