- By ITV News Producer Lucy Kapasi
"I'm gluten free", I said to the waiter as he showed us to our table at the Italian next to my hotel. "Me too!” he said. "So's my Dad - and he owns the place".
Although I love eating out, after many years of blank looks when I mention that I’m a Coeliac that fear of being ‘glutened’* never quite goes away.
Coeliac disease is a serious autoimmune condition, caused by a reaction to gluten - a protein in wheat, barley and rye - which makes the body attack itself. The only treatment is a strict gluten free diet for life so you can see why I sometimes get a bit nervous in restaurants.
That said, it’s a different world since I was diagnosed aged two. At friends’ birthdays, I hated getting out my ‘special’ container of cakes and sandwiches as everyone else tucked into the party tea.
When I was a teenager grabbing lunch on a shopping trip with friends, I became good at surreptitiously removing my burger from its bun. Later, I remember lengthy searches for somewhere that did jacket potatoes - only to find they'd sold out.
As a roving reporter, I learned to be organised if I wanted to eat during the day, as the journalist’s usual fall back of a pre-packed sandwich in a petrol station wasn’t an option.
Things have improved a lot over the last decade. With greater awareness of the condition, and celebrities like Victoria Beckham talking about it, caterers and retailers see the financial sense in getting in on the act.
A growing number of well-known chains are even getting accredited by charity Coeliac UK, which celebrates its 50th birthday this week.
Gluten free sandwiches are now widely available too (although I've never found one at a petrol station!) and I no longer have to walk so far for a jacket potato.
But even in 2018, eating out as a Coeliac can be hit and miss - a 20 minute wait because the waiter 'can't find' the well-advertised gluten free menu, or the dreaded allergen folder, which can be so complicated, even the staff don't understand it. And still now; the blank looks.
So hurrah to places like the Italian I stumbled on last week, while away on a work trip. It was a small family-run restaurant with a great atmosphere. I would have been more than happy with a choice of grilled fish or risotto.
Instead pretty much the whole menu of pizza and pasta was suitable with just one or two dishes off limits. So, after a great deal of thought (it takes ages when you can eat practically everything) I enjoyed ‘'penne con pollo' along a chat with the owner Lino.
We laughingly shared our worst culinary experiences as children - from tinned bread to biscuits even the birds wouldn't eat. And then he brought out a delicious tiramisu for dessert - without a sponge finger in sight.
*Glutened - accidental consumption of gluten that makes a Coeliac ill - some people are affected by just a tiny crumb.
For more information about Coeliac disease go to https://www.coeliac.org.uk
Could you have Coeliac disease?
- One in 100 people have the condition.
- Only 24 per cent of people who have it, have been diagnosed.
- One in four people diagnosed, had been previously diagnosed with IBS.
- Nearly half a million people have it, but don't know it.
What is it?
- It's a lifelong autoimmune disease caused by a reaction to gluten.
- Symptoms include diarrhoea, constipation, vomiting, stomach cramps, fatigue, mouth ulcers and anaemia.
- Untreated and undiagnosed it can lead to osteoporosis and neurological conditions.
- Once diagnosed, it’s treated by a gluten-free diet for life.
- Obvious sources of gluten include breads, pastas, flours, cereals, cakes and biscuits.
- It is often used as an ingredient in many favourite foods such as fish fingers, sausages, gravies, sauces and soy sauce.