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Health & Safety:
Coeliac Disease – be aware

Back in May, Coeliac UK – the national charity supporting people with coeliac disease – launched its year-long campaign ‘Food Without Fear’ to highlight to the catering sector (including restaurants, schools, hospitals and care homes) and to the Government the importance of offering clearly defined gluten-free meals

Food Without FearCoeliac disease is an autoimmune disease caused by intolerance to gluten, which causes inflammation in the lining of the gut. There is no cure or medication for the disease and the only treatment is to follow a strict gluten-free diet; so for the hundreds of thousands of people in the UK, being careful about what they eat is not just a faddy diet – it is an essential way of life. Without a gluten-free diet, the disease can lead to other conditions, such as osteoporosis, infertility or bowel cancer.

If someone with coeliac disease accidentally eats gluten, they are likely to be unwell within just two hours. The symptoms can often be very aggressive and include severe diarrhoea and vomiting, which can last for days.

Unfortunately, the catering industry is lagging behind the food manufacturing industry (which increasingly is offering more gluten-free food products), with many restaurants, catering establishments and even hospitals having little or no understanding of the need to offer gluten-free meals.

Gluten is a protein found in wheat (including spelt), rye and barley, and can be found in bread, pasta, cakes, biscuits, and beer. It is also found in a wide range of less obvious products, including soy sauce, sausages, gravy and mayonnaise.

“People with coeliac disease are not only faced with the possibility of becoming seriously ill if they unwittingly eat gluten, they are frequently treated like fussy second class citizens, much like vegetarians were in the 1970s,” says Sarah Sleet, chief executive of Coeliac UK. “They are often told that a restaurant can’t provide them with anything to eat – or that an item is gluten-free when in fact it is not.”

Furthermore, with the number of people being diagnosed with the disease increasing year on year, the food sector is losing out financially, as the majority of people with the condition, plus their families and friends, are choosing not to eat out in order to protect their health. In a survey conducted by Oxford University, 67 per cent of respondents said they were less likely to eat out after they had been diagnosed with coeliac disease1.

“It is time for the catering industry to wake up and realise that there is a substantial niche market that they are missing out on, and for people with the disease to be able to enjoy a meal out without the fear of becoming ill,” concludes Sleet.

1 Research quoted from the Health Economics Research Centre, University of Oxford survey of Coeliac UK Members 2007

1 in 100 people in the UK has coeliac disease, however only 12.5 per cent of these have been diagnosed and the average length of diagnosis is 13 years.
For further information phone 0870 444 8804 or visit www.coeliac.org.uk 

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