A while ago I was asked on Twitter by Alex if I would like to review his updated book, Coeliac Disease: What You Need to Know. Since Alex is one of my favourite gluten-free/allergy writers (he blogs at Food Allergy and Intolerance Ink), I gladly accepted.
The day after I was diagnosed with coeliac disease (CD) in 2011, I moved house. I remember vividly heading to Wimbledon library that week to see what books they had on CD and eating gluten-free, and feeling rather gloomy about everything. The 1st edition of this book was what I ended up checking out and I remember it being a great help to me as doctors seemed to have no idea what to tell me other than “stop eating gluten”.
This updated version is – as you would imagine – up to date as of Q1 2015 with regards to the new EU allergen labelling laws. There is also new information on research that has been done in the last 4 years, as well as a substantial revision on the chapter about “Staying well”.
Think of this book as basically the one book you need if you want to find out about CD in a concise and accessible way. At 124 pages it’s a short read, but absolutely packed with information on diagnosis, labelling, eating out, travel, related health issues, and much more.
Gazzola has a no-nonsense approach to journalism which I greatly appreciate in the age where anyone with an internet connection can become a health “guru” without any relevant qualifications. Gazzola cuts through the crap to deliver hard facts.
Fact: around 1% of Western populations has CD. Only around 25% of those with the disease in the UK are diagnosed, meaning that there are 500,000 people living in the UK with undiagnosed CD. Diagnosis rates vary by country, but there are millions of people in the world right now, struggling with symptoms that won’t go away, because they are not diagnosed. I was interested to learn that the prevalence of CD is rising in north Africa and north India – where wheat features more heavily in the diet, but it seems that rates are rising worldwide.
The Saharawi people of southern Algeria demonstrate a CD prevalence of a staggering 7 per cent and are among those most in need of better medical support.
Let that sink in for a moment. Seven per cent! He points out that this has the potential to become a huge international challenge in the coming decade and I would agree. This is why all the blogging and campaign work that’s being done is so important.
I was particularly interested in the section on the new regulations for cafes and restaurants. I feel like many places have made changes to their menu to reflect the requirement to provide allergen information, but there seem to be too many places who are still going with the old “we can’t guarantee that anything we serve will be safe for you to eat/everything might contain gluten” line. I was pleased to discover that they are actually not allowed to do this:
Businesses aren’t permitted to make sweeping “may contain” statements They should only make one when, following a risk assessment, there is a demonstrable and significant risk of cross contamination.
Now someone needs to set up an easy way of reporting all these places to the relevant authorities… hehe…
I found the chapter on diet and nutrition to be more useful than my post-diagnosis visit to the dietician. Gazzola sticks very much to government guidelines here, which I don’t necessarily agree with (favouring low-fat dairy over whole fat products is one of my pet peeves, as well as the amount of grain-based products they recommend, which I feel is excessive). However, it is great to see dietary advice laid out with an emphasis on issues that would affect coeliacs: how to get all the essential vitamins (which you might be deficient in), what gluten-free grains may be substituted on the gluten-free diet, and a little on weight management.
One thing that is heavily emphasised throughout the book is the importance (and the difficulty) of sticking to the gluten-free diet. The bloggers I chat to on Twitter are probably in the minority – a group that never cheats (I wonder whether this is because we suffer worse symptoms when we do?). I myself have only willingly cheated once – in the early days of my diagnosis I ate a bowl of Coco Pops because I refused to believe that a small amount of barley malt extract could make a difference. Oh boy, did I suffer. But for those who have suffered less debilitating symptoms – or indeed no symptoms at all – before diagnosis, it can be hard to adjust psychologically to this new lifestyle.
In short, I would highly recommend that everyone diagnosed with coeliac disease or a gluten-related disorder reads this book – and that probably goes for their close family too. I intend to lend my copy to any curious friends because education about this disease is important, and there is so much misinformation around about gluten especially.
Disclosure: Sheldon Press sent me this book to review for free. I have not been otherwise paid to endorse this product. Links on this post are affiliate links, which will not cost you more but will help support this site.