Browse Tag by Health

Health Writing Round-Up

Healthy writing round up - A Free From Life

I’ve been writing away frantically for the last few weeks, which means I haven’t had as much time to dedicate to my blogs. What I thought I’d do though, is provide a health writing round up right here on A Free From Life, so you can find out what I’ve been up to.

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

Having a gluten intolerant child, I’m more concerned perhaps than most when it comes to worries about arsenic in rice. Most gluten free products contain rice flour and that’s why I mostly make my own things and monitor what my son eats. He loves rice milk, but I don’t give him it any more, choosing coconut milk by Koko instead (look out for added rice milk in some other dairy free alternatives). I make my own bread, but my son’s biggest love of all is pasta. He would eat it all day and everyday if I let him and prefers it to sandwiches for his lunch. I try to look for corn based pasta if I can, as he has to give up so much already and I feel sorry for him.

In the news last week though was the story that Swedish officials have warned parents against giving children rice cakes as a snack. That simple little product that we all thought of as a healthy alternative to a biscuit has raised concerns about the level of arsenic consumption in children. No doubt we will be hearing more about this as studies continue.

Debunking the FODMAP diet - A Free From Life

I looked in to the world of apps and how they can help people with food allergies and intolerances and found a number of useful ones. For me, being out for the day and not knowing where to go to eat is one of the biggest worries and having an app that can link your location with nearby establishments would be a really useful tool. Whether you need help with your shopping and cooking, managing your symptoms or you’re embarking on a FODMAP diet and need some guidance, you can download a corresponding app and have vital information at your fingertips wherever you are.

Health writing round up - A Free From Life

Whether you choose to eat gluten free (for health or medical reasons) or want to switch to being completely grain free (Paleo), you may choose to increase your protein content. Protein takes longer to digest and so can keep you fuller for longer. When you cut down or give up those carby grains, you may find you need to up your protein for that very reason. I investigated some high protein food swaps that would make healthy alternatives or additions to your diet.

Health writing round up - A Free From Life

From zero calorie noodles, to savoury ice cream and spreadable beer, quirky food is everywhere. I looked up several examples of seemingly ordinary food that’s made with unusual ingredients. These twists on the originals make for some fun and interesting products. I’m not sure I would eat all of them though!

FODMAPS and IBS - A Free From Life

I shared a personal experience of what it’s like to live with IBS. Having learned to control the symptoms over the last twenty years, it came as a shock when I had a particularly bad attack. Looking back at the events leading up to that day, though, it really shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Stress, not eating properly and indeed not eating at all, are all factors and I of all people should know that. It’s a lesson learned and a reminder not to forget about my own health when I am busy looking after the rest of my family.

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

After a particularly stressful long haul flight that involved my son having no meals because his order was messed up, I resolved to never trust airline food again. When investigating what airlines claim to offer by way of special dietary meals, what surprises me most is the lack of flexibility. As my son can’t eat dairy OR gluten, not one seems to provide an option that caters for both. So which do I go for? A vegan meal might be an option, but will a child be likely to eat it? There are so many things to consider when ordering a special meal on a flight and I’ve heard many instances of people having terrible experiences. I can only hope that the situation improves as more people highlight these issues.

Health writing round up - A Free From Life

Last, but not least, I couldn’t finish without including a little something for the weekend. Although not health related in the slightest, these cocktails I created are a fusion of three classics: Pimms and lemonade, G & T and Mojito. Inspired by the idea that we are a divided nation when it comes to choosing our favourite, I thought why not mix them up? And why not indeed. I hope you feel inspired by this little burst of sunshine we’ve been blessed with to try one of these. I’m particularly proud of my photography work in this article, as it’s my first time using a professional camera. What a difference it makes too.


FODMAPS and IBS – Is it possible to control the symptoms?

FODMAPS and IBS - A Free From Life

I recently wrote about a bad experience I had with my IBS and my struggle to control the symptoms, even after twenty years of suffering with it.

The term irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, came about as the result of a group of doctors and researchers sitting in a room together and deciding what to call this collective set of symptoms that linked to the digestive system. They understood that it was a genuine medical concern, but because no one could identify one particular cause (still can’t), they had to group them together.

FODMAPS and IBS - A Free From Life

The term, IBS, for me, became synonymous for ‘hypochondriac with stomach ache’ and because of that stigma, I never went to see my doctor about it. Believing that they couldn’t do anything about it anyway, I doubt that I ever will go. I’ve reached the conclusion that it’s down to me to work out what causes my symptoms and try to manage it that way. That’s easier said than done, though. My recent attack (the one I wrote about), came as a complete surprise because I hadn’t suffered that badly in ages. I thought I had it under control, but apparently not.

Looking back, I can see that stress played a big part in that day and also not eating properly. For me, those two things are really important and as we know digestion is directly affected by stress, it’s no surprise that IBS sufferers can find their symptoms worsening when their stress levels increase. I have also identified, in recent years, some foods that I am intolerant to (the nightshade group) and cutting these out of my diet has really helped.

I wonder whether I will ever truly know the causes, though. Is it gluten? Is it dairy? and what about FODMAPS? Haven’t heard of these yet?  High FODMAP foods are thought to be directly linked to IBS or digestive symptoms and I first heard about them when my husband had surgery on his stomach. His consultant recommended he follow a low FODMAP diet and it’s interesting that we have identified a number of foods that irritate his stomach belonging to this food group.

It’s not an easy diet to follow, though and it can be very confusing to know what foods to eat and what to avoid. This is why I am pleased to have the opportunity to road test a new app called FODMAP Friendly, specifically aimed at those who would like to follow a low FODMAP diet.

I think apps for people with food intolerances and allergies have real value. Not only do they provide vital information, you can find that information quickly and easily and wherever you are in the world. Click here to read more about some of the apps that are available to try. They include information for gluten free shopping and dining, ways to manage and record your symptoms and even an app for translating your allergy to help you communicate your symptoms when abroad.

The app I will be testing is brand new and I’m looking forward to reporting how I get on. You can learn more about FODMAPs here.

How do you manage your IBS Symptoms?


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.


What Food Do You Miss Most When You’re Away From Home?

Simple green salad -

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We have just returned from a week staying all-inclusive at a hotel in Cyprus. I know this sounds like the ideal holiday for anyone and it was great (more about that in another post), but there is, of course, the issue of what to eat if you suffer from intolerance and IBS as I do.

Fortunately, the buffet food on offer every night was varied and tasty, with plenty of choices to satisfy most palates. I will be writing plenty more about this trip, particularly from the point of view of my gluten and dairy intolerant son, but for this post I am concentrating more about how changing your diet affects you.

I tried to stick to white meat or fish, always with vegetables like brocoli, carrots and green beans, sometimes pasta with a creamy sauce and sometimes stir fry noodles. I’m aware of what I can’t eat, so I stayed well clear, which meant no potatoes or chips, nothing with a tomato-based sauce and no mixed salads or anything containing peppers or aubergines.

Everything I ate was tasty and I was never left wanting, but my diet for the week was so different to what it is at home, that I have returned from my week away feeling sick, as though I have over indulged.

I didn’t eat any sweet desserts, but I did have cheese and biscuits and that along with a couple of creamy pasta and vegetarian dishes makes me think that I over did it on the dairy front. When I am at home, I eat pretty much the same thing for breakfast and lunch every day. It’s only my evening meal that’s varied. I have a slice of my homemade gluten free bread with almond butter first thing and a green salad of spinach, cucumber and avocado with cooked Turkey and a pitta bread at lunch.

This might sounds dull to some but it works for me. There is no way I could eat a full English for breakfast each day, as was possible on holiday. I did eat a boiled egg with some rye toast or some halloumi cheese with omelette and grilled courgettes and carrots on most days though, followed by a plateful of meat, salad or veg and pasta for lunch and then another meal later in the evening.

My digestive system needs a holiday and I was looking forward to coming home to simple food again. What have I missed the most when I’ve been away? Well it’s the two things I mentioned above – a fresh spinach salad and a chunky slice of toast.

Post holiday detox -

I started my day (today) with a cup of hot lemon water and an avocado, as I couldn’t face anything else. Then I made a loaf of bread, ready for later. My simple salad lunch was a welcome relief from all the rich food I’ve had this week. Made up of fresh spinach, cucumber and cooked turkey, sprinkled with pumpkin and sunflower seeds and drizzled with avocado oil, it was just enough for my poorly tummy.

Simple green salad -

As we had a late flight back last night and I felt too sick to eat on the plane, I missed dinner. That’s not a bad thing, considering I didn’t need to give my digestive system any more work to do. Today has been about plain and simple food to get me back on track again.

Seen as though I didn’t have any ready this morning, I had my slice of toast as an afternoon snack. Oh how I missed this!

Gluten free bread -

See my gluten free bread recipe here.



What are FODMAPS -

FODMAPS is a collective term given to a group of carbohydrates. It stands for (wait for it) Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides And Polyols.

Australian researchers at Monash University in Melbourne developed the FODMAP diet following studies conducted amongst self-diagnosed gluten sensitive individuals. The research indicated that in patients whose diets were low in FODMAPS, gluten did not produce a specific negative effect. Since many FODMAP-containing foods also contain gluten, they concluded that it’s possible to control symptoms by reducing these carbohydrates in the diet.

So what are they I hear you cry?
This group of carbohydrates are poorly absorbed in the small intestine and when eaten they alter the fluid content of the colon. Bacteria in the colon ferment undigested material, producing gases such as hydrogen and methane and this can result in symptoms such as bloating, constipation etc.

Oligosaccharides (such as fructans and galactans)
These are found in wheat, beans, pulses and vegetables such as onions. They also come in the form of inulin and fructooligosaccharides (both food additives).

These include lactose found in cow’s milk and goat’s milk, cheese and yoghurt.

Fructose is a monosaccharide – found in fruit and honey and added to many processed foods (high fructose corn syrup, for example).

These are sugar alcohols found in diet and sugar-free foods in the form of sorbitol and xylitol. They occur naturally in peaches, plums mushrooms and cauliflower.

I first came to hear about FODMAPS via the consultant who treated my husband. He has a hiatus hernia and suffers from gastrointestinal reflux. An alkaline diet partially controls his symptoms, along with prescribed medication, but he has also found that reducing FODMAP foods from his diet helps enormously.

As an IBS sufferer, I am very interested in FODMAPS. I put up with my symptoms for a long time because there never seemed to be anything specific that triggered them. It’s so difficult to pinpoint the problem foods and I didn’t consider it a problem that required medical attention. I didn’t think a doctor would be interested to be honest and back then, they probably wouldn’t have been.

Since then, I’ve found that avoiding nightshade foods, namely tomatoes, peppers, potatoes and aubergines leaves me symptom free. There are some foods on the FODMAP list of no-no’s that I can’t eat but there are others that I’m fine with, for example onions and mushrooms. Unfortunately, these don’t agree with my husband at all and neither does cauliflower, which I love as an alternative to mashed potato. You can’t win when you are trying to cater for different food avoidance issues!

My thoughts on FODMAPS?
I have a poster stuck on my fridge door and I use it as a guide. As far as my husband is concerned, following a low FODMAP diet significantly reduces his symptoms. The key is to consider it as a reduction of these foods not a complete elimination. After all, with so many foods on the list you could end up with a very limited choice for your diet. This is never a good thing. It’s possible that not every food on the list will aggravate your symptoms, so it’s best to try omitting a few at a time and see how you get on. In my husband’s case, if he fancies eating a cooked breakfast and it comes with grilled mushrooms, he will eat them. As long as he sticks to a restricted diet most of the time, the occasional break doesn’t do any damage. It depends whether you are prepared to suffer the consequences of falling off the wagon, so to speak.

Have you come across FODMAPS and if so, does it work for you?


Nightshades and Food Intolerance

Nightshade intolerance -

Potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and aubergines.
Not just a random list of food, they are all part of the same group, the nightshades, along with the spices, cayenne and paprika.

First thoughts when it comes to nightshades may well be the age old poison, ‘deadly nightshade’ but whilst this food group is not deadly, it might surprise you to know that in some individuals it can cause problems.

Nightshade foods contain alkaloids, particularly steroid alkaloids. For individuals who are sensitive to these compounds, common symptoms can manifest themselves as joint or muscle pain/stiffness, skin rashes or digestive discomfort.

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