Gluten-free family life: Gluten Freedom (Part #2)

Laura Ansbro meets up with 3 more families to see how they deal with living gluten-free…

More than 10,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with coeliac disease every year. Add in those with gluten intolerance and those avoiding gluten as a lifestyle choice, it is clear that a gluten-free diet is on the rise. In the second part of our Gluten Freedom Series, three families give their top tips and share the challenges in managing a gluten-free diet.

James & Mary

Three years ago James was diagnosed with a very rare form of gluten intolerance that causes blisters and severe itching around his major joints. His wife Mary, who does most of the cooking, and their daughter Elizabeth, 1, do not follow a gluten-free diet.

What’s the biggest challenge?

James: I really miss everyday things like a fresh loaf of bread, or pastry. I’m a farmer, so if I eat something that affects me it makes for a very hard day, as no one else can fill in at short notice.

Mary: James misses eating bread, and didn’t enjoy gluten-free soda bread. Thankfully he doesn’t need to be as careful as a coeliac, so we have a little leeway. Remembering to check the packaging for products like stock cubes can be hard when you’re in a hurry.

How do you manage at home?

M: We use separate spreads, as James’ also needs to be lactose-free. We keep flour in a separate cupboard to avoid cross-contamination. He also avoids Lizzie trying to put anything in his mouth, just to be on the safe side! With a busy lifestyle, James sometimes needs to grab something quick to eat, which is harder on a gluten-free diet. I cook in bulk so that there is always something for him to eat.

How do you manage a when you’re out?

M: James has other intolerances too, so he will often eat beforehand, or be selective about what he eats.

J: I choose food that’s simply prepared. It’s important to talk to the staff at a restaurant to make sure they understand your dietary requirements. The more they know, the more confident you can be when ordering.

James and Mary’s top tips

★ Three years ago James was diagnosed with a very rare form of gluten intolerance that causes blisters and severe itching around his major  Remember, life is not over, it is manageable. Ground almonds are a good swap in baking, while xanthan gum makes a great pastry. Gluten-free bread and wraps freeze well; keep some in the freezer so there’s always some to hand.

Shelley & Jon

Shelley was diagnosed with coeliac disease in 2010 after suffering with headaches, stomach pains and extreme tiredness. She was initially diagnosed with IBS, but further tests identified gluten as the problem. Shelley lives with her partner Jon, who does not follow a gluten-free diet.

What the biggest challenge?

Shelley: Making sure that everything is cleaned before use to reduce the risk of cross-contamination. It only takes one forgetful moment to set you back.

How do you manage at home?

S: Jon tends to eat gluten-free at home, which helps reduce the risk of cross-contamination. We use different toasters, or I use toaster bags, and we use different chopping boards where necessary.

How do you manage when you’re out?

S: Eating out is more accessible than when I was first diagnosed, but there’s still a small risk of cross-contamination so I only visit places that have a dedicated gluten-free menu or kitchen space. Eating at a friend’s house is more complicated, as explaining the of the disease can be quite overwhelming, so I tend to host dinner parties myself.

Favourite food swaps?

S: Gluten-free pasta is by far the best substitute, my favourite pasta dish is chicken and chorizo pasta bake with red lentil pasta. Gluten-free crackers have massively improved over the years – a tasty snack with soft cheese. Learn how to make gluten-free bread, cakes and pastry: the shop ones can be full of unhealthy ingredients and cost a fortune.

Shelley’s top tips

★ Don’t let it take over your life completely; you just need to make simple changes. Join social media groups to share knowledge and absorb information. No one understands you better than a fellow coeliac.

Sara & Graham

Sara has been following a gluten-free diet for almost 30 years, when she found it was a key element in managing Irritable Bowel Syndrome. She lives with her husband Graham, who does not need to follow a gluten-free diet.

What ‘s the biggest challenge?

Sara: Reading lists of ingredients in all products to find hidden gluten is the biggest problem. I missed bread and cakes, to begin with, but now I don’t so much – I’ve come to terms with the fact that gluten-free bread and cakes are often disappointing.

How do you manage at home?

S: I’m only gluten intolerant, so I’m careful to wipe down crumbs from work surfaces.

How do you manage when you’re out?

S: Social occasions can be difficult; I prefer to visit family who understand my problem. I try to let hosts know beforehand, but many people don’t understand how careful they need to be. I have been known to slide food surreptitiously onto my husband’s plate! In restaurants I ask for the gluten-free menu, so that’s often easier.

Favourite food swaps?

S: I’ve found Doves Farm gluten-free flour a very good substitute for baking, and M&S granary bread is the nearest taste to proper bread!

Have you found any advantages?

S: Eating gluten-free has definitely helped me to control my weight.

Sara’s top tips

★ Gluten-free choices are so much better today than when I started out. I recommend trying lots of different brands to find a substitute you like.

For more information, plenty of support is available online. Visit charities such as, or join Facebook groups such as Coeliacs Eat Out Too and Free From Gluten to share knowledge with others on a gluten-free diet.

Find more gluten-free articles here!

Follow us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram for all the latest recipes, news and features from Gluten-Free Heaven.