The truth about being gluten-free

Since when did going gluten-free become so fashionable? If only I could say to my five year-old self, when I was bringing my own lunch-box to parties, that one day being gluten-free would be cool. ‘You eat that crumbly sarnie with pride, Vicky!’ I have been a coeliac all my life, and 20 years ago a gluten-free lifestyle was very different to how it is now. I got my food from the doctor in a huge cardboard box, eating out was awkward, and no-one ever wanted to eat my specially-made birthday cake. Now, everyone’s ordering their avocadoes on gluten-free toast, and what’s more, they can take a photo of it and stick on a gluten-free snapchat filter! 

      A very dubious home-made loaf..

Over the past few years the gluten-free lifestyle has become wide-spread, with more people recognising their intolerances, even if they don’t have coeliac disease, to wheat and gluten. It affects about 1 person in 100, yet many live with it undiagnosed.  Gluten is in wheat – the real trouble-maker – rye, barley and oats. Coeliac disease is a condition when you cannot digest gluten. If eaten, the side-effects are painful, damaging and long-lasting; the effects of a piece of toast last a month. The immediate side-effects are more obvious, and well, more urgent. An accidental bite of bread whilst travelling in Turkey led to a very awkward situation in a busy Turkish bazar. I’ll spare you the details. 

I have been a ‘glutard’ (thanks, mum) for all my life, as I was diagnosed at 6 months old. I have witnessed the transformation from general ignorance (I was originally diagnosed as a ‘fussy-eater’) to widespread knowledge, with delight. Now there is a gluten-free option everywhere – so much so, I am almost indignant when there isn’t one. And now I can go to Pizza Express and don’t have to order a salad! There are frustrating moments though: the chips in spoons aren’t gluten-free. Devastating. 

A year abroad in France left me often feeling very sorry for myself

However, people believe that the gluten-free diet helps with weight-loss and is a healthy choice- Kim Kardashian is said to follow it – but this is not true. Although gluten-free bread has moved on from the dog-biscuits of my younger years – before that it used to come in tins! ‘Are we dogs?’ I cry – the loaves in the supermarkets are highly questionable. The ingredients are simply a list of chemicals with names I can’t pronounce. The popular ‘Genius’ loaf (at £3 it is a distressing 4 times the price of normal bread) contains up to 4 times the amount of fat than in normal bread, to make up for the taste and texture that gluten gives. Cutting out gluten restricts your nutrient intake and increases your fat intake. I hope you’re reading this, Kim.


A few fun facts and figures: 

Per 100g Kingsmill Soft White Genius White Sliced
Calories 235kcal 276kcal
Sugar 3.8g 4.4g
Fat 2g 8.2g


Durham has some real treats for those following a gluten-free diet. Leonards, Treats and Be Tempted all stash a good supply of gluten-free bread, and Treats does an enormous delicious brownie that doesn’t break the bank. NB, brownies are always better gluten-free as they are more gooey and chocolatey, see recipe below. Bella Italia, Carpriccio and Spags all provide gluten-free pizza and pasta, a huge thrill in the life of a Coeliac.

   A Terrific Treats Treat

As far as it goes for supermarket goodies, the B free loaf is my favourite (always check the reduced aisle for bread – the bargains are wonderful). Mrs. Crimble’s macaroons have been a life-long favourite, and I’m a firm believer of the gluten-free oats as porridge for breakfast. Baking is also no trouble. Rice-flour (Doves farm) has been a saviour, and some even say it gives cakes a sweeter taste and lighter texture. Polenta is also great for making cakes, especially with orange or lemon (or even with butternut squash, again, see recipe below).

I’ll help you get started with a couple of my Dad’s very own recipes from his cookbook. My dad is a chef and his life quest is to accomplish the perfect gluten-free loaf. He’s still working on it.

Chocolate and dried fruit brownies

The perfect brownie, in my humble opinion.

Makes 12-15

75g butter

225g caster sugar

3 heaped tbsp. of coca

50g rice flour

1 tsp baking powder

100g mixed fruit (can be substituted with mixed nuts)

2 eggs, beaten

½ teaspoon vanilla extract



Preheat the oven to 350F/180C/Gas 4.

Melt the butter. In a large bowl mix together the sugar, cocoa, flour, baking powder, and fruit. Mix in the eggs, vanilla extract and melted butter. Line a 20cm x 23cm tin with foil (no need to butter) and scrape in the mixture. Bake for 30 mins. Cool in tin, remove, and cut into squares. Eat.

Butternut squash and cornmeal cake

Sounds adventurous, but it is actually very simple. Healthy, too, as it uses the natural sweetness of the butternut squash.

Serves 6

2 tbsp rum

50g raisins

280g butternut squash, peeled, seed and cut into pieces

150ml milk

40g butter

100g polenta flour or fine polenta

75g caster sugar

1tsp vanilla extract

2 large eggs, seperated



Warm the rum and soak the raisins in it for 1 hour. Preheat the oven to 400F/205C/Gas 6. Butter a 22cm cake tine and to be on the safe side put a disc of greaseproof paper on the bottom.

Cook the squash in the milk until soft and puree them together. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the butter, polenta, sugar and vanilla extract and mix well. Beat in the egg yolks with the raisons and rum.

In a separate bowl whisk the egg whites until stiff and fold them in. Pour the mixture into the tin and bake in the middle of the oven until lightly browned- about 25 minutes. Cool a little in the tin before turning out.  Good with cream and ice-cream, but also good without.

Gluten-free doesn’t always have to be fun-free!


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