I’m gluten free. Yes, I’m one of those people. But let me be clear. It’s not by choice. Hell, I wish I wasn’t. I tell everyone, wait staff included when I go out to eat that I’m the painful one at the table. ‘Can I have the gluten free menu’ is the first thing I do when I sit down, followed closely by ‘are your hot chips here gluten free?’
I wasn’t born gluten free and no-one in my family has the same problems. Indeed for most of my adult life, I never suffered from eating gluten. It wasn’t until I was well into my mid 30’s that serious symptoms started to develop. After eating certain foods I would spend most of the evening on the toilet with chronic stomach pains and diarrhoea. I thought for a while that it was the champagne I was drinking as the only time I seemed to have these bouts of sickness was after an evening out. What I didn’t know at the time was that it was the gluten in that sausage roll, not the glass of wine I was having which was causing me concern.
Knowing something was not quite right, a friend who is a terrific gastroenterologist kindly offered to do an upper gastrointestinal endoscopy on me. It’s a procedure that up until then I had never heard of but it would show any damage to my small intestines. And as I lay in recovery, my friend popped her head in and said the word I had always thought was a bit of a joke. ‘Coeliac’. You see, prior to this time I had not much experience with the condition. I thought it more a ‘lifestyle choice’ than anything else. Not an actual disease, and one, which, if you don’t monitor closely, can have incredibly harmful effects.
According to the Coeliac Australia website, Coeliac disease affects on average approximately 1 in 70 Australians. However, around 80% of this number remain undiagnosed. This means the vast majority of Australians who have Coeliac disease don’t yet know it.
A frightening thought, as undiagnosed long-term risks of coeliac disease can include malnutrition, osteoporosis, lactose intolerance, irritability and depression, lymphoma and bowel cancer, increased risk of miscarriage, low birth-weight babies and dental defects. FARK! After doing my homework I realised that the condition I now had was a very serious one and was something that I would have to monitor closely and live with for the rest of my life. A strict gluten free diet is the only treatment for the condition.
Which, after all of that, and being a dutiful ‘gluten free’ advocate for over 5 years made the recent study of ‘gluten free’ foods in some cafes and restaurants worry some at best. The results, which were published in the Medical Journal of Australia, found that 1 in 11 samples of foods that claimed to be ‘gluten free’ contained or were contaminated with gluten. Quite simply, these stats, for anyone suffering from coeliac disease or gluten intolerance are simply not good enough. Stringent measures need to be in place in any restaurant or café to ensure that ‘gluten free’ means just that. And while they are at it, if someone could come up with a tasty GF doughnut that would be a bonus too…
Clare Sultmann is a wife, mother of 3 and the founder of Dear Molly.
As a survivor of a catastrophic accident, former barrister at