Sunday, 13 April 2014

Free From Finds from NOPE

One of the best things I get to do in the course of my work is go to food and health trade shows, which are normally reserved for industry professionals, but for which press passes are generally available to interested hacks.

The Natural and Organic Products Europe show is one of the best: an annual showcase for established, emerging and overseas food, health, skincare and household products – many of which are looking for distribution in the UK.

I go to look for vegetarian and vegan products (I write for Vegetarian Living magazine), natural skincare and products for eczema (I co-ordinate the FreeFrom Skincare Awards), and, of course, free from food – and to chat to their producers. The first day of the show was today, and here are some of the new gluten-free, dairy free and other ‘free from’ finds.

Punku Quinoa Foods’ Quinoa Cookies were tasty, crumbly and not too sweet – they come in orange & mango, and chocolate chip, available from their site. They contain flour from quinoa, tapioca, rice and canahua – another gluten-free grain from South America, smaller than quinoa, but packing a similar nutritional punch. (Anyone come across it in the UK?). Gluten, dairy and egg free. They have some quinoa chocolate bars launching soon.

Nature & Cie - French GF and organic biscuits, cakes (including madeleines and brioches) and cereals (eg buckwheat and honey pops).

Le Mandorle -French organic almond milks and cream

Biedermann -
Lactose-free premium organic Swiss yoghurts (below) and caffé latte

Re these three, I was told by the exporter on the stand that some of the products from these ranges are available in Wholefoods, Planet Organic, As Nature Intended, and a few other small stores and delis. (Their website is under development)

Daiya dairy-free cheese shreds – cheddar style, mozzarella style and pepperjack style (me neither). These were made from coconut, pea protein, tapioca and arrowroot – in a factory free from animal ingredients, soy, tree nuts and peanuts. They were German – is the site – but I can’t recall what the team said regarding UK distribution.

Kintaro Pop Rice snacks were fun, convenient, if quite sweet – the packs are smaller than the image below might suggest, so would probably fit in a kids’ lunchbox. They either contain nuts or a nut warning, but are gluten free, dairy free and egg free.

Lifefood were a real find – hailing from the Czech Republic, they had a huge selection of raw, vegan, gluten-free products such as flax rolls, ‘buckwheaties’, raw breads (from hemp, flax, buckwheat, almonds, chia … ), dehydrated crackers (flax, mainly, flavoured with tomato, carrot, pesto, pumpkin seeds, onions …), raw nuts, vegetable chips (beetroot, onion and kale), and a lot more.

Some worked – the sauerkraut chia crackers were terrific – others less so, but overall if they could get serious distribution in the UK, they could go far. Meanwhile, you can shop online.

Jollyum is a dairy-free soya-based ‘ice cream’ hailing from Yorkshire and currently seeking wider distribution. They’re also gluten-free and egg-free, but either have nuts or nut warnings. The curious thing about this brand was that it was the first example I’d come across of allergens being underlined on new style labelling, rather than emboldened. I don’t think it worked, but bolding white text on coloured background wouldn’t have worked either. You can just see it in image below.

Gaia is a French company importing a gluten-free grain called fonio from Burkina Faso to France. I was told it was unrelated to other GF grains we might be familiar with, but I wondered whether it was some variety of amaranth or millet (don’t quote me). Anyway, it’s available in ‘wholegrain’ (which should be used when you want a grain replacement), ‘semi wholegrain’ (which gives a more ‘porridgey’ consistency when cooked) and as a flour (the latter two pictured here), which can be used as any other GF flour. No distribution in the UK yet – but wonder whether anyone’s come across fonio in African stores in London or elsewhere?

And finally, while the next one may well be a remarkable product - and I'm sure many non free-from'ers will find it so - from an allergy perspective, it may cause readers a few shivers …. PPB – Powdered Peanut Butter – is essentially a peanut flour from a brand called Hale Naturals, high in fibre and protein, but low in fat, which you can use in smoothies, bakery, Asian sauces … A nightmare from a cross-contamination perspective, I imagine, it is perhaps only redeemed in many of my readers' eyes by a gluten free certification.

Every cloud …

* Fat Gay Vegan found quite a few other interesting #freefrom products, including This is Why sorbets and desserts (free of the 14 main allergens) and Rice Mice - nut-free cookies.
* Free From Foods Matter's Cressida's round-up includes other new launches from free-from brands.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Every Label Hinders …

… if it’s got ‘may contain nuts’ on it. And, sadly, it seems that many Tesco products do.

If you’ve not yet heard of the brouhaha that kicked off last week on Tesco’s Facebook page following their confused and mixed messages concerning their ‘may contain’ labelling policies, then the following links will I hope prove useful (not least because they excuse me from writing about a subject their writers understand far better than me).

Do check them out – even if your sensitivity is to a food other than tree nuts or peanuts, as wider awareness is vital and allergy labelling impacts many people living a free-from lifestyle, for whatever reason or due to whichever allergen or food component.

I will add to them as the story develops and as I come across them.

* Louise of’s Tesco ‘May Contain Nuts’ Labelling Fiasco post is a useful primer.
* Bev of I Bake Without asks ‘Why must we fight for good allergy labelling?’ – featuring pictorial examples of ‘may contain nuts’ warnings on plain yoghurt, ham and baked beans, amongst others.
* Here’s nut-allergic journalist Jane Merrick in the Independent.
* Here are Allergy Adventures' thoughts, with a terrific cropped image.
* A new dedicated Twitter account, May Contain Nuts – which certainly contains traces of genius.
* The Grocer has covered the story here (10th April 2014).
* Bitter Wallet - with poor choice of head and a Sainsbury's label to illustrate - have covered it in their own unique style right here (10th April 2014).
* Foods Matter's Michelle Berriedale-Johnson has blogged here (12th April 2014)
* A petition has been started (15th April 2014) - sign it here.

You may also be interested in Tesco’s poorly composed Allergy Advice page, which holds that reactions to allergens are ‘usually unpleasant’ and that ‘If there are traces of an allergen in the product this will be given as a “may contain statement”.’

Let’s not forget this from last year: Sugarpuffish’s picture of peanutM&M’s in Tesco’s freefrom section remains hard to beat.

And might there be some irony in the fact you can buy a book called May Contain Nuts from Tesco too?

Thursday, 27 March 2014

M&S Launches – and Twitter

Very quick post – and not my usual sort, but hopefully appreciated by dairy and gluten sensitives … and perhaps those who react to other allergens.

Have just attended an M&S press event in London. The following products are launching in April:

* GF Scotch Eggs
* GF Quiche Lorraine / C&O (my scribbled note – which I take to be cheese and onion)
* 2, possibly 3, dairy free milks – coconut and rice being the definite two. (They looked like chiller-cabinet rather than ambient, but I forgot to ask, so perhaps - in fact, probably - not.)

All looked very good, but could not sample them.

In June:

* 2 gluten-free beers.

I don’t know much about them – but Belgian.

I also saw some upcoming launches of baby / infant foods. Although not specifically being marketed ‘free from’, I was told they had consulted with one of the major children’s hospitals and taken advice on making them ‘good for allergies’ (words of the M&S assistant). I examined a few: some had major allergens, but others didn’t, and one was pureed (I think) carrot, beans, and quinoa flakes, and looked to me on very quick glance to be free of all 14 allergens. Not sure when these are launching, but will try to find out more.

On a separate note, I fell into conversation about social media with the lady looking after the beers, and mentioned to her that it might be a good idea for M&S (and other major supermarkets / retailers) to have dedicated social media eg Twitter accounts for ‘free from’. She liked the idea. I don’t follow the major supermarkets on social media, but for those who do, do they often tweet on ‘free from’ or not? And would dedicated accounts help?

Feel free to ask Qs on the above, and I will try to answer them or find out more. I'll speak to my colleagues on FreeFrom Foods Matter and hope we can review them there soon.

* UPDATE: the third dairy-free milk is an Oat Drink. All three (rice and coconut) will retail at £1.39 for 1 litre.

NB. All products launch 22nd April 2014.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Spelt, wheat, gluten, etc.

I’ve written about spelt before, but that one was well over a thousand words, and we need a quickie.

It’s not gluten-free, but I’m sure you know that now, although this blog has only come about following some Twitter chat concerning this review on Emerald Street of a café serving what have been mistakenly described as gluten-free spelt croissants.

Is spelt wheat-free?
I see this question asked a lot, but it doesn’t really make sense, so I’d like to try to clear it up simply and briefly. Perhaps an analogy is the best way to demonstrate.

There are lots of types of wheat. Here are three key types:

* Triticum aestivum. Common wheat or bread wheat – what is typically just called ‘wheat’, and is the wheat used in most bakery.
* Triticum durum. Pasta wheat – whose flour is used in pastas.
* Triticum spelta. Spelt wheat – what is typically just called ‘spelt’.

Asking whether spelt is wheat-free is like asking whether Golden Delicious is apple-free. Golden Delicious IS an apple. And
spelt IS a wheat.  

(Unless of course you mean ‘Is spelt common-wheat-free?’ – in which case it’s like asking whether Golden Delicious is Granny Smith-free.)

It’s really that simple.

I think there’s ongoing confusion about the subject for several reasons:

1. Some people still make the ‘spelt is gluten-free’ error, and misinformation spreads easily.

2. Some spelt producers and food manufacturers who use spelt have tended to avoid mentioning that it’s a type of wheat in their marketing material (I suspect, because wheat remains a dietary baddie in many people’s eyes, and, not unreasonably, it’s in their interests to highlight the grain’s distinctiveness).

3. Some therapists and nutritionists have in the past recommended spelt wheat over common wheat to those with digestive complaints, IBS etc, on the supposed basis that it is lower in gluten. It isn’t, necessarily: in fact, it can contain more. However, some spelt wheat products are lower in FODMAPs than common wheat products, which may be the reason many with digestive sensitivities seem able to tolerate spelt better. It seems this applies to spelt bakery, not spelt pasta, and I covered it briefly in my report on Gut Health and Allergies from last year’s NHLive.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Poor Liddle Thing

I don’t know how many friends Rod Liddle could count among the food sensitive community before he unveiled his latest opinion to Spectator readers, but I suspect that figure has declined considerably, if the response that appeared in my Twitter timeline is anything to go by.

He rounds up many – those with dyslexia, ADHD, ME, their parents – but it is his swipe at the free from community I’ll focus on. A response to his scepticism of the existence of food sensitivities is already taken care of – and I’m glad that blogger Becca Biscuit did so, and so well, as she eloquently explains the procedures, forward planning, struggles, pain and much more that those with allergies and intolerances can go through, in a way that someone who can eat anything (eg me) never possibly could.

Liddle’s claimed scepticism of food sensitivities stems from his observation that coeliac and suchlike weren’t around when he was a kid. I’m glad of this schoolboy error, because it demonstrates his breathtaking ignorance so perfectly. That rates of allergies and coeliac have increased, that testing protocols have improved, that we have such improved awareness of these conditions that people are more likely to be seek help … these are some of the reasons food rarely harmed when Liddle was just out of nappies but does now, and a bright twelve-year-old child with an interest in science could have guessed it to be so.

‘All in the Head’ is OK
I’m not especially interested in those who put food sensitivities down to neuroticism, hyperchondria, psychological quirks: it being ‘all in the head’. But I am fascinated that so many who do hold this opinion then use it against the sufferers, as a stick to beat them with.

I’ve said so before, mean to blog on it properly some day, but will say so again in the meantime: whether your food sensitivity is wholly physiological or wholly psychological or somewhere in between, it is still just as valid a problem. Physiological does not ‘trump’ psychological in any moral sense. A perceived problem with food is still a problem with food – even if it’s just a loss of confidence in food – and that deserves the same respect and treatment as any other problem with food.

I think people’s understanding of mental health and psychological issues is improving – and most wouldn’t dream of slamming someone with clinical depression, or taunting them with “It’s all in your head!” – but we’re still behind when it comes to food aversion and other psychologically mediated adverse responses to food.

For this attitude to change it requires everyone in the food sensitivity community to come ‘on board’. Presently – it’s not.

I think this partly because, when I have tentatively suggested to some self-diagnosed symptomatic food sensitives in the past that there could be a psychological dimension to what they’re experiencing, they’ve often become defensive, in a way that nobody has when I’ve put it to them that they may have, say, oral allergy syndrome or coeliac disease.

Why? I presume because physiological is somehow perceived as more valid, less shameful and ‘better’ than psychological. With physiological food sensitivity, your body has ‘failed’ you; with psychological food sensitivity – where you are somatising symptoms – in a sense, it is you who have ‘failed’ it. We don’t want that to be true, or for it to be our ‘fault’.

My point: it’s okay if you’re ‘imagining’ it. You’re no less important; you’re equally deserving of investigation, treatment, help with management – and indeed respect. But you have to – everyone has to – believe that too. Rejecting the possibility or getting upset merely belies how much you want it to be physical, how much you don’t want to have a foot or even a toe in the ‘psychological’ camp.

Self-diagnosis (whether accurate or not) and psychological responses to food are wholly understandable and perhaps inevitable in a world of increased awareness of food sensitivity, obsession with diet and weight loss, and nutritional information (and misinformation) overload. In a sense it’s the price we pay for where we are in terms of treatment, diagnosis, potential future cures and so on.

But distancing yourself from this emotional element of food sensitivity gives power to Liddle and the Mail and the other finger-pointers who target the free from community when the whim takes them.

Because, like bullies, they often pick out the weakest. And those who don’t have a clear answer to their health problems are the ‘weakest’, here. Without an orthodox biopsy-proven diagnosis of coeliac, without an Epipen as evidence of their life-threatening allergy, but still unwell, and still struggling to understand why they’re unwell, they’re told that they’re fantasising and made to feel deluded, and by the rest of us, often subtly, that we are not them, cannot possibly be them, and that we don’t want to be like them – thus keeping them in their position of weakness.

It’s time to stop this. Stopping it would help disarm the attackers. It will help render articles such as Liddle’s senseless and pointless – and, hopefully, prevent them being written or published in the first place.