Back in 2005, at the start of Healthy Food Guide, gluten was just appearing on our health radar. An emerging trend, gluten-free recipes appeared in our first few issues. They have remained a fixture in the magazine ever since.

But back then, being gluten-free was fairly unusual, and coeliac disease was something most people hadn't heard of. Getting diagnosed was difficult and the gluten-free products on offer in the supermarket were rare, expensive and mostly pretty depressing to eat.

How things have changed.

These days, it's pretty unusual to find a café or restaurant that doesn't make at least a token effort at offering gluten-free options. The supermarket shelves offer multiple gluten-free choices in most categories, and mostly they taste pretty decent.


The issue of diagnosis remains a bit more complicated. The explosion of gluten-free eating can only in part be attributed to an increasing diagnosis of coeliac disease. A large part of it is due to people being diagnosed by alternative health practitioners as having gluten intolerance, or people deciding for themselves to voluntarily go gluten free.

There's a good chance some of those people don't really need to be gluten free at all.

Screening for coeliac disease can now be done with a simple blood test (this only works if you're regularly eating foods containing gluten; if you've already cut it out you could get a false negative result).

Despite this, Coeliac New Zealand estimates 65,000 New Zealanders have coeliac disease and 80 per cent are unaware they have it. They're encouraging Kiwis to seek accurate diagnosis, and trying to spread the message during Coeliac Awareness Week (this week) that there's an important difference between being gluten free as a dietary choice, and being gluten free because you have to be, for life, when you have coeliac disease.

The theme of the week is "Together we are gluten-free for life".

Coeliac New Zealand general manager Dana Alexander explains: "It is crucial that consumers - particularly those yet to be diagnosed - as well as the hospitality, food manufacturing industry and health professionals, understand the difference between gluten-free for life, and gluten-free by choice.

"People who need to be 'coeliac safe' can often be seen as difficult to cook for, cater for or eat out with. But that's really not the case. For some it can prevent them from seeking diagnosis, which means they won't get to the bottom of what's making them feel consistently unwell and could risk them developing a potentially lifelong chronic illness."

Symptoms of undiagnosed coeliac disease are wide-ranging and differ from person to person; for some it might be chronic fatigue while for others it could be infertility. And some people have very few symptoms.

Coeliac New Zealand offers an online assessment test if you're concerned you or a child might have coeliac disease. And for those catering for gluten-free eaters, including restaurants, they have great training resources and courses. Gluten-free doesn't have to mean hassle. And for some, it can be truly liberating.

Niki Bezzant is editor-at-large for Healthy Food Guide