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Are allergies on the rise?

Over the last ten years we have seen a huge rise in people eating a more specific diet. Nowadays, when you visit a restaurant, most menus are labelled to show if they contain gluten, dairy and nuts. Whether allergies are on the rise or not, there is a definite increase in demand for gluten free foods.

But is this a healthier way of living or a fad? For some people it is a question of health, absolutely. It is thought that one in a hundred people in the UK have coeliac disease. A lot of these people go undiagnosed, as symptoms can be mainly digestive, and people can put these symptoms down to IBS or lifestyle.

Coeliac disease is a serious illness where the immune system attacks itself when gluten is consumed, and this can cause painful symptoms as well as damaging the digestive tract. It is even thought that it can contribute to wider problems such as osteoporosis. For sufferers of coeliac disease, eating well can be a minefield. When eating out in restaurants, menus can be intimidating, because the consequences of eating gluten by mistake can have painful and long-lasting effects. It is fantastic that gluten free options are now more visible on menus and readily available though.

But does every person who chooses gluten free products and foods need to? Asking for gluten free bead and pasta seems to have grown in popularity for dietary reasons. People believe that it is the healthier or ‘lighter’ option, but is it really? Food sensitivities are perhaps more commonplace these days, or at least better understood and diagnosed than they were ten or twenty years ago. Whether this rise is due to eating more gluten is up for debate, but some people will definitely find, by trial and error, that a gluten free diet agrees with them. However, this does not mean that they are coeliac, or even intolerant to gluten. Without proper testing, it is impossible to be sure what is causing the symptoms.

Diet is individual, and what works for one may not work for another. However, I do think it is a shame when people choose restrictive diets because they think it is healthier. Most coeliac’s would prefer to be able to eat gluten if they could, it isn’t a lifestyle choice for them. Some packaged gluten free foods such as bread can often have a higher fat content, as well as salt and other ingredients. It isn’t always the ‘healthier’ choice, or at least the low-calorie choice that people look for.

The same goes for dairy. For people with an allergy, dairy is a serious worry and can have painful consequences. Vegans choose not to consume any animal product or by-product and so will look to almond or soy milk as an alternative. It really is about what works for you. If you digest dairy well, butter is a far more natural product than margarine, for example, and so doesn’t need to be avoided. Bodies can digest natural products better than chemical and preservative-laden spreads.

Red meat has had a lot of bad press in recent years. It can have a high fat content, but it is also nutrient-rich. If you do decide red meat isn’t for you, make sure you get plenty of iron in your diet from other sources such as spinach.

When it comes to diet, don’t follow the latest trends in ‘healthy eating’. There is a lot of conflicting and confusing research out there. If you think you have an allergy or intolerance, then I would suggest a trip to your doctor for testing. Above all, if you find that cutting certain foods from your diet work better for you, then I would again suggest that you talk it through with your doctor or a dietician to make sure that you are eating a balanced, healthy diet, and not excluding any nutrients.

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