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The folly of the gluten intolerant

Why pushing your food intolerance limits is a really foolish idea.

Those of you who have been reading this blog over the last few months will know that I am not coeliac, I am merely gluten intolerant. From time to time, I do eat something which contains gluten, because I know I can get away with it. Periodically, about once a year, I either make a conscious decision to push my limits or I do it inadvertently.

I was in Australia a couple of weeks ago for a work trip and I always find it much more difficult eating in Australia. The better class of restaurant is often great about gluten-free labelling and information. But the neighbourhood and hotel restaurants are often very poor. Also, there seems to be a predilection for beer-battered hot chips, so even that staple is gone.

My first night there, I had hot chips, which the hotel room service assured me were gluten free. Not so, but I was hungry, so I ate them. Tuesday, I had Indian, which is generally fairly safe, but I washed it down with a beer or two. Wednesday, I went to the local steak restaurant and ate gluten-free mushrooms and beef ribs. To be fair to the restaurant, the ribs were not listed as gluten free, but I’ve made ribs any number of times, and I was fairly sure that any gluten would be minimal. I then had some ice cream – who knew whether it had gluten or not, but it probably contained egg yolk. I wasn’t very well that night.

Thursday, I had grilled salmon and vegetables, which should have been fine. But I followed it up with ice cream – not listed as gluten-free and certainly containing egg. Friday for lunch, I had hot chips, which, you guessed it, were beer-battered. So egg yolk, wheat flour and beer. I’d also been drinking a cup of caffeine-containing tea each day because I’d forgotten to take my decaffeinated black tea.

Adding to this perfect storm, I didn’t have any antihistamines with me. I was okay in Sydney (apart from the ribs dinner reaction), but by Saturday afternoon my face was swelling up. By Monday morning I was covered head to toe in a rash, which looked very much like sunburn but was itchy as all get out. My eyes were swollen to little piggy slits and my temperature was all over the place – my skin was burning hot, but I was shivering. I had to do two work presentations to customers in this state – blech!

After a few days of misery I managed to get to the doctor and within two hours of taking the first dose of steroids, I was significantly less swollen and much more comfortable.

So the lesson I learned is that even though I am only gluten intolerant, I am still capable of having a severe reaction to food and being in serious discomfort. Do I have anyone else to blame for my misery? No. Did I need to prepare better? Yes. Did I need to be more careful in my food choices? Yes, absolutely. Just because my skin has been tolerably good for the last couple of years does not mean I can eat gluten like a normal person. And should I have made sure I had antihistamines and steroid cream? Completely!

So my words of wisdom for this week are not to take stupid chances with your food intake. Even if, like me, you are only intolerant to gluten (or any other food for that matter,) you need to be careful about what goes in your mouth. You cannot let tiredness, being away from home or sheer laziness (or desire for beer and hot chips!) rule your food decisions. You must be prepared. Yes, it is a pain. Yes, it is one more thing you don’t really want to think about. Yes, you have to take extra time planning and you have to pack properly when you’re going away – including your antihistamines, gluten-free snacks and decaf tea (if you’re me). But when the choice is planning and preparation and vigilance, or a week like the one I’ve just had? I know which I will be choosing next time.


For those wanting more information on coeliac disease, check out the NZ Coeliac Society website www.coeliac.org.nz.

This blog is the opinion and experiences of its author and should not be taken as medical or dietetic advice. Healthy Food Guide has not verified the content and cannot endorse any advice given. Healthy Food Guide recommends seeking professional health advice for specific complaints or symptoms.

Date modified: February 22 2021
First published: Apr 2013

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