Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disease caused by a reaction to gluten, which is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. It is not a food intolerance or allergy, but a serious condition that causes the body’s immune system to attack its own tissues if you eat gluten. The result is damage to the lining of the gut which prevents the body from absorbing nutrients from food properly.
One in 100 people has coeliac disease, which causes a range of unpleasant symptoms including: vomiting, diarrhoea, constipation, stomach cramps, anaemia, fatigue and mouth ulcers. There is no cure and once diagnosed you will have to follow a gluten-free diet for life.
Travelling can present a challenge to people with coeliac disease but it is not impossible and having the condition should not prevent you from going on holiday or travelling on business. The key to a successful trip is to plan ahead.
Here are our top tips for enjoying a trouble-free trip:
Before you go
It goes without saying that you need to ensure you are not exposed to gluten while you are away.
- Let people know: Tell your tour operator that you have the condition so that gluten-free meals can be prepared for you in each location. Coeliac UK has a useful Venus Guide to hotels, bed and breakfasts that cater for a gluten-free diet. All of the venues are recommended by members and accredited as gluten-free by the charity so you can book with confidence.
- Consider going self-catering: This can be a good option for people with coeliac disease, particularly in Europe where gluten-free products are increasingly available. Other parts of the world may provide more of a challenge but it may be possible to order in advance and have produce delivered to your accommodation.
- Check local foods: If you are camping or visiting more remote regions, you will need to check that suitable food will be available. Coeliac UK produces information leaflets on 50 countries, including local cuisine, labelling laws and coeliac societies, if appropriate.
- Take emergency snacks: Always pack your own gluten-free snacks, such as protein bars, almond butter, rice cakes and miso soup packets. Check what local food you may be able to eat in an emergency. You should check with your tour operator whether you can take sealed packs of gluten-free food in your luggage. Some will even give you an additional luggage allowance.
- Talk to your GP or gastroenterologist: For peace of mind, your GP can give you a letter to take with you that explains your condition and why you need a special diet.
- Take over the counter stomach medications, electrolyte tablets and peppermint tea in case you accidentally eat gluten.
- Download useful apps such as the Allergic Traveller Food Allergy Translator and Find Me Gluten-Free.
While you are there
- In Europe, packaged foods are covered by the same food legislation as the UK which means the manufacturer must list ingredients and highlight particular grains. Translations in the Coeliac UK information guides will help you to identify what each dish contains.
- Check that hotel or bed and breakfast staff have received the instructions about providing gluten-free meals for you.
- Be vigilant about what you eat. If you are at all unsure ask to speak to the chef or hotel manager.
- Make sure that any gluten-free options are not contaminated by using the same serving spoons.
- Eat enough of the right foods, particularly if you are doing something strenuous like hiking or sport.
- Remember to have a fantastic time and with a little planning you can ensure your Coeliac Disease doesn’t get in the way.