I had a conversation with Temitope Bola-Okerinde about living a gluten free life due to a condition called Coeliac disease . This interview was conducted after watching first hand the effects of cross-contamination with gluten for someone with the Coeliac disease. Being in the healthcare profession, I am passionate about raising awareness on health-related issues because this is key to improving the health of people in communities. Hence why there is a section on health on this blog.
Let us get into Temi’s experience of “Living a gluten-free life”.
Vicky: Tell me about yourself?
Temi: I am a student in my second year of studying Architecture and currently on Erasmus in France.
Vicky: What is your understanding of Coeliac disease?
Temi: My understanding of Coeliac disease is that it is an autoimmune condition, so your immune system attacks substances found in gluten because it perceives it to be a threat. This causes damage to your small intestine. The villi on the surface of your small intestine are deformed, and they become shorter, so they cannot absorb needed nutrients well. This can make you become deficient in certain vitamins like iron. Coeliac disease is also associated with complications such as bowel cancer and osteoporosis.
Vicky: What made you decide to go to the GP?
Temi: I was on holiday for 6 weeks and during that time I did not eat wheat-based foods. Once, I returned to the UK and I would have cereal and milk for breakfast, afterwards, I would feel very ill. This is the reason I initially thought I was lactose intolerant.
Vicky: How did you confirm that you had Coeliac disease?
Temi: I went to the GP and they conducted blood tests. They told me that I was not lactose intolerant, but I did have markers for something called Coeliac disease. For the doctors to be a hundred percent sure I had to have an endoscopy, which is when they place a camera down your throat and take a biopsy of your small intestine just to take a closer look at what is going on. From this, they diagnosed me with Coeliac disease.
“I could relate to the symptoms of bloating, discomfort, joint pain, bad eyesight, foggy mind or lack of concentration”
Vicky: What were your feelings when you found out?
Temi: After I found out I had Coeliac disease a lot of things began to make sense. I began to research more on the disease I could relate to the symptoms of bloating, discomfort, joint pain, bad eyesight, foggy mind or lack of concentration. Every time I had gluten I would always feel really bloated and I would get bad stomach pains.
When I found out, it did not feel like the end of the world, but I knew that it was going to be difficult because there is currently no cure for the Coeliac disease. I will have to avoid gluten for the rest of my life but it has gotten easier as I have began to find out what I can eat and where I can eat.
Vicky: How supportive have your friends and family been?
Temi: Most of my friends and families were supportive, some of my family, for example, my parents could learn more about my condition. However, people tend to ask questions if they do not understand my food restrictions.
Vicky: What support did you gain from the NHS and healthcare system?
Temi: I currently still get free food from the NHS such as gluten-free, pasta, bread, biscuits, pizza bases. You get food units depending on your age and the category you are in. What you are given should last you for a whole month. It is similar to a monthly prescription that you write down and give to your pharmacist, who orders the items for you.
Vicky: How has coeliac disease affected your diet?
Temi: Coeliac disease changes your diet a lot because you can’t have wheat or barley. It is annoying because gluten is in little things like soy sauce, some sauces. My top tip is if it is crispy you can’t really have it.
Vicky: Is a gluten-free diet expensive?
Temi: Yes, gluten-free food can be expensive depending on where you shop. Gluten-free bread and flour, for example, is a little bit more expensive. They are stores like M&S which sell pre-made gluten-free sandwiches and it is pretty good because you do not always have time to prepare your lunch. However, compared to other sandwiches it is still more expensive.
Vicky: Are they enough gluten-free options?
Temi: They are more options than before. However, more improvements need to be made on gluten-free pre-made sandwiches and salads.
Vicky: What are your favourite gluten-free meals?
Temi: I can make a very tasty gluten free macaroni cheese. I also like pizza, when I get my pizza bases, I enjoy making any pizza I want.
Vicky: Has a gluten-free diet made you eat healthier?
Temi: It can make you healthier, it depends on your choices and how you approach your diet. It has not necessarily made me healthier, but it can.
Vicky: What has been your experience eating in restaurants and abroad?
Temi: If you go to certain restaurants they have gluten-free menus, or they tell you what has gluten in it in the UK. I found my experience in Barcelona quite hard when we are eating out, some places didn’t have a menu you just had to stick to meats, chips and rice-based foods. However, some places did highlight gluten-free options, but it was not that common. Currently, in French supermarkets, they do have gluten free aisles, so it makes it easier to cook meals you love but in restaurants, it is still quite difficult to find gluten-free foods. If I am hungry and I am out, I go to burger king and order a burger, but I ask for no bread and chips. I have had the dominos gluten-free pizza (I would confirm it is prepared gluten-free and eat with caution). They are not the healthiest meals but if you need something quick it is there.
Vicky: Do you have to take any supplements to support your diet and lifestyle?
Temi: I am not sure, but I do take folic acid and Vitamin D. It will be best to speak to a doctor or a nurse who can help you determine if you need any supplements.
Vicky: Have you connected with anyone who also has Coeliac disease?
Temi: Yes, I have, I have worked with people with the Coeliac disease and it is nice to talk to someone and speak about your dietary options.
Vicky: Do you have any fears about the Coeliac disease?
Temi: When you are not too sure it is gluten-free, but you are hungry, so you eat it hoping for the best. I really don’t have fears at this moment, but this is not something I would wish on someone else so if I have children I hope they do not inherit it.
Vicky: What advice would you tell a young student who had just been diagnosed with the Coeliac disease?
Temi: It is okay, it is not the end of the world. You just need to have a positive attitude, do your research on what you can eat and where you can eat. Try and live a healthy life so you are not at a health disadvantage later in life. More people are adopting the gluten-free diets even without health restrictions, I am hoping that very soon that gluten-free foods will be available everywhere. Maybe one day we can walk into a Burger King, McDonald’s or healthier food chains and ask for gluten food (especially gluten-free chicken nuggets).
“It is okay, it is not the end of the world. You just need to have a positive attitude, do your research on what you can eat and where you can eat”
For more information, please click the links below:
Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor, therefore I am not qualified to give any medical advice. This blog is used as a platform to create awareness on issues I am passionate about. Please contact your GP for more information.