I am not a doctor. I am not a dietitian. I am not a gym instructor. I am not a nutritionist. I am open minded. Can someone explain to me, the meaning of ‘gluten intolerance’?
When I was young, over successive summers I went on a diabetic holiday camp. The idea was to spend time with other diabetics, and to join a community of people with the same condition as I had. My ten year old self quite enjoyed these trips. Although having an overactive imagination, I stewed bitterly on the possibility that in my absence, my non-diabetic siblings would be gorging themselves on Marathon Bars and full-fat Fanta. Sweets were forbidden for everyone in my house growing up – a decision made on practical terms to accommodate my dietary requirements. It turned out to be wise. There would be no fights over food in Casa Murphy. All children would follow the ‘no junk food – except for a packet of Taytos on a Tuesday, and after Mass on a Sunday’ diet. And didn’t we all turn out well for it?
At these camps there were a number of children, who, as well as being blessed with Type 1 diabetes, also had a condition known as coeliac disease. They had special diets. Meals prepared for them that differed to those prepared for us garden variety diabetics. I discovered that people with this condition could not eat foods containing gluten. Coeliac disease was an auto-immune condition (and as is the case with so many illnesses, it is more prevalent in Type 1 diabetics than among the general population). If they consume gluten, then their bodies will display a severe physical reaction, and they will become very ill indeed. They need to avoid wheat based products – the most obvious example being bread – to maintain their health. It is a serious condition.
Eating out could clearly be tricky.
In recent times however I have noticed a marked upswing in the levels of ‘gluten intolerance’ among people. A number of folk have mentioned that they suffer from this.
When I first heard this my automatic response was ‘Oh you mean you’re coeliac?’ I knew what that was. I had known people who suffered from it.
The response however was a sheepish ‘Well no. I just find that bread makes me feel a bit ill.’
Personally I find bread to be one of life’s great pleasures – whether it be a slice of slightly burned toast with melted butter, or a wholegrain loaf, or an Irish soda bread. For bread to make one ill, sounds like a hate-crime.
I asked a colleague to explain her condition to me. She has always been vocal about her gluten intolerance. As she tucked into her ham and cheese sandwich – on brown bread – she explained how eating gluten made her feel a bit bloated and nauseous. It didn’t actually make her physically sick though. I looked at her askance. Clearly it would have been highly inappropriate for me to comment that perhaps the volume of bread getting consumed, could be a cause of said nausea, rather than the bread itself. She is obviously gluten intolerant only about once a week, as her lunchtime diet seems to comprise mainly of bread based products.
Being a person with a variety of acquaintances I needed to find out more. I asked someone in the medical profession – a doctor – what he thought of gluten intolerance. His reply was reasonable and quite pointed ‘Coeliac disease is a serious condition and needs to be regarded as such.’
I pressed further. Like the Sphinx he was giving nothing away. He wouldn’t be drawn.
He did say however that the main benefit he sees from people self-diagnosing as gluten intolerant, is that supermarkets are responding. And that the range of products at reasonable prices to coeliac patients has blossomed.
So I guess everyone’s a winner.