By ELISE FANTIN.
Eating is a pleasure most of us enjoy while experiencing the crunch of crusty bread, devouring oozing chocolate from a molten pudding or skulling an ice-cold beer.
Unfortunately, for the growing number of Australians suffering coeliac disease, they must think twice before any food passes their lips.
Coeliac disease is a genetic disorder where the body’s immune system reacts negatively to the protein gluten (found in wheat, rye, oats and barley) causing damage to the bowel.
Accredited practising dietitian and committee member at Coeliac SANT, Suzanne Flint said that while coeliac disease affects approximately one in 100 Australians, 75 per cent remain undiagnosed.
“That’s approximately 160,000 people in Australia who have coeliac disease but don’t know it yet,” Suzanne says.
A lack of awareness of coeliac disease is contributing to the problem as many people are unsure of what symptoms to look for.
“Common symptoms of coeliac disease are unexplained and extreme fatigue, bloating or other gut symptoms, headaches, joint pains and general lack of energy,” Suzanne says.
Despite advising to watch for warning signs, Suzanne stresses the dangers of self-diagnosis.
“It is not helpful to put yourself on a gluten-free diet if you are suspicious of coeliac disease,” she says.
“See your GP to have some blood screening tests done first.”
Currently there is no cure for coeliac disease but research is being done on its prevention, control and diagnosis.
Registered nurse, Danni Boyd-Turner, knows all too well the difficulties coeliacs face- two of her children Annabelle, 9, and Harry, 6, have been diagnosed with the disease.
“To begin with it was very difficult but over time we have done lots of research and know where to eat and what products to buy, we check every label but occasionally we trip up,” Danni explains.
Although there are plenty of foods which are naturally gluten-free such as fruits, vegetables, fresh meats and fresh eggs, sufferers are forced to find alternatives to everyday items such as bread, pasta, pizza and cake.
For the Boyd-Turner family, social situations such as birthday parties provide challenges.
“Both children find parties difficult… but I have instilled the notion that the party is not about the food,” Danni says.
Annabelle, a 9-year-old coeliac sufferer, hates feeling different but understands the importance of sticking to a gluten-free diet.
“When people at school bring things in to share I sit and watch them enjoying their food or my teacher will give me a lolly that I can have,” Annabelle says.
With the number of diagnosed coeliacs on the rise in Australia, gluten-free products and options at restaurants are starting to become more common.
But eating out can still be difficult.
“You can’t just go to the first café that you see, you have to make sure that they have gluten-free foods for you to eat,” Annabelle says.
For coeliac sufferers research into gluten-free options and learning how to read food labels are an essential part of maintaining a healthy diet.
Flint highlights how eating gluten-free can be expensive.
“A loaf of gluten-free bread might cost you anything from $5-$10 and the gluten-free loaf is generally smaller than a standard loaf.”
“It is quite challenging to find foods that I can eat because lots of the foods are either one, gross or two, way too expensive,” she said.
Despite these challenges, Suzanne advises coeliac sufferers to: “Be firm with friends and family about your need to have a strict gluten-free diet as even a tiny bit of gluten will do damage.”
Themis says they started Sprout because, “Often people with specific dietary needs miss out.”
“With the rate of people being diagnosed with coeliac disease and gluten intolerance on the rise these people need a place where they can go and get not only up to date scientific information but also practical tips for managing their diet,” he says.
Themis also stresses suffering from coeliac disease does not mean a life of eating boring and bland food.
“At our last gluten-free Sprout class we cooked a rice-crumbed fish dish and also a rich flourless chocolate cake and they were absolute hits,” he says.
Locally, Coeliac SANT works to promote awareness of the disease and offers support to sufferers including information sessions, kid’s cooking classes and supermarket tours and stocks a range of gluten-free products at their shop at Unit 5, 88 Glynburn Road Hectorville.
Sprout is holding a gluten-free cooking class in May and positions are still available. For more information, head to www.sproutcooking.com.au.
Photo provided by Sprout.