This week (13th to 20th March), Coeliac Australia has launched a national awareness campaign to highlight the importance of the gluten free diet as a medical necessity for people with coeliac disease and is encouraging food businesses to #treatglutenseriously.

Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disease whereby the immune system reacts abnormally to gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and oats) and causes damage to the lining of the small bowel. This damage impacts nutrient absorption and causes various gastrointestinal and malabsorption symptoms. There is no cure for this disease. The only medical solution is to adhere to a strict gluten free diet. By removing gluten, the small bowel lining can heal and symptoms resolve.

This is something I know a lot about, not only from a nutrition perspective and helping many of my clients diagnosed with this life long condition but also as someone with the disease. I was diagnosed 14 years ago just after the birth of my daughter, and now both of my children have also been diagnosed.

When I was first diagnosed, eating out was a nightmare and in some ways things have improved but in many ways they have not. On the surface now, it seems like there is a lot more choice. In some food businesses, gluten free is very well understood by both serving and food preparation staff but in many this is still not the case. Contamination is a real issue and a lack of understanding of what gluten free actually means is also quite common. There have been countless times where I have checked with a cafe or restaurant before going to be told it was no problem and then on arrival told the complete opposite. There have been times when I have been told something was gluten free to later find out it was not as I headed for the toilet feeling very unwell.

The good news is that it is actually not difficult to prepare gluten free options that are genuinely gluten free and Coeliac Australia has fantastic resources on their website to help.

The website also has great tips to help with preparing food for a family member or friend. Cross contamination or using a ready-made product containing gluten is enough to cause damage. It only takes as little as 50mg of gluten (equivalent to 1/100th of a slice of standard wheat bread) to cause damage!  Gluten can be found in processed food products you would never imagine – many condiments, chocolates and even tinned tuna – and even in medications.

Let’s all #treatglutenseriously and provide a safer environment for those who navigate this everyday.

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