With Christmas just around the corner, we spoke to The Coeliac Society of Ireland to clarify the facts about the disease and get some ideas and tips about how toget around the dreaded party food over festive season.
Coeliac disease affects one in every 100 Irish people, however, many remain undiagnosed. Sonya Shiels of the Coeliac Society of Ireland gave us an insight into both the disease and the society and behind it. “The Coeliac Society of Ireland is a national charity that provides its members with information and support. We are 80% self-funded, so we rely on membership and fundraising activities,” Sonya explained.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. Coeliac disease prevents those who suffer from digesting gluten and can manifest at any stage in a person’s life. “An estimated 46,000 people in Ireland are affected. Symptoms include abdominal pain, recurring mouth ulcers, weight loss, vomiting and diarrhoea. The only treatment for the disease is a gluten-free diet and annual medical check-ups are strongly advised.”
The only way to get diagnosed with coelaic disease is with a blood test followed by a biopsy. Many people self- diagnose which can be dangerous. “Self-diagnosis can be harmful, because if a patient is already following a gluten-free diet when they present to their clinician, it can delay and distort the diagnosis process.”
The difficulty for coeliacs is avoiding foods that contain gluten. Some of the most difficult to steer clear of are bread, pasta and gravy.
Alongside the actual disease, gluten sensitivity seems to be more prevalent than ever. A gluten-free diet is the diagnosis for both conditions, but differentiating between the two is important. Coeliac disease is the more serious of the two as it can lead to infertility, osteoporosis and anaemia if left untreated. Those with the disease often have a genetic pre-disposition, meaning that they are much more likely to have it if a first blood relative is coeliac. In contrast, those with non-coeliac gluten sensitivity tend to have no known complications and no genetic predisposition.
The higher prevalence of clean eating and paleo diets mean that people are opting for gluten-free options now more than ever. It’s important to read labels carefully whether you are gluten sensitive, following a diet plan or in fact coeliac, as many gluten-free products contain hidden sugars and additives. “There are a host of naturally gluten-free foods including fruit, vegetables, unprocessed meat and fish. The Coeliac Society holds regular cooking demos where people can learn to cook healthy and tasty gluten-free meals.”
Christmas dinner is not something to be panicking about if you’re newly diagnosed or having a coeliac around for Christmas dinner for the first time. Just look at the basics of the dinner: turkey, cranberry sauce, vegetables, roast potatoes, mashed potatoes — they are all naturally gluten-free. It’s the trimmings such as ham, gravy, stuffing and desserts such as mince pies, Christmas pudding and Christmas cake that will flash red lights. If there is any dish or sauce that your family eats each year, double check with your coeliac guests if it will pose problems for them and also spare yourself unnecessary work by finding out their individual likes and dislikes.
For those who have been recently diagnosed, a membership with The Coeliac Society of Ireland offers a wide range of help support. “For an annual fee of just €30 you will receive an annual food list, invitations to member events, a monthly ezine, bi-annual magazines plus the support of our membership team.”
Christmas can be challenging for anyone trying to maintain specific dietary requirements but The Coeliac Society is on hand to help. “The Society has produced a Christmas Survival Guide which is packed with tips on cooking a gluten-free Christmas dinner, as well as helpful advice for a healthy New Year.”