It is evident that a lot more of us are deciding to try to keep wheat, or more specifically gluten, out of our diet. According to Mintel in 2015, 7% of UK adults said they avoid gluten because of an allergy or intolerance, with a further 8% avoiding gluten as part of a general healthy lifestyle. This has led to the creation of a multi-billion pound gluten-free food industry.
While for some, such as coeliacs (approx. 1 in 100 UK adults), avoiding gluten is an absolute necessity, for others, this is a choice in the hope of gaining a healthier lifestyle. This has led to the “necessity vs fad” debate - 41% of US adults believe that a gluten free diet benefits all, while 44% of US adults believe that it is a fad (BBC, 2015).
My wife is a coeliac, and so it is essential that she conforms to a strict gluten free diet as otherwise she becomes ill quite quickly. This can make shopping trips and meal planning rather troublesome and frustrating affairs, particularly with 2 healthy young strapping lads to feed as well.
The weekly shop, which used to take less than an hour, now takes almost double that time as ingredients are checked meticulously for anything that might be harmful to my wife (or if purchased incorrectly by myself, harmful to my well-being when I return home with the aforementioned heinous items!). While this is time consuming, I understand the importance of being sure that what my wife eats is “safe”.
After a few years of shopping in this manner it has become apparent that there are plenty of “regular” products that are actually gluten-free that can be purchased instead of their “Free-From” expensive alternative, but they don’t shout about this fact from the rooftops. Examples would include products such as specific pasta sauces (e.g. Pesto or White Sauce variants) or certain cereals (such as my wife’s particular favourite, Tesco Crunchy Nut Corn Flakes, which despite having Barley as a listed ingredient are endorsed as safe to coeliacs by the Coeliac Safe Food Bible (CSFB) – I’m not sure that that is the publications exact name but that is how I refer to it!)
It would be great if more “safe” but regular products were to be located alongside the specific Free-From foods, although to be fair I have read that products within those aisles adhere to the strictest of guidelines regarding gluten content. This is understandable but if the “CSFB” says a product is safe then that is good enough for me.
What might be easier in the long run, and would certainly make coeliac protectors lives that little bit easier, would be to have colour coding labels for all products that are gluten-free. Anything that makes identifying gluten-free products easily is fine by me!
While the gluten free food industry continues to grow apace, it is just a shame that something that is actually a health necessity to some, comes at such a premium price. If more regular products were labelled as suggested then this might encourage more affordable “Free-From” products.