Sunday, 3 January 2016

My Coeliac Test Story

Here lies my coeliac test story, of beige food, a blood test and temperamental bowels. Of thinking more about the food we buy, where we buy it and why we buy it.

I have food intolerances and this means that I probably won't be intolerant to certain foods forever. Some intolerances linger for years, some go in a few months, sometimes it feels as though I'm intolerant to water.

In September, after I got back from holiday and things had settled down a bit in my new job, I decided to go for a coliac disease test. The GP had finally agreed to test me back in April but it wasn't the right time.

I wanted to rule it out once and for all. I argued that if I had a medical condition then I should know about it. If it was positive, I would stop doing damage to myself by being lazy about crumbs in the marge and the odd pot of KFC gravy.

Before you can have the initial test for coliac disease (a blood test), you must eat a 'normal' diet (with gluten) for 6 weeks. The equivalent of 4 slices of bread a day. I tried keeping a diary.


After 13 years on the wagon, there were quite a few things I was excited to eat again and many new things that I hadn't tried. Put it this way, I didn't do it the healthy way. Greggs, Dominoes, Krispy Kreme, Lidl bakery, naan breads with a curry, mixed starters from the Chinese, battered sausages, bacon and cheese slices, proper noodles, chicken kievs, cherry pie. I discovered that a few of my old favourites were no longer as great and I discovered many new favourites.


Week 1 observations - Sat: Buy multipack of Scampi Fries in B&M. Husband says "you may want to consider a gym membership". We shop for dinner. The husband seems more excited about shopping options than I do. I'm still waiting for the world of pain. Brunch is fried breakfast with soda bread. It's not as exciting as my usual colourful veggie concoctions. Sun: Up early but no need to pre-prepare breakfast or lunch. Breakfast is a sausage sandwich which is awesomely dull. Later on I buy a chicken slice and I all I can taste is salt. I check the packet, not good. No wonder people are getting so ill. 5 minutes later i feel drained. Is it the salt or wheat making me feel like I just woke up in a hedge? It feels like I haven't eaten a vegetable in days. Had a poo that definitely isn't on the Bristol Poo Scale.



Week 2 observations - Thu: Almost completely out of love with gluten after a very disappointing lunch. Weirdly I miss GF food. Perhaps they use better quality ingredients? I'm certainly more excited about a new GF product than eating something with gluten in it.



Week 4 observations - Normal foods feels so below par. Like no effort has been made to make it nice. Nothing is memorable. I'm struggling to think of any product I'd buy again. All the food discounted in the supermarkets is convenient with minimal nutrition. It's so easy to be very lazy.

But there were bigger discoveries during this time. There were whole aisles in the supermarket I'd never walked down in years, except to get to the tills. I had to take the supermarkets a section at a time. Week 1 breads, week 2 cereals etc. It was too much to do in one go. The choice was overwhelming and seemingly more ridiculous than 13 years ago. Why was there a whole aisle of breakfast oat bars? Why sell individual giant bourbon biscuits?


My plates became beiger. I missed colour and everything tasted way too salty. I put on weight quickly and my metabolism slowed to nothing.

Also during week 4, I wrote 'Realising how much we're ripped off. The supermarkets didn't just replace the flour in normal items. They created new and very expensive ranges of 'free from' food.'

I realised that I'd become completely reliant on these ranges. As much as I shopped at Lidl and Aldi for fruit, veg, rice etc, I needed bread and pasta. I had no choice but to slope back to the bigger chains for some essentials. I hated them for this. If they removed flour from normal foods, there would be more choice overall.

My general wellbeing was suffering but gluten wasn't giving me any bowel trouble. I kept waiting for it, but nothing happened. By the end of the 6 weeks, something started to feel not right. I started to feel like I had years ago, it felt so odd to feel a discomfort and a worry after so many years. I was getting a soreness in my lower abdomen, I couldn't go to the toilet properly (too hard, too soft or too infrequent), I was permanently bloated, I felt depressed, my immunity was down and my mouth was full of ulcers. I thought maybe the results might be positive.

2 weeks after the blood test I rang the GP. The test was negative.

I was confused, relieved, annoyed, frustrated, upset. I booked to see the GP for a chat. He told me to go on the FODMAP diet. Me and the husband went completely dairy, onion and garlic free straight away and the husband's IBS has improved considerably. Mine, not so much. I'll do the full diet after Christmas, I promised myself. Instead I'm taking part in Veganuary. The animals come first.

I'm in a weird place diet wise. I dread being asked to someones house for food. I'm clearly not as intolerant to gluten as I used to be. I can tolerate a bit. Which is great. I can eat my mum's gravy, the odd battered sausage. I just need to be careful. I suffer slightly and it can last for weeks. Or not.

It has been an odd learning experience. I have learned that I was too obsessed with being gluten free. I see people doing it now and it frustrates me. Like any illness, you shouldn't let it take over your life. I imagine I've annoyed/bored a lot of people over the years.


However, I also learned that the gluten free life isn't such a bad one after all. I didn't appreciate what I had, and that was a wonderfully varied, healthy diet. I know what's in my food and I can control the amount of fat, sugar and salt I eat very easily.

I've also learnt that you should never stop listening to your body. Things change and it's worth having the occasional overhaul of your diet to see if the same things cause you problems.

I'm going to keep experimenting and keep changing things up. For now, I'm enjoying not harming living creatures so I can fill my belly. It feels good.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

IBS at Work - The Results


I was in a cafe with my husband and a friend of ours today. We all suffer from IBS and we were having a fairly open conversation about its joys, particularly how it affects us at work. Our friend said that he's left a room at work before, simply shouting "IBS!" behind him. I responded that there should be a new rule - if you work with someone with IBS, under no circumstances should you stop them for a chat while they're on their way to the loo.

Joking aside IBS at work is a serious issue and one which millions of us face. My survey gave me an interesting insight into the suffering of others. I kept it anonymous so I hope no-one minds me quoting them within this post.

I asked for yes and no answers, but several people elaborated on their responses.

Have you spoken to your manager or HR department about your IBS?

Yes - 34%
No - 66%

Do you have private i.e. completely blocked in loos at work that you can use?

Yes - 47%
No - 53%

Do you aim for the loos during quiet times or try use a more private loo whilst you are at work?

Yes - 66%
No - 34%

Have you ever had an embarrassing incident at work because of your IBS?

Yes - 47%
No - 53%

Would your work be understanding if you took time off or worked from home because of a flare up?

Yes - 50%
No - 50%

Have you ever been reprimanded or penalised for taking time off work due to IBS?

Yes - 16%
No - 84%

Do you think that stress causes or can exaggerate IBS symptoms?

Yes - 91%
No - 9%

Do you consciously avoid stressful situations at work because of your IBS?

Yes - 34%
No - 66%

Do you think that people with IBS should be considered when building new offices etc?

Yes - 60%
No - 40%


While it's great that not many of us have been penalised for taking time off or away from our desks due to IBS, not many of us are speaking to our bosses about it. So the conclusion is that many of us are hiding the situation as best we can. Is drawing attention to our condition a positive thing? Do we worry that once the long toilet breaks are explained then they are more noticeable? That is certainly how I feel. As one respondent put it "I worry that it detracts from my overall professional reputation."

I worked from home for a few years and I find that hiding my IBS now that I work in an office is a daily struggle. I don't want my toilet habits to become a running joke. I also get a few remarks about my 'bump' - "am I sure that it's not something else?" - definitely sure that's it's a poo baby, thanks for asking.


The question regarding stress and IBS garnered the strongest responses. I can't say that I personally suffer more with IBS when I'm stressed and I always denied any link in the doctor's surgery when the GP tried explaining that I should avoid it. (Didn't help that they starting saying this when I was about 12!) Beyond doubt there is a link between emotions and the bowel so it does add up that in times of high emotion, your digestion is under stress too. This delightful response puts it thus; "I pooed my pants when under severe stress from a deadline." Deadlines are unavoidable as is stress, so what is the answer? Clearly access to proper toilets should be paramount. If my colleague can chat to me from the other loo, then I'm having kittens worrying about any embarrassing noises I'm about to make. Closed in toilets, preferably with a window, should be mandatory. Not just for sufferers of IBS, but for sufferers of any bowel condition or incontinence etc. If you need any more convincing, how about this heart-wrenching response - "Messing your pants in public can ruin people's lives."

To conclude, IBS is a horrible condition that really does impact every day life. Should we start a movement (excuse the pun) to raise awareness in the workplace? Is our silence perpetuating the malaise surrounding the condition? Should we make it an open conversation just like my chat in the cafe earlier? We all poo, right? And I'm sure that more IBS sufferers would come out of the woodwork at work.

What do you think? Silence is golden or let's start the conversation?

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Fusion Cakes and Bakes Launch, Bristol





Bored of brownies, meringues a little mundane? Check out new gluten free cake company 'Fusion Cakes and Bakes'.

I attended their opening evening in a space on Bristol Harbourside (complete with gorgeous sunset, pictured above).

I entered the space and was faced with a long table covered in free from cakes, bakes and loaves. Everything was available to try, you just needed to grab a knife or spoon and tuck in.

Some of the products were both gluten and egg free, including Hazelnut & Chocolate Squares and the Rosemary & Orange Cake.

I cut myself a few slices and sat down with an espresso. I can still taste the rosemary and orange cake now. I'm glad I finally got to try cake with rosemary as it's not something I would have made myself. It was very well balanced with a satisfying dense texture. Definitely the work of someone who knows their onions.

The ingredients used are inventive and healthier than the standard gluten, dairy and egg alternatives. Organic ingredients and natural sweeteners are used where possible. Many classics were on offer (a tiramisu looked especially appetising) as well as some exciting flavour combinations like Chestnut and Pear Chocolate Frangipan and Lime and Matcha Madeleines.

The brains behind the company, Rosa, started baking for coliac friends after finding that shop bought alternatives can be high in sugar, salt and artificial thickeners.

If you'd like to order any of Rosa's fantastic products, you just need to call this number with your order - 07850 471667 or email hello@fusioncakesandbakes.co.uk

When we left, full of cake and coffee, we popped into the Arnolfini to check out Richard Long's 'Time & Space' exhibition. A perfectly haunting and atmospheric end to an early autumn evening. Cake, art and Bristol! Is there a greater combination?


www.fusioncakesandbakes.co.uk

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Gluten Free Day Out in Bath




It probably won't come as a surprise to anyone that Bath caters very well for specialist diets. Areas with a lot of wealth have a higher proportion of places that cater for specialist diets. Why is that? A discussion for another time maybe. 

Me and the husband went for a day out in Bath for my birthday. I found out that there is a bus that goes from the end of my street straight there. It's funny what you find out after 1.5 years of living somewhere. The bus really appealed to me as parking issues have always marred our previous trips to Bath.

We departed at about 9.30am. The logic behind this was that I wanted to get beat the crowds and to get on a quiet bus, And because I wanted to fit in at least 2 meals while I was in Bath. I don't think of myself as greedy, I'm deprived of proper food for most of my waking life! 

We got there and pretty much went straight to The Whole Bagel for breakfast. I chose a New Yorker - pastrami, red onion, tomato, mustard and dill pickles. Unfortunately, the gluten free option was white sliced bread rather than bagel. Hopefully they'll look into that in the future, especially as brands like Udi's now produce bagels of such great quality.

Our meals came with a side portion of potato salad and were wrapped up in little paper bags. My sandwich was delicious, if a bit heavy on the raw onion (the husband is a bit phobic of raw onion but he tried his best to stand near me for the rest of the day, as it was my birthday.)

This set us up brilliantly for a day of sight-seeing. The husband hadn't been to the Bath baths before so we sucked it up and joined a massive queue to get in. It was very much worth it though. The place was unrecognisable from 1992 which was the last time I was there. 

After that we went into the Cathedral (stunning) and then found ourselves in a really cute monastery museum. The couple running it were very welcoming and I got to try my first mead (naturally gluten free, sweet and potent.) After that we were looking for our next food stop and I remembered about The Green Rocket which is a vegetarian cafe who also accommodate for specialist diets.

I enjoyed an ice cold bottle of Daas Blonde while I surveyed the menu and took in the impressive cake menu (pictured below). There was a lot to choose from but I finally decided on Sesame Ramen Noodles with Lime Satay. The menu said that a gluten free option was available which I made the waitress aware of when I ordered. Unfortunately there was an annoyingly long wait for our food and my dish came with rice instead of noodles. It was tasty but I'd had my heart set on birthday noodles.






We finished the day with a pint in the cute Coeur De Lion pub, found nestled in one of the old alleyways. Had we stayed for a third meal, I'd have chosen Acorn - Vegetarian Kitchen whose menu was full of intriguing and local ingredients. I'm sure we have only scratched the surface of the free from option in Bath. If you're looking for more, check out Gluten Free Queen's post and the Twitter account Gluten Free Bath.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Gluten Free Fish and Chips in Clevedon, North Somerset












Before the evenings get too dark and the clocks go back, why not do what we did recently and head to Clevedon Fish bar after work for a slap up (gluten free) chippy dinner?

This was definitely one of my better ideas. We jumped in the car after work and headed down the motorway (just 25 minutes from Bristol) to the seaside town of Clevedon.

The fish bar is a no fuss, traditional style chippy on the main strip through Clevedon town. While we waited we noticed that quite a few people were also ordering gluten free fish and chips. I've had this place listed on my Gluten Free Fish and Chip Guide for a while so I was a bit worried that we'd be out of luck - it wouldn't have been the first time.

We went back to the car and drove to the seafront. Without a doubt, this was the best gluten free batter I've eaten. The fish itself and the chips were great quality and full of flavour. It was a substantial meal that I tried my best to finish. Once again, putting myself second to my blog and my loyal readers!

We went for a very slow stroll afterwards and watched the waning sunlight highlight the beautiful Victorian railings and the pier in the distance. This is the right way to do a mid-week supper. Thanks Clevedon Fish Bar for making it happen.


Clevedon Fish Bar
15 Old Church Road, Clevedon BS21 6LZ
Available on Tuesdays
www.clevedonfishbar.co.uk

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Gluten Free on the Penny Lane Boat, Bath

This is a review of extremes. Extremely good and extremely not good.
Firstly, I need to apologise for the lack of food photos. I was out with work and I didn't want to be too anti-social. I wasn't even going to write a review because I wasn't expecting anything to happen of note. But here it is, a review of two halves.


The Penny Lane river boat hosts corporate events, parties and even weddings. It sets sail from central Bath and then travels up the river where it stops for an hour or so before sailing back to Bath again. We had booked a work event which included a BBQ. It tipped it down on the day and only a few of us braved the top deck. We needed to duck while the boat went under the bridges as the river had swelled so much. It was great to see Bath from the river and despite the weather, we were enjoying the surroundings and novelty.


They called us in for the 'BBQ'. We didn't see any cooking taking place, the food appeared from the kitchen but it was a good selection of salads and meat. I approached the table and said 'I'm the gluten free one' and I was told that I could have everything on the table and that they would bring me some GF bread. I enquired about the sausages and was assured by the chef himself that they were all gluten free. With a lamb chop, sausages, a burger, new potatoes, salad and 2 slices of bread I had plenty to eat!

They then brought out desserts and I was told that I had my own special one. I held my breath while they got it for me. Being GF, my dessert is normally very eggy - pavlova or polenta cake for example, and I normally end up eating it and being egg poisoned afterwards. However, I was served a really delicious mixed berry jelly which I was told was also suitable for vegans and vegetarians. It was really delicious and I was feeling very looked after.

Afterwards I went to the bar to get a pint of cider. The cider came out very frothy and the barmaid said it was because they'd just changed the barrel. As I was drinking my cider, I kept thinking that it tasted odd. I thought maybe the cider was a bit off or maybe it was because I'd just eaten. After a while, I got a colleague to try my pint and they said that it tasted a bit like lager. I took it back to the bar and the staff checked all the taps and confirmed that they had accidentally put a lager barrel on the cider line. A few people since have been surprised that I didn't spot the mistake straight away but in all my 13 years GF, I've never had this happen before. Later on, when I went back to the bar, I was told the issue had been sorted and they poured me another pint that looked perfect. But as I was drinking it I could still taste lager. Disaster. For the rest of the night I resorted to an extremely sweet and sickly bottled fruit cider.

This was on a Friday and by the Sunday afternoon I was in agony. Intense stomach spasms like labour pains, that made me dizzy each time I doubled up. I was out with family and had to be taken home. I was crippled with constipation and trapped wind for at least a week afterwards. I've told many people this story and not many people can understand how serious this was and could have been. I was on a boat, out on the river and I had been glutened. Imagine if this had happened to someone with a gluten allergy. (Or to someone I know who suffers with immediate vomiting and diarrhoea.) I've been told that I shouldn't have taken the risk. OK, the second try was a mistake - but as I said, in 13 years, I've never been glutened by a pint of cider. I've decided not to let this experience change anything but maybe this post should be a warning to those in the hospitality industry. 

Has anyone reading been glutened with alcohol whilst out and about? Let me know in the comments.

www.thepennylane.co.uk

Monday, 17 August 2015

Guest Post - The UK Milk Price Row

I've read a lot about the dairy crisis in the last week, but it was one of my good friends who really blew me away with her well argued points on Facebook. As I don't buy milk, I was interested to find out what the situation means to milk drinkers. Are we prepared to pay more or will we buy less milk or switch to milk substitutes? This may seem absurd as milk substitutes are more expensive, but has the milk row focused our attention on the welfare of cows used for the production of dairy products? I asked my friend to write a guest post for me which you can read below. She also writes a smashing blog about step parenting which you can find at http://beavercharrington.blogspot.co.uk/ (I love the name!)

A Cow, Two Trout, And An Argument About The Meaning Of Value


Tangible value is a rarefied thing found only where competition lacks. Value is determined by the irreplaceability of an object or product combined with its utility. It is so rare, in fact, an example eludes me. A mother’s milk, perhaps? Particularly in the days before formula milk could so well replicate its benefits, and in an era where wet nursing is out of fashion.

The other type of value, the type we make up as we go along; the value we socially construct, that’s the concept at the heart of the dairy crisis.

The value of the beautiful painting of two dead trout hanging in my study is high. It would be very difficult to rationalise why to a hypothetical alien visitor to earth. The value of gold fluctuates wildly. Human perception, complex market dynamics, supply and demand, and manipulation are the causes to this effect, with tangible value having no role at all.

Despite its utility remaining consistent, milk apparently has reduced in value to us in the UK this year, by 25%. We place less importance on our morning cereal, make 25% less appreciative noises as we swallow our after dinner Comte with relish and crackers, and find only three quarters of the contentment we used to when taking that first slurp of hot, milky tea.

Supermarkets have faced heavy criticism over the value they afford to milk illustrated by the price per litre they are willing to pay to dairy farmers. To produce more for less is easier to do in large-scale, non-organic set-ups. So if we value milk less, we must also place less value on the work done by the farmer, and the welfare of the cows he milks.

Yields per cow are on the increase(i), and one contributing factor to this is the availability and use of drugs such as Posilac. The side effects include increased chances of mastitis and infertility, alongside an array of other general health problems(ii). At least these are short-lived, with dairy cows usually being slaughtered due to ill-health after three lactations at around the age of five, compared to their natural lifespan of twenty years of age(iii).


The remnants of milk production are calves. Calves of dairy cows are removed rapidly from the mother to optimise yield, which is critical in such competitive times. This causes great distress to the mother and the calf. Some calves are killed immediately, others sold for veal, and the females reared for dairy.

This article isn’t about animal cruelty and so the sob stories stop here. One point only needs to be made: ultimately the economic value we place on produce will reflect proportionally the value we place on the lives involved in its creation.

Asda and Lidl have just promised to raise the price they will pay to farmers to 28 pence per litre, and Morrisons to 26 pence per litre. It costs 30 pence per litre to produce so we still have a problem and our farmers must continue to drive efficiencies to compete with large-scale corporations(iv).

We have a duty of care to facilitate the highest possible chances of wellbeing in our fellow humans and the animals that we own, utilise and profit from. This can only come from placing a high enough value on all involved to optimise conditions for all, and this means the economic cost of production and the end products must rise.

An over-simplification to rile the fact-centred reader: I bet the less something costs, the worse the conditions for the workers and animals involved. Improve conditions, pay workers and farmers more, charge more, and in a rather wonderful cycle, it turns out that we can pay more for produce, as we are paid more for working.


Many regions of the UK have banned the selling of Foie Gras, because force-feeding Geese is considered cruel. Comparably both qualitatively and quantitatively the production of Foie Gras causes less harm that the production of milk. Sheer scale and the vast health problems experienced in the latter lead to this speculative conclusion. However, we only condemn the cruelty that is shown to us, and we double condemn it if doing so is unlikely to inconvenience our breakfast routines.

The supermarkets will not pay enough for milk unless we shift the dynamics operating within its supply and demand. In theory this could be done through a union stance to set a minimum price per litre, but then the supermarkets will go directly to the international conglomerates who through scale can keep prices lower, ultimately driving small farmers out of viable business.

In ten years the number of dairy farmers has fallen by a third – from around 15,000, to just over 9,000(v), and it will continue to do so.

And this is why we have an argument about subsidies, one that has been ongoing since 1962 when the Common Agricultural Policy was introduced(vi). Subsidies keeps small farming alive, but on a life-support machine, and that’s no way to live.

In essence, subsidising small farming is tacit condonation of the supermarkets’ power to drive their own profits through large-scale production reliant on poor conditions for both humans and animals. It artificially prolongs the existence of an industry that cannot survive in a climate in which life is valued so low.

Do we have the power to really transform the subjective value of life to such a degree that the pressure on supermarkets will force them to adhere to the shared ethical standards of a society that values cows as well as farmers? I don’t know, but I would at least like to change the debate to one on the value of life, rather than the value of taxes and subsidies.



1. http://dairy.ahdb.org.uk/market-information/farming-data/milk-yield/average-milk-yield/#.Vc9OZ_lViko

2. http://www.drugs.com/vet/posilac.html

3. http://www.ciwf.org.uk/farm-animals/cows/dairy-cows/welfare-issues/

4. http://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/aug/14/milk-row-aldi-morrisons-asda-raise-price

5. http://dairy.ahdb.org.uk/market-information/farming-data/promar-milkminder-dairy-costings/promar-milkminder-dairy-costings-national/#.Vc9OrflViko

6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_Agricultural_Policy