IWAS diagnosed with coeliac disease last year and started a blog to share my journey as a newly-diagnosed coeliac.
Although there are a lot of gluten-free blogs out there, I felt that there can never be too many, as the more information out there the better.
Despite common misconceptions, coeliac disease is not a food allergy. It is an immune reaction which is triggered by the consumption of gluten, malt, barley, rye and sometimes oats.
This immune reaction damages the lining of the small intestine. Undiagnosed, or untreated, coeliac disease could lead to complications such as osteoporosis, infertility and some rare cancers. This highlights the importance of detecting whether you have it.
There is no specific age when coeliac disease starts, but the average age of diagnosis is between 40 and 60 years old. Delayed diagnosis is common, and according to coeliac UK research, the average time it takes to be diagnosed is 13 years.
And not everyone displays symptoms. I was only diagnosed after nine months of recurring mouth ulcers, which led to my own research into possible causes.
Some common symptoms are bloating and abdominal pain, anaemia, nausea or vomiting, fatigue, chronic or occasional diarrhoea, and/or headaches.
Once diagnosed, you must adopt a lifelong, strict gluten-free diet. This makes dining out difficult for many reasons, one of the main problems being cross-contamination.
Coeliacs can experience the same immune reaction by consuming as little as a bread crumb as they would by consuming a whole loaf of bread. This means it is imperative that cross-contamination issues are carefully avoided in the kitchen.
More and more eateries in and around Exeter are now offering gluten-free alternatives, which is good news for those needing it.
Over the past two months, I have visited several establishments in Exeter, and compiled a short review of each.
Herbies, North Street
This is a vegan and vegetarian restaurant on North Street in the city.
It offers delicious vegetarian and gluten-free dishes, including desserts, which is a real plus when eating out gluten free.
The New Horizon Café, 47 Longbrook Street
Eat in or take away, this independent café offers home-cooked Middle Eastern cuisine at a very good price. The food is healthy, authentic and locally sourced.
The staff can alter their mixed platters, which is a selection of stuffed vine leaves, hummus, salads, falafels and other dips, to make it gluten free. Some of their main dishes are also gluten free. Just advise them upon arrival and they will be careful of cross contamination.
The Waterfront, 4-9 The Quay
Five minutes' walk from the town centre, this friendly establishment offers gluten-free pizzas, JD and coke-glazed ribs and other mains such as River Exe mussels and fries. The restaurant has been serving gluten-free pizzas for a while now, but has recently added more gluten-free options to the menu such as desserts. A great place to visit with family and friends.
El Bocado Tapas Bar & Restaurant, 36-37 South Street
This authentic Spanish restaurant has a marked gluten-free selection from the tapas menu and a good choice of main courses. This is great as it means you can share with the rest of your dining party when opting for the tapas.
The Plant, 1 Cathedral Yard
This is a cosy café offering organic vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free lunches. On my visit, I opted for the risotto layer, which consisted of layers of brown rice, fresh herbs, butternut squash, red onion, topped with olives and goats' cheese. Mains come with a selection of fresh salad. Perfect for a light lunch.
Pizza Express, 2 Broadgate, Cathedral Yard
This restaurant has just added gluten-free options to its menu.
The staff have also changed certain processes in the kitchens, using new equipment specifically for gluten-free food, as well as changing the flour they use for tossing and stretching dough throughout the kitchen. They now serve gluten-free risotto, pizza, brownies and gluten-free beer.
ASK, 5 Cathedral Close
Offering some gluten-free options, this friendly restaurant is ideal for working lunches or evening meals. Gluten-free options include salads, risotto and pizzas.
Tea on the Green, 2 Cathedral Close
This wonderful café is great for a gluten-free full English breakfast, a meal I have sorely missed since being diagnosed. Gluten-free Sunday roasts are also on the menu.
Also on offer are gluten-free tea cakes, paninis, pasties, soups, curries and more. If you want to satisfy your sweet tooth, they serve a gluten-free cream tea here, with jams from local producers, cream from a herd of Guernseys who live on Dartmoor and teas that are all loose leaf and from Somerset.
Carluccios, 14 Bedford St, Princesshay
This has a wide and varied gluten-free menu in the form of delicious and reasonably priced Italian food, including pasta, steak, fish, salads, starters and desserts. You can also buy the gluten-free pasta used in the kitchen in the deli at the front of the restaurant.
Wagamamas, 16 Bedford St, Princesshay
For those wanting a quick lunch or dinner, Wagamamas is an ideal choice. If you mention your dietary requirement, they will present you with their allergen menu, stating which dishes are gluten free.
La Tasca, 26 Bedford St, Princesshay
This restaurant offers lots of gluten-free options, from starters to a variety of paellas, tapas, and a choice of other mains.
It's a superb Spanish eatery for a quick bite or evening meal.
The Exeter Phoenix, Bradninch Place, Gandy Street
This café advises that some of its dishes can be made gluten free with a little adaptation. On offer are jacket potatoes, Greek salads and also an evening menu. This is a lovely venue with lots to offer.
Zizzi, 21-22 Gandy Street
"Fresh, local and authentic", this Italian has some wonderful gluten-free dishes. However, some of the sauces contain gluten so do make sure you let staff know about your dietary requirement.
Starz Bar, 18 Lower North Street
If you're in the mood for American/English cuisine then The Starz Bar next to the Iron Bridge has a menu marked with what is gluten free.
This includes the jerk chicken, fajitas (without the wraps), steaks and the Starz steak sauces, which can be made gluten free.
The Magdalen Chapter, Magdalen Street
Food here is "fresh, simple and seasonal". You will find lots of gluten-free dishes to choose from including gluten-free bread to start.
The restaurant also has gluten-free afternoon tea with an array of sandwiches and cakes.
The Cosy Club, Southernhay
Exeter's newest restaurant in town, The Cosy Club, also caters for coeliacs. Inform the waiting staff upon arrival and they will give you their "low gluten" menu. This means that while there is no gluten in these dishes, they cannot state that dishes are gluten free because of the possible cross-contamination issues.
Surrounding areas such as Plymouth and Totnes also play host to some wonderful eateries which offer gluten-free options.
Fat Lemons café in Totnes offers lots of fresh, locally sourced food including gluten-free bread rolls, hummus and falafels. Also the Chambers on the Barbican in Plymouth has a mouth-watering menu and a lot of their dishes can be adjusted to suit your gluten-free diet.
Hopefully, this is the shape of things to come as more establishments contemplate introducing gluten-free meals, snacks and desserts to their menus, while others work to improve possible cross-contamination issues.
If you would like to share any thoughts, suggestions and recommendations, visit www.goodnightgluten.com