Browse Tag by Dairy intolerance

Catering for multiple food intolerances and allergies at Wagamama

Restaurants should look to Wagamama as an example of how to cater properly for those with multiple food intolerances or allergies.

Yes I know, I know, I moan a lot about how difficult it is to eat out when you have multiple food intolerances or allergies, but I’ll keep on moaning until the message gets through. And it seems that some people might actually be listening, well the manager at Wagamama Canterbury, at least. He contacted me to invite me over:

‘We’d like to show you how well we cater for people with food allergies and intolerances,’ he said.

I liked them already. With a confidence that what they’re doing is a positive thing, they were keen to prove to me that not all food service operations are equal in their approach.

‘I’m in,’ I said, given that I don’t go to Wagamamas, so had no idea what they offer.

As I avoid nightshades (tomatoes, peppers, aubergines, potatoes) and no longer eat dairy, I wondered how I would get on. My friend who came with me doesn’t eat gluten, so between us, I expected we were going to be a challenge. Not so for manager Lloyd, who sat down with us and went through the entire menu.

Wagamama, like most restaurants, has a complete breakdown of every dish offered. They have one version for the customers and another, more detailed version for the management. There were several positives I’d like to point out that make Wagamama stand out against other restaurants:

  • The manager is the only person who takes with and deals with your order.

Lloyd, as I said, went through everything with us, perhaps in more detail than he might if we hadn’t have been there for this specific purpose. Either way, nothing was a problem and the reason for this is Wagamama’s flexibility when it comes to their dishes. There are several alternative options to their menu items, which means if you can’t eat one of the ingredients (for example, noodles in the Ramen because they contain gluten), they will swap them for something else (in this example, rice noodles).

A 'Free-From' Life
Image courtesy of Wagamama

It’s not enough to give a customer an allergen menu and expect that it’s enough.

My pet hate about eating out is that restaurants give you an enormous allergen menu detailing all their dishes and once you go through it, you find you can’t actually eat anything. Thankfully, Wagamama’s recognise this and make every effort to be flexible with their dishes.

  • The manager marks your place with your specific food avoidance item(s), so there is no mix up when it’s brought to the table.

This is another positive, because even though the manager is the only one dealing with the order, it’s still important, if not life-saving for some, to make sure the right order is given to the right person. With serious allergies, you can’t afford to mess this up.

  • They have a separate gluten free menu.

This is in addition to the full allergen menu and includes dishes that are specifically gluten free. Lloyd checked to make sure what we wanted to order was also dairy free, again this double, triple checking of everything shows how seriously they take things and also the level of training the staff have received.

A 'Free-From' Life
Image courtesy of Wagamama
  • The food is prepared in a dedicated area with a dedicated chef.

This I was very impressed with. You can see the food preparation area at Wagamama, as it’s completely open and with one specific area kept for preparing special orders, it’s reassuring. Lloyd explained we were likely to get our food in waves rather than all at once. This is because each order is prepared separately, with the surfaces being thoroughly wiped down between each one. Again, this shows a deep level of understanding and commitment to customer safety.

My overall impression of Wagamama was extremely positive and I would be happy to recommend it to anyone with multiple food intolerances or allergies. You feel looked after there and equally as important, are never made to feel as though you’re being awkward (we’ve all been there with this haven’t we?). We’re not a generation of overly paranoid individuals, we’re more educated about the food we eat and realise how ill it can make us. Perhaps in the past we just got on with it, ignoring the stomach pains and associated problems, but not anymore and it’s not just gluten that we’re avoiding.

Food service providers, if you’re listening, take a tip from Wagamama’s and wake up to what your customers need.

My one request, as I finish this review, is can you get more creative with some dairy free desserts? If there’s one thing anyone dairy free really misses out on, it’s this.


Dairy free diaries

Dairy Intolerance - what you need to know - A Free From Life
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My son is dairy and wheat intolerant and although I make most things to suit him, I don’t always avoid these items in my own diet.

Having suffered long-term with IBS, I’ve found my own symptoms are worsened by nightshades (potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and aubergines, mainly). Avoiding these foods definitely helps keep my stomach from tying in knots and my skin breaking out in hives, but one thing it hasn’t helped with is my skin.

I haven’t talked about my skin problems on this blog before, but it’s time to finally ‘come out’!

Although I suffered with bad skin as a teen, it cleared when I started taking the pill. When I came off the pill, I went on to have three children, and during this time my skin was clear, which I think was mainly down to the hormones swimming around my system during that time.

It was after having my third child that things began to unravel. A year after having him, I sought help because my IBS was at its worst and my skin was terrible.

Having taken measures to help with both of these problems, I’ve since changed my diet to get the IBS under control and the products I use do a good job of controlling my skin – mostly.

The area I can’t seem to do anything about is my chin.

I’ve looked into it (thanks Google), and found the cause of outbreaks in this area is hormonal related and common amongst women of 30+. Great. Even better news, it’s a recognised form of acne. Wonderful.

So it seems unless I go back on the pill (not going to happen) or take some form of hormone regulating medication (I’m in my early forties, so I’m not going there yet), there isn’t a lot I can do. Or is there?

Some suggestions indicate poor digestion as a possible contributor to these forms of outbreaks (that’ll be me then), with a link to dairy. So it leaves me with little choice but to give this option a try.

I’m reaching the end of week one of my dairy free trial. I tried to kid myself that I didn’t each that much dairy in the first place, but I’ve found the difficulties arise when you go out.

What has changed this week?

  • I went to Costa (once), for a takeaway and had a soya milk cappuccino (wasn’t too bad). Didn’t choose anything to eat because the choice is limited to dried fruit, nuts or some mini cherry bakewells (too sweet for me).
  • I took my eldest daughter plus friends to the local trampoline park on Saturday and it was over lunchtime. Again I had a coffee with soya milk, but there wasn’t anything I could eat except crisps (and I don’t do potatoes do I?) By the time we left and called into town on the way home, I was starving and ended up getting a slice of banana bread from the local gluten free cafe (it was one of three choices that were both gluten and dairy free).
  • Today, I was out shopping with my middle daughter, whilst my eldest and her friends went to the cinema (this, and the trampolining, were because of her birthday, not that I take her to stuff and don’t do anything with the other two – just in case you were wondering). I needed caffeine (as you do when you’ve had three teenagers for a sleepover), so we dropped in to M and S.

Although there were a few choices of gluten free cakes, there wasn’t anything dairy free. Even if I’d opted to forego the gluten free, the choice didn’t improve because all the sandwiches included dairy. I ended up with a gluten free bread bun, spread with margarine and you guessed it, a coffee with soya milk.

I will say one thing for this week, I have definitely eaten less and avoiding dairy has meant not giving into the sugar cravings. I can also appreciate, more than ever, what my son has to live with on a daily basis and it’s the reason why I always take snacks for him wherever we go.

As for the skin (the reason for doing this) I can’t say I’ve seen any improvement yet, although it’s early days and I wouldn’t expect to. The test will be to see how it fairs over a complete cycle because after all, it’s the hormones at work here, and diet may not be the contributing factor.

I’m off to make a peach cobbler now. It’s a simple recipe and will be both gluten and dairy free, plus low sugar. It is Sunday after all, and with the log fire burning away, some comfort food feels like the perfect end to the week.


Do children’s menus need to be so gluten and dairy heavy?

Do children's menus need to be so gluten and dairy heavy? - A Free From Life

Do children's menus need to be so gluten and dairy heavy? - A Free From Life

I took two of my children out for dinner on Friday for a treat. Husband and eldest daughter were both out, so we thought, why not?

It’s hard to eat out though, if you’re intolerant to dairy and wheat.

Whilst I can’t fault the management of the restaurant we went to – he was more than happy to sort something out for my son to eat – there wasn’t a single thing on the children’s menu that he could have.

Giving a customer an allergens menu isn’t enough.

All it told me was there was very little on the entire menu that didn’t contain both gluten and dairy.

What I don’t understand is, should it be so difficult to put together a menu that doesn’t contain these things? Do all children’s menus have to be so gluten and dairy heavy?

Here are the items on the children’s menu:
Fish fingers, Cumberland sausage, chicken burger, barbeque ribs and macaroni with cheese sauce or tomato and basil sauce.

According to the allergens menu, all these items contain gluten and dairy, which to me doesn’t make sense. I look at this menu and think how easy it would be to provide gluten free pasta with a tomato sauce, plain chicken fillet and source gluten free sausages. There should also be an alternative to fries (coated in wheat) and mashed potato.

What did my son eat?

Well, given that his choice was either burger without the bun or a chicken skewer, he went for the chicken. Not being a fan of mashed potato, they said would he like baked beans and some salad and that was it, the extent of his choice.


As someone who regularly makes meals and bakes gluten and dairy free, I know it can be done and I also know it doesn’t even have to be difficult.

Why does everything have to be coated in breadcrumbs? Even the fries have wheat on them and they are potatoes!

A piece of grilled chicken or salmon is just as popular with children as chicken nuggets are, aren’t they? Well, they are with mine anyway.

Some steamed vegetables and boiled potatoes to go with it? Not difficult at all. And how difficult would it be to keep some gluten free pasta in stock?

I seriously get fed up of being given an allergens menu as if a restaurant is doing me a favour, when all they’re actually doing is ticking a box and depressing the hell out of me because the choice is so limited.

Gluten free may be a popular choice for many now, but what restaurant owners need to wake up to is that many who are gluten intolerant are also dairy intolerant too and many of these are children.

Our children don’t need deep fried breaded food. Good quality, relatively plain dinners are a much better choice and I’m sure most parents would agree.

Yes, this is a rant of a post today, but I’ll say it now and I will keep saying it until hopefully we see some changes.


Should food service workers receive basic food allergy and intolerance training?

Should food service workers be given basic food allergy and intolerance training? - A Free From Life
Image by Vlado, courtesy of

I say this time and again, but it’s so frustrating when you go out to eat and you’re trying to find somewhere that caters for your dietary needs. I’ve had some great experiences at restaurants and some terrible ones. I’ve come across staff who are completely clued up about food allergy and intolerance needs and others that have no idea whatsoever. For instance, I once asked if something was dairy free and had the response ‘is that the same as gluten free?’

What is it like to be dairy and gluten intolerant - Nikki Young Writes

It’s tear your hair out time, fuelled with anxiety whenever we go anywhere and I can never relax until I’ve ordered something that my son can eat. You could say why do we even bother going out, but why shouldn’t we? As a family, we’ve always enjoyed eating in restaurants and cafes. It’s great for the children to learn how to behave in social situations and I see no reason why we should hide away just because we have a gluten and dairy intolerant son.

Am I expecting too much though? Food service workers are, after all, paid minimum wages and what do they care? Although restaurants and cafes now have to indicate whether their food contains any of the major known allergens, this doesn’t mean that the staff are any more qualified to answer questions about the food offered. The managers, yes, but not the staff that work for them.

One example of the inconsistencies of restaurants is when my husband took the children to Frankie and Benny’s, Tunbridge Wells. We’ve been there before and were well looked after, so it was somewhere that he thought would be fine to take them after they’d been to the cinema next door.

My husband asked for the gluten free menu and realised that it only had adult portions. The little one said he would like the ribs, so my husband asked  if he could have a smaller portion from this gluten free menu. The waitress said that they were not allowed to change the menu in any way, but as my husband explained (at least three times in the end), he was not asking them to change the menu, but to provide a smaller portion of what was there. After all, could a six year old really be expected to eat £17 worth of ribs?!

The waitress replied that why couldn’t our son have the ribs from the children’s menu, to which my husband asked would that be possible – are they gluten free then?

‘How should I know?’ came the reply. It was at this point that my husband told her to forget it and they left.

Perhaps she had a valid question, how is she supposed to know this information if she isn’t told it in the first place? But at the same time, if you don’t know something, you go and ask someone who does, don’t you? If you work in the service industry, it’s not your job to be rude to the customers and if you find their requests irritating, then perhaps you are in the wrong job.

I know there are training packages for food service staff to learn about food allergies and intolerances. Of course, these cost money and unlike basic food hygiene training, it’s not compulsory. Perhaps it should be and of course from my point of view, I would definitely like to see that happening one day.

If mistakes are made in a restaurant and the wrong food is served because of lack of knowledge, it could be fatal to some and life threatening to others. For my son, it would be unpleasant and uncomfortable if he ate something that he shouldn’t, but the effects are seen almost immediately and I’m sure Frankie and Benny’s wouldn’t be too pleased if he were to have an accident in their restaurant!

This isn’t an isolated case. It happens all the time and as I’ve pointed out here, this is a restaurant that says it caters for allergies and in the past we’ve been there and had no problems. The inconsistencies with staff knowledge and training, however, meant that on this particular occasion Frankie and Benny’s failed to honour that statement and my husband and children had to find somewhere else to eat.

Do you think they should care about that, or do they see us as one less problem to worry about? Perhaps they don’t really need or want the likes of us in their restaurants, trying to change the menus and order around our dietary needs.

What about you, have you had similar experiences of repeat visits to restaurants and inconsistencies in the service? Do you think that food service staff should receive basic food allergy and intolerance training?

Travelling with 5

Travelling with Food Intolerances – The Ups and Downs of In-Flight Meals

Airlines traveller's guide to In-Flight Meals - A Free From Life

I know from experience what it’s like when an airlines messes up on the meal you ordered. My son, who cannot eat dairy or gluten, was given a child’s meal by mistake (a dairy and gluten fest) on a flight to America last year. There was no alternative for him, apart from a bit of green salad that the team managed to scrape together. It was a nightmare.

The mix up came because I couldn’t order him both a dairy AND gluten free meal. It was one or the other. The alternative was perhaps a vegan meal, but I wasn’t sure if it would suit a five year old child. So I rang up customer services, explained the situation and thought it was sorted. What went wrong (I think), was that they marked him down as ‘child’ and he ended up with the same meal as his sisters – macaroni cheese, yoghurt and chocolate!

There is no way I will go on a flight without taking food for him after that experience, regardless what I order in advance. And after finding the whole process somewhat confusing, I decided to put together some air travel tips for people with food intolerances.

I worked with the team at SheKnowsUK to produce an infographic setting out what the major airlines offer in terms of in-flight meals and how you go about ordering them. You can see the result here. I was amazed at how different the airlines approach their in-flight meal service, but most offer essentially the same choices. When it comes to ordering both gluten and dairy free in-flight meals for my son, it looks like that’s not going to happen any time soon. For us, it will be a case of choosing one or the other and picking out what he can eat, whilst adding to it with our own food.

Have you had any bad experiences with airlines food? Let me know.


When a Gluten Free Diet Isn’t the Healthiest Option

How to convert recipes to gluten free - A Free From Life

My son is intolerant to gluten and dairy, so as his mum and provider, I know how difficult it is to live with. I know the consequences of when he accidentally eats something that may contain one of these foods and I remember the pain he suffered before his diagnosis.

There are more and more people being diagnosed with gluten sensitivity and coeliac disease and there are an equal number, if not more, who say they feel better for avoiding wheat and gluten in their diet. It’s not surprising then, that the free-from market has exploded, with new products appearing on the shelves all the time.

This is great news isn’t it?

Well you might say that, especially if you become chronically ill through eating food that is contaminated with even a tiny trace of gluten, but for those who think that the packaged products on the free from aisle represent a healthier option, think again.

Here are 5 reasons why:

1. More sugar – don’t presume that you can avoid eating an ordinary cake or muffin in favour of a gluten free one in the belief that it’s a healthier option. Gluten free muffins, or any sweet treats for that matter, contain way more sugar than their gluten containing counterparts.

Let’s look at a Tesco’s own blueberry muffin. It has 15.5g of sugar per muffin, compared with 25.7g of sugar in a Genius gluten free blueberry muffin. The Genius muffin is smaller as well.

2. More fat – another consequence of removing gluten is that you get more of the other ingredients, not only sugar, but fat too.

A gluten free bagel contains 5.9g fat, compared with an ordinary one that has just 1.2g. Do you buy the sandwich thins for packed lunches? The gluten free version contains 6g fat, whereas the wheat containing one has 1.1g.

3. More expensive – to live the gluten free lifestyle means that you have to spend more money on your shopping. Those of us who have no choice but to buy these products, curse the amount of money they cost us. Take the sandwich thins above, for example. You pay £2.20 for a pack of 4 of the gluten free ones, whereas you get 6 for £1.25, if you buy the ordinary ones. Those blueberries muffin from Tesco, cost £1.20 for 4, where Genius charge £2.00 for 2. Remember I said the Tesco ones are much bigger too.

4. Arsenic – yes you read that right. If you eat a lot of processed gluten free (and dairy free) food, you could be dramatically increasing your exposure to arsenic. This is because it is present in much higher levels in rice than in any other grain. The growing condition of rice, lead to uptake of arsenic from soil at up to ten times greater than other crops. This is partly due to the way that rice absorbs more water when growing.

Arsenic is a natural mineral in the earth’s crust (organic arsenic) and is also present in both soil and water due to pesticide use (inorganic). The inorganic form is a known carcinogen and both forms are present in rice products such as milk, cereal and pasta.

Although it is possible to reduce the amount of arsenic by rinsing the rice prior to boiling and then boiling in a high volume of water, such is the concern about the increased consumption of rice-containing products, the FSA advise not to give them to infants and young children (1-4.5 years).

You find rice flour in most, if not all, gluten free products.

5. Gluten may not be the problem – if you suffer from digestive problems and symptoms such as IBS, cutting out gluten-containing foods may help you feel better. It isn’t necessarily gluten that is making you ill though. Often foods containing gluten also have yeast, an overgrowth of which in the gut (Candida) can lead to illness. Read also, my post about FODMAPS, a group of foods that are known to be a factor in IBS. Many of these foods contain gluten too.

If you are gluten intolerant or coeliac, you have to unfortunately pay the price in terms of being ripped off by these manufacturers trying to make money on the back of a mass trend (though I should add that not all of them take this attitude). I buy very little of them, preferring instead to make my own. I worry that my son will grow up to be unhealthy otherwise, through no fault of his own.

My advice is that if you want to live a healthy lifestyle, then go for it and eat a gluten free, natural diet. Don’t just assume that you can swap one processed food diet for another and that will be enough. It won’t. In fact, you are probably doing more harm than good.


Dairy Intolerance – What You Need To Know

Dairy Intolerance - what you need to know - A Free From Life
Image courtesy of Naypong via

There is often confusion as to what you should avoid if you think you are intolerant to dairy. For some, the inability to digest lactose, a sugar found in milk, is the main cause of dairy intolerance. This causes symptoms such as stomach cramps, diarrhoea and bloating. For others, the main proteins found in cow’s milk, including casein, whey and albumin can cause a reaction.

Dairy Intolerance - what you need to know - A Free From Life
Image courtesy of tiverlucky at

Dairy intolerance should not be confused with cow’s milk allergy. In this case, even a trace amount of milk-containing products can cause an instant immune response and can lead to severe symptoms of wheezing, itching, vomiting or a rash.

When my son was a baby, it was clear that he could not tolerate milk. I won’t go in to details, but if I were to use the words ‘projectile’ and ‘explosion’ you might get the general idea. When it didn’t look as though it was something he was going to grow out of, I took action to find out what the problem might be.

I first took him off cow’s milk and tried goat’s milk instead. The symptoms reduced slightly, but they didn’t clear up, so I tried him on lactose free milk instead. This really helped, but it didn’t fully clear up the problem. That’s when I realised he needed to not only avoid lactose, but cow’s milk protein as well.

My son does not produce the enzyme, lactase, which is needed to digest lactose in the body. For him, even a small amount of lactose seems to cause a problem. Secondary to this, is his intolerance to cow’s milk and also to gluten and wheat.

Not all dairy intolerant individuals suffer to the same extent though. If you cannot tolerate lactose, you can buy a range of lactose free dairy products, which are basically cow’s milk with the lactase enzyme added. These products look, taste and behave in the same way that ordinary cow’s milk products do.

Others find they can tolerate a small amount of lactose and manage on lower lactose products such as those made with goat’s milk. Yoghurt contains live cultures that breakdown lactose to produce lactic acid. This gives the yoghurt it’s sour flavour, however, not all of the lactose is broken down, so whilst some individuals could tolerate a small amount of yoghurt, others would have to completely avoid.

The same goes with cheeses. Fermented, natural and aged cheeses such as Swiss, parmesan and blue cheese, typically contain trace amounts of lactose. Similarly, fresh, unripened cheese, such as ricotta and mozzarella contain low levels of lactose. Look at the amount of sugar or carbohydrate on the nutrition information. If it’s around 5 grams per serving or less, you may find you can tolerate small amounts.

Although many find their symptoms improve when staying off cow’s milk, it’s important to know that all milk produced by mammals contains lactose in varying degrees. Unfortunately goat’s milk also contains similar proteins to cow’s milk, so it is not necessarily an alternative option.

So what do you do if you think you need to avoid dairy?

First of all, consult your GP for advice. If he or she suspects a dairy intolerance, they will advise you of the best course of action. In the meantime, keep a food and symptoms diary as a record to take to your doctor. It will help to identify what foods may be causing you problems.

Remember that everybody is different and some can tolerate a small amount of lactose where others have to avoid completely. For some, even lactose free products, which may contain traces of lactose, are best avoided. You will get to know what you need to avoid to keep your symptoms clear.

If avoiding milk and dairy products completely, look at increasing the level of calcium-containing foods in your diet. This means including green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, spinach and kale, along with seafood and tinned fish, such as tuna, salmon and sardines. Fresh sardines, eaten along with the soft bones, is an excellent source of calcium.

Alternative sources of milk include almond, rice, oat and soya milk. Some varieties contain added calcium, but beware of other added ingredients such as sugars when considering an overall healthy diet. Oat milk is not necessarily made with gluten free oats, so should be avoided if you suffer with gluten sensitivities too.

Other foods that are fortified with calcium include breakfast cereals.

I cannot put hand on heart and say that I have found a non-dairy alternative to cheese that I like. Most are soya-based and have a strong flavour and unique taste all of their own, which I guess is an acquired taste, but not one that I have grown accustomed to. Violife, is slightly better and you can also melt it, although it reminds me of melted cheese slices in the way it sticks to the roof of your mouth. Dairy free foods, unfortunately, still have a long way to go.