The G word. It’s big business at the moment.

A string of super slim Hollywood celebs and models have come out lauding the benefits of a gluten-free diet.

Stars such as Jessica Alba, Rachel Weisz, Miranda Kerr and Gwyneth Paltrow all put their fat-free physiques down to cutting out bloat-inducing wheat and gluten- packed foods.

Research shows that around 13 per cent of the UK population now avoids gluten even though they don’t have a medical need to.

But for around one in 100 people in the UK who have coeliac disease – an auto-immune condition which can make sufferers seriously ill if they eat gluten – the decision to cut out the protein is nothing to do with losing weight or being part of the latest health trend.

Newsquest's Michele Newman who lives in Heybridge, north Essex, is one such person for whom going gluten free has been a health necessity.


Mum of four Michele was diagnosed with coeliac disease last year, rendering her totally gluten intolerant.

Here she talks about how, as life-long foodie and cake baking enthusiast she has struggled to fill the void of gluten in her diet but that of her family too.

Dietary requirements. That dreaded phrase.

As a keen cook, I used to view people with ‘dietary requirements’ as a challenge to relish.

Vegetarian? No problem, come round and I’ll cook everybody a really tasty vegetarian meal we’ll all enjoy.

Dairy free? Come on down, nobody will notice the whole meal has no dairy in it whatsoever. Nut allergy? No problem.

Coeliac? Fine. Easy to avoid gluten. I like to cook.

I make pretty much everything from scratch. How hard is it to make it all gluten-free?

Turns out, very hard if you’re working full time, running a home and bringing up children.

I cooked most things from scratch. I’ve never been a big fan of processed food so when I found out I was coeliac, my initial reaction was almost complacent.

After all, I’d been feeling awful for years – it takes an average ten years for coeliac disease to be diagnosed – so the prospect of a return to health was far more appealing than the trivial matter of avoiding gluten for the rest of my life.

It’s not just me who has to do it either. As chief cook for my family, my children are also gluten-free because I can’t even touch anything with gluten in it.


  • Michele's family

Gluten is lovely stuff. It’s what stops your cupcake crumbling in your hands. It’s what holds your cakes and biscuits together to give the crunchy or chewy texture you’re after. It’s what makes bread, well, bread.

But bread isn’t just something you use to make a sandwich.

It’s in everything. Well, not really, but when you first realise you have to study every single thing you eat, it certainly seems that way.

And then you see it makes a kind of sense. Bread is a cheap way of bulking out food, and it’s great for sticking things together.

Now, if you only ever buy fresh produce and cook it all from scratch, every day, this wouldn’t be a problem.

But how many of us can do that, no matter how much we might like to?

Do we really never, ever cheat and use an Oxo cube in our gravy or Bolognese sauce, never use a shop-bought cheese sauce?

Do we make our chicken Kiev from scratch, or do we buy it ready made, at least sometimes?

It might be premium quality, but it’s still covered in breadcrumbs.

If money’s tight, we’re not buying premium foods anyway.

We’re not buying rare breed pork sausages with no additives.

We’re buying a bag of frozen sausages to keep in the freezer for a quick meal during the week. Chances are, they’re full of gluten in form of rusk, even if they’re the ‘posh’ ones.

Same for burgers. Summer barbecues become a minefield.

Forget about burgers and sausages in buns for a moment.

How about ribs, chops, chicken or steak? Be careful if it’s flavoured or with a marinade. It probably has gluten in it. Same goes for those lovely prawn skewers.

How about a salad then? There’s plenty of variety there.

Great. But beware the dressings. Many use flour as a thickener.

Gluten again. And say no to croutons, bacon bits or dried onion bits too.

Gluten-free pasta is great.


But check the sauces if you’re buying a jar. Many have wheat flour, and you’ll get ‘glutened’.

For me, the most surprising discovery came at my granddaughter’s christening last year.

The catering was superb. No, I couldn’t eat most of it because I couldn’t be sure there wasn’t any gluten in it.

But it looked great and was full of imaginative dishes, not just a few ham sandwiches and fairy cakes.

What it did have though, was crabsticks.

Now, I consider these a junk food snack. Purely my personal opinion – for all I know they’re brim full of great nutrition and we should be feeding them twice a day to our children.

Thing is, they come prewrapped.

So they wouldn’t have been in contact with anything else. So I could eat them.

Actually I can’t. They’re full of gluten in the form of wheat flour. Who knew?

Apparently it’s what keeps all those little strands together in the classic pink and white sticks, which as we all know are now called seafood sticks since they don’t actually contain crab.

Actually, they never claimed to have crab in them in the first place – the name comes from the shape, which was supposed to resemble a crab’s leg.

You learn these little nuggets of information when you become obsessed with what’s in the food you eat.

I’ve become an expert at reading food labels. New legislation has made it far easier to see what you can and can’t have if you have a food allergy, intolerance or coeliac disease.

Coeliac UK even has a very helpful app to help work it out while you’re shopping.

I’m also very grateful for those who choose a gluten-free diet. Over the last few years this has become a hugely popular option for many people.

What it means is that the market has become flooded with gluten-free, nutritious foods.

Historically, gluten-free alternatives were full of sugars and fats, presumably in an attempt to add flavour and texture.

Not so much today. You can now find alternatives which won’t pile on the pounds or clog your arteries. Great news.

There’s also much larger selection on the shelves and the prices are not quite so astronomical as they used to be.

Yes, you’ll still pay more for a gluten-free alternative. But maybe only double, not three or four times as much. Or even more.

So thank you, healthy people who choose not to eat gluten.

You’ve made my life easier and my food more interesting.”