A taste of things to come - gluten free
Having to watch what they eat is all too familiar to those with coeliac disease among us. However, a growing number of restaurants, both in Dublin and nationwide, are catering for coeliacs, and the major supermarkets here stock gluten-free products. And a new EU regulation, which is set to come into effect in two years' time, will make it easier for coeliacs to select the foods they eat.
Coeliac disease is a condition causing some adults and children to react to the gluten -- the protein found in wheat, barley and rye. Some coeliacs are also sensitive to the protein found in oats, according to the Coeliac Society of Ireland.
If someone with coeliac condition eats gluten, the lining of the small intestine becomes damaged reducing their ability to absorb nutrients from food. This can lead to various symptoms and complications if undiagnosed.
Gluten is contained in many foods including bread, biscuits, cakes, pasta, and pizza and processed foods such as soups, sauces, gravy, salad dressings, crisps, chocolate, sweets and ready-meals.
According to the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI), "intolerance to gluten is a potentially significant cause of poor health in the Irish population".
However, new labelling and rules are being introduced across Europe, which will allow people with coeliac disease to make safe and informed choices about the types of food they eat.
Anne Manning, who oversees the gluten-free food list with the Coeliac Society of Ireland outlines how the new European regulation will work.
"Approximately 1pc of the Irish population suffers from coeliac disease and needs to avoid eating foods containing gluten. The number of foods marketed for coeliacs is increasing rapidly. However, the levels of gluten in some of these products can vary greatly, causing confusion for the consumer and potentially impacting on their health.
"This EU regulation seeks to address these issues by putting in place standards for the claims "gluten-free" and "very low gluten".
She says that prior to this legislation, there were no legally defined compositional standards for gluten-free foods. Manufacturers were encouraged to work to an international standard, which was revised in 2008 to take account of the latest scientific advice.
"The new regulations align EU law," says Anne. It will be applied across the whole of the EU and will come into force in January 2012. "The regulation covers all food labelled 'gluten-free' or 'very low gluten' sold either pre-packed or non pre-packed in the retail and catering sectors," she says. The regulation defines gluten as "a protein fraction from wheat, rye, barley, oats, spelt and all varieties and derivatives of these cereals," she says.
She says that only the terms "gluten free" or "very low gluten" will be allowed from January 2012.
"The levels of gluten in products currently marketed to indicate suitability for coeliacs can vary greatly. Those products that are currently labelled "gluten free" but which cannot meet the new compositional criteria will have to be reformulated or relabelled by 2012."
Anne says that the Coeliac Society of Ireland's food list, a booklet which outlines food and drinks which are gluten free in line with current legislation, is updated annually.
She says that any manufacturer or supplier wishing to have their product featured in the 2011 edition should contact email@example.com. However, the deadline for the receipt of information is October 31.
While most coeliacs can tolerate small amounts of gluten in their diet, sensitivity varies between individuals, she explains.
Meanwhile, in the US sales of gluten-free food have more than doubled over the past five years. However, there is no doubt that following a life-long gluten-free diet is a big commitment, leading experts here to say it's important not to self-diagnose.
The disease affects as many as one in 100 people here. However, many cases go undiagnosed.
According to the Coeliac Society, the first step towards diagnosis is a blood test.
Following a positive blood test, the most conclusive way to diagnose coeliac disease is by taking a biopsy from the small intestine.