Some things change, some stay the same …

There’s been a great deal of media coverage of free from and food sensitivities lately, and it’s worth remembering how far we have come on this. I recall pitching allergy, intolerance and coeliac-related articles to magazines and papers ten, even five, years ago, and struggling to get much interest from editors. Securing publicity for my first book on food intolerance was impossible in mainstream publications.

Now? Things have changed. The subject is everywhere – which has got to be good – and there are more bloggers too. The material is not always right, nor high quality, and we all (few more so than me) like to moan – often quite rightly – about slip-ups or inaccuracies or journalism which is disrespectful to those with serious food-related illness – but I do think, on the whole, standards are improving. Besides, even when lacking, it gets people talking.

What hasn’t changed is the repetition of certain myths, misconceptions or entrenched sceptical views which inexplicably persist. The spelt-is-gluten-free error, for instance, shows no sign of burnout – The Daily Mail made it just days ago, captioning the image of breads in this story as gluten-free spelt breads – and never mind their description of coeliac as an allergy, which I have to admit now feels like a lost cause we should probably give up bothering with. (The spelt error was swiftly corrected following tweets sent to them.)

I’m also tired of the ‘worried well’ tune – not to mention the ‘all in the mind’ refrain that always gets spun with it for good measure. Here’s the Telegraph, just last week. What is a ‘worried well’ person, anyway? Is the term not an oxymoron? If you’re worried, you’re not well, surely? Stress is a serious health problem – and it’s implicated in IBS. If fretting over our diets could be contributing towards gut symptoms then this is something that needs to be acknowledged not batted away dismissively.

The tedious ‘all in the mind’ jibe is worse. It’s tiresome when writers carelessly impose shame on people who may – or may not – have psychological problems with respect to food. Whether problems are psychological, physiological or (as is often the case) somewhere in between, all cases demand individual and equal medical respect. And as I’ve argued before, the food sensitive community could do well to avoid distancing itself from the idea of somatisation: it would help to destigmatise an issue which is real, not in any way morally inferior to physiological disease, and not a sign of weakness.

Would it not help us all to remember that if anyone thinks they have a problem with food – then that in itself is a problem with food? While I’m generally against self-diagnosis because it is often, especially in the wrong hands, unreliable, and can lead to mistaken conclusions about one’s own health and potentially lead to nutritional problems, I do understand why people do it. The goal is that we reach a point where nobody needs to self-diagnose, because all sensitivities will be understood, and we have good – proven – tests for all of them. Change to look forward to.

FODMAPs, and Genius …. Again
If we are to believe this article in Food Manufacture, further change is afoot with the prospect of a new free-from trend in low FODMAPs food for IBS and general digestive malaise.

In my ‘Review of 2013’ blog, I predicted that FODMAPs-low ready meals may arrive on our shelves this year – or by 2015. I recently found out – thank you Maya – that some, mainly ingredients – sauces, soups, stocks – are newly available in Australia: The Sue Shepherd range, is free of (high FODMAP) onion and garlic, and is gluten-free to boot. (There’s a low FODMAP range page on the site here.)

Is this a bandwagon in the making? I find it interesting that YorkTest Laboratories – who market blood testing and nutritional support plans which rely on testing of IgG antibodies, whose role in food intolerance have been widely questioned and criticised – have incorporated FODMAPs into their IBS Programme. This, despite the fact that the evidence for the success of the FODMAP diet is based on research on individuals supported carefully and regularly by specially trained registered dietitians, not the nutritional therapists which YorkTest offer customers – and from what I can gather with only two telephone consultations, it should be noted. Have they supplied evidence that their combined IgG / low FODMAP approach works, or is any better than the FODMAP plan in isolation? Not that I can see.

Something else I predicted a couple of years ago on this blog was the sponsorship by free from brands of sporting events. The realisation of this makes its mark today as the Commonwealth Games kicks off – with Genius Foods as a sponsor.

I recently received a press release from Muckle Media about Genius’s latest #shelfieselfie marketing campaign, which contained the line “actually everyone can benefit from reducing gluten in their diet”. I queried this questionable statement – twice – but no response nor support for it, which is disappointing but no longer surprises me. I have said before that I think the ‘gluten free for sporting performance’ might be the next ‘thing’ to replace ‘gluten free for weight loss’ in the field of lifestyle choice and/or faddiness (depending on your viewpoint …) – in spite of the fact that evidence is lacking – and I have to wonder whether, if and when FODMAPs starts to become the Big Thing that distracts us from gluten free, that’s how those with a strong stake in GF will fight back?

Any other new trends? One more from me: “Eating clean”. I’m noticing this terminology being increasingly used, and dislike it, especially in the context of free from, with the subtle implication that non-free from is somehow tainted with … what exactly? Is milk dirty? Is gluten soiled? Forbes covered the phenomenon here, and Gluten Free Rosie wrote entertainingly on it too.

I’d like to see this nipped in the bud, but I expect it to hang around, regrettably, for quite some time, to further guilt trip and confuse vulnerable individuals who – despite the endless volumes of nutritional advice they are surrounded with – still do not know what to eat …

What is – or should – be changing, and what is – or should be – remaining the same? As ever, I’d welcome your thoughts …. 


  1. Annie
  2. What Allergy?

    Great article Alex, I agree with all of what you say and my particular bug bear is the fussy eaters, faddy diets, on look it's the allergy wierdo articles which really do my nut in. People wouldn't make fun of other disabilities would they? And it is a form of disability, it severely affects the lives of those who struggle to eat out, spend more on freefrom food, etc. etc. But then noone is safe from the heavy hand of the Daily Mail though.

  3. Alex G

    Interesting development … Well, good for them. The breads are very good products, and will be interesting to see how the French take to them.

  4. Alex G

    Thanks, Ruth … maybe there'll be a sea change one day in all this. We can but hope.


    Hi Alex, Great post and lots of food for thought. Personally I think we should be promoting food manufacturing less and encouraging people and those with allergies and intolerances in particular to make their own. It's depressing seeing people buying things like gf breadcrumbs or sauces that are so easily done. Relying on manufacturers to help sort out the problems they more then likely created to start, seems a bit ironic. I know for many people time and lack of experience of cooking makes it all a bit daunting. But with so many food blogs out there, so many cookbooks devoted to specialist cooking and so many willing experts out there cooking should be accessible and doable for everyone. On a recent TV programme the World's Healthiest Diets, the number one healthiest diet was Iceland and the reason is very very little pre-prepared or manufactured food in the national diet. I'd like to see more people taking up cooking and avoiding ready made stuff. It's not as daunting as it might sound and if you just make one small change to your shopping trolley every time you go, you will be amazed.

  6. Alex G

    I totally agree that as a nation we don't do enough to promote home cooking, from scratch ingredients – no matter what the dietary requirements are. Obviously, I think free from food is important – often as a 'stepping stone' when just diagnosed – and as you say, everyone is busy these days so the convenience aspect is vital to most people with food sensitivities too. When it comes to health issues in free from, I'm sometimes concerned with the quantity of 'treat' foods (biscuits, cakes) I see on shelves / in free form aisles, and see reviewed on blogs, and discussed on social media, especially when their manufacturers also promote the GF lifestyle as healthy … Thanks for commenting!


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