FreeFrom Foods 2011 – an overview.
Michelle Berriedale-Johnson

 

There are no firm figures in the world of food allergy and intolerance, but Allergy UK’s latest estimate is that well over 50% of the population is food sensitive – which could mean anything from getting a snuffly nose when they drink milk to a life-threatening peanut allergy. But in all these conditions, specific foods can have an impact on the health of those eating them.

Classical allergy

Although classic food allergy is a well established medical condition, it only affects a small number of the population. What is now being realised is that an extraordinarily diverse range of health conditions can also be food related.

Food sensitivity

For example, it is now acknowledged that eliminating groups of foods (such as dairy products) can significantly improve the health of those suffering from IBS, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Similarly the connection between eczema and dairy products; between additives (particularly colourings) and behavioural problems among children; between wheat and depression and even between gluten and dairy consumption and some cases of autism, have all become very much more widely accepted over the last ten years.

Food avoiders

Even if you do not have any specific health problems, health experts now suggest that diets high in dairy products and gluten may not be optimal if you want to maximise your health potential so, quite apart form all those ill people for whom cutting out certain foods will help them feel better, there are all those ‘well’ people who think they will feel even better if they also cut certain foods out of their diet!

So, if we accept Allergy UK’s figure of over 50% needing to restrict their diet in some way or other, and then add on a mere 10% of the population (we are talking about the UK population here) who choose to restrict their diet – we are now talking about around 65% of the population. With that number of people eating at least some foods that are ‘freefrom’ there is every reason why everyone who is involved in UK food production should learn about ‘freefrom’ food and how to produce free from dishes in double quick time!

While there is no food that cannot cause a problem to someone somewhere, the two food groups which are usually implicated both in adverse reactions and in improving health profiles are dairy products and gluten/wheat - arguably as a result of an excessive use of both in by the food industry over the last 50 years.

Retail food industry

The retail food industry has been quick to catch on to this trend and now offers a good selection both of specifically ‘freefrom dairy’ or ‘freefrom gluten’ foods and of ‘normal’ foods which no longer contain any dairy or gluten – but food service has not been so ‘on the ball’. The main complaint of those who suffer from a food sensitivity is that eating out is difficult and dangerous in that few restaurants really understand ‘freefrom’ or have got their heads around offering interesting and ‘safe’ freefrom foods.

Food serv ice industry

Admittedly, the catering industry has extra problems in that over 90% of those working in food service are foreign so may have a poor grasp of the language, let alone the complexities of free from food. In the nature of things it will be more difficult to separate potentially allergic food from non-allergic food in a busy kitchen than on a production line in a factory – while offering a full ingredients list for each dish on a menu is simply not as practical as printing it on the outside of a pack. However, none of these are insuperable problems and they are ones that the food service industry does need to get its head around as soon as possible.

For the rewards can be large. Just as, if there is a vegetarian in a group of diners, the group is ore likely to go to a restaurant which will cater well for the vegetarian, so if one member of a group is excluding dairy or wheat from their diet, the whole group is likely to favour a restaurant which can cope well with their food allergic member. So not one new and happy customer – but four or I five! Not worth a little effort?....

 

Michelle and her team at Foodsmatter organise the annual FreeFrom Food Awards, now in their very successful fourth year.

 

First published February 2011


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