Life with gluten intolerance

2007-12-07 00:00

Paddy Feek was diagnosed with a food allergy in the late 1940s. “It has taken me until a few weeks ago to accept that I cannot have any grain other than brown rice or potato flour in my diet,” she says. And this is after a lifetime of ill health. Not only is Feek gluten-intolerant but also she “cannot take dairy” and can only tolerate limited sugar, like that found in honey or diabetic jam.

Her diet is necessarily grain-free, lactose-free and sugar-free. She wants to share advice and recipes with people who have an aversion to food, food intolerance or life-threatening allergies.

Feek wants to clarify the difference between the terms food allergy and food intolerance. Both are types of food sensitivity. A food allergy is an abnormal response to a food that is triggered by the immune system. A severe food allergy can cause a life-threatening reaction.

Food intolerance, on the other hand, does not affect the immune system and is not generally life-threatening. However, if someone eats a food they are intolerant to, this could adversely affect their health.

Food intolerance or sensitivity to certain foods involves the inability to properly digest or fully process these foods and can lead to chronic symptoms and even serious diseases if untreated. Symptoms to food intolerance can include gastrointestinal problems and respiratory problems, to name a few. There are different types of food intolerance, the main types being lactose intolerance (dairy sensitivity), gluten-intolerance (Celiac disease), yeast sensitivity (which can cause Candida infections) and fructose or sugar sensitivities.

Feek’s advice is that one should always consult a doctor initially. If you suspect you have a food allergy or intolerance, then it is important to get a proper diagnosis. A doctor may recommend an elimination diet. Under supervision you remove a food from your diet, see whether symptoms improve and then reintroduce the food and gauge whether symptoms return. If symptoms return then food intolerance is likely.

Doctors can also test for lactose intolerance using a lactose intolerance test, a stool acidity test or a hydrogen breath test. It is widely recommended not to cut food groups out of one’s diet without medical advice, because you could miss out on essential nutrients.

Feek is also encouraging restaurants on the Midlands Meander to cater for people with gluten intolerance. She spoke to the managers of the Gorge View Tearoom and Nutmeg Bistro in Howick, who both agreed to offer some gluten-free meals. The “Howick Hub of the Midlands Map” will indicate restaurants offering gluten-free meals in their reprint.

According to Feek, the following restaurants in Nottingham Road will do gluten-free meals: Loxley House, the Whistling Duck, The Texas Steakhouse and Coffee Shop and Mother Goose Coffee Shop. It is advisable to phone first. The Coffee Connection offers a gluten-free supply of scones, biscuits, waffles and muffins. The Truly Green Grocer sells organic vegetables, many of which go into Feek’s soups. Attwell’s in Caversham sell gluten-free food and other health food at wholesale prices.

Feek is hoping to publish a family cookbook that caters for people with food aversion, allergies or intolerance. The book will list safe ingredients that she cooks with and contain her special recipes.

Feek insists that the old adage about drinking eight glasses of water a day definitely applies to people with food allergies or intolerance. Also, “a little goes a long way” when it comes to food.

“Eating the correct food makes you satisfied,” she adds. Ironically, people often crave the food they are allergic too. “Once you have cut that food out, you will stop craving and stop feeling hungry.” Feek’s healthy recipes have even benefited the rest of her family, causing her daughter and her husband to lose weight and feel healthier. And, lastly, Feek advises a “warm drink at night, with some honey” to prevent sugar levels plummeting.

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