Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Why fruit is NOT a dessert - Pollen Food Syndrome - formerly known as Oral Allergy Syndrome

Fruit is not a dessert!! a hashtag campaign beloved of the Coeliac on Twitter - they're campaigning for better gluten free dessert choices when out at a restaurant or dinner. 

They're quite right, fruit is definitely not a dessert! Not for me anyway!

For me, there's nothing worse than being handed a plate of fresh fruit or fruit salad as a dessert. And I'm really NOT joking!

You may see a lovely healthy dessert... all I can see is an OAS reaction waiting to happen!

I'm not being obtuse or faddy - I just have trouble with quite a lot of raw fruit and veg. You may think that's rather strange and I would too, if I hadn't experienced it for myself. For years I was rather puzzled, about it, but I certainly didn't trouble the doctors - I worried they would write me off as being daft, so I just avoided the things that gave me grief and got on with it! Then, one day, via the power of the Internet, I discovered an article that described exactly what I'd been experiencing, and I have to say, it was a bit of light bulb moment! 

Suddenly, I discovered I wasn't as odd as even I thought I was! It was a medical condition, others had experienced the same, and it was called Oral Allergy Syndrome, although now it seems to be called Pollen Food Syndrome

Having discovered that it is indeed a real 'thing', I have since tried discussed it with a GP on more than one occasion, but it still seems a bit 'out there' - I've had a few strange looks from doctors, so I've kind of given up mentioning it to them!

It all started when I was about 13, or 14. I've since found out that it quite typically begins during teenage years, and it usually follows that the affected individual is a hay fever sufferer - yep! That's me alright! Apparently, sufferers also often are allergic to Silver Birch Pollen, which I am not. Grass, daisies, lilies - they're more my problem, although there are a few trees that affect me as well.

The Silver Birch is a real problem for many.

I first noticed I had a problem when I started getting itchy and sore lips, tongue (the underside usually), mouth and even throat when I ate certain fruits and vegetables. I soon came to realise that I was affected by more and more different kinds of fruit. It also sometimes affected me when I ate nuts, including some of my favourites, like hazelnut.

It's eased off a bit, I think - either that or I've got better at managing it - as some things don't seem to affect me so badly anymore. That said, I've not dared touch kiwi fruit for many a year... or green pepper - after one reaction that left me struggling to breathe - in those days I was a student, living in a house without a phone and home alone! I can't tell you how scary that was! 

Fortunately for me, drinking water, trying to stay calm and sitting still for a bit gradually saw my symptoms ease off. If that happened these days, I'd call an ambulance straight away! In rare cases, it can cause Anaphylactic shock. 

So do I avoid fruit and veg. altogether? No way!! Instead, over time, I've developed some coping strategies. There are some things that I noticed definitely seem to help me:

  • certain varieties of a fruit seem to affect me less than others
  • over/under ripeness (particularly bananas) also plays a part
  • properly cooked fruit/vegetable cause no problems whatsoever

I've heard chopping, canning and freezing can also help, but in my experience chopping up fruit or veg. doesn't seem to help me much at all - I can still react to raw carrot sticks and even (I noticed this recently) potato, if it's not been cooked properly! And as for canning, well tinned or foil wrapped food brings my face out in an itchy rash, so I don't go there!

You can apparently take anti-histamine to help ease the symptoms, when they occur, but I've got so used to managing it that I don't bother.

Something else - there are apparently different 'families' of fruit/veg. related to various types of pollen, but I seem to blur the boundaries on these (see here, for an informative table)! All I know is that I react more strongly to some than others. So I avoid what seems to affect me the worst, and try those that tend to cause a milder reaction, and then if a reaction develops, and isn't too bad, I drink a lot of water (or, strangely enough, tea) afterwards, to minimise the effects and sooth the itching! 

It's worth knowing that exercise, hormones (i.e. menstrual cycle) and alcohol can raise histamine levels and cause a stronger reaction, so it could be worth watching out for these too! 

If this is something that you or some you happen to know also suffers with, despite my own lack of success in this area, I would mention it to your family doctor. You may also find the Allergy UK - Fact Sheet an interesting read, or this one, by the Anaphylaxis Campaign

Please note the additional advice of the Anaphylaxis Campaign - that some allergic reactions to fruit/vegetable are not due to PFS (Pollen Food Syndrome) /OAS (Oral Allergy Syndrome) but could indicate a more serious form of allergy. If you experience rashes or wheezing, it would be worth your while asking your GP for a referral to have it investigated more fully.

As Pollen Food Syndrome/Oral Allergy Syndrome is something that is still not that well known, among ordinary folks, I'm blogging about it for awareness sake. Something I've found is that each time I mention it, someone else comes to the realisation that they too are not that weird after all! So please feel free to share!

Related posts:

Monday, 1 June 2015

Our Big Dairy Free Day Out at Legoland

Okay, this may well come as a shock to some of you, but I have to say, until recently, the idea of going to Legoland had never really appealed to me...

*Cue GASPS of horror!*

I KNOW! It's practically a rite of passage for any child in the UK!

...until, that is, the day it dawned on me that 'Baby' was probably the only child in her class who'd never been to Legoland. 

It all came to my attention, after she heard about the chips shaped like Lego bricks, from her classmates. Then the begging and pleading began! At this point it occurred to me that actually, we're not very good at putting time aside for things like this, SO, for 'Baby's' sake, I decided to investigate the possibility - cue me throwing out a few questions on Face Book and Twitter. Certain fab people came to my rescue - providing me with enough information to give it a go, and guess what? I'm so glad we did - it was a fabulous family day out and we'd definitely like to return, as there's still plenty to left to do!! Along the way, we learned a few things that might just come in handy, if you too (dairy free, like us, or not) would like to visit Legoland. 

Portal to the land of  LEGO!

So here goes:

1) Cheaper tickets
Okay, okay, so Legoland is not the cheapest option for a day out, but The Hub remembered you could get tickets through the Tesco Club Card scheme - £13 in Club Card vouchers per person - which saved a whole heap of money that we could have spent on tickets!! Marvellous!! 

2) Parking
The car parks are huge - if it's busy you could end up in the overflow car park (like us). You have to pay £5 for parking anyway and £3 more will get you into the priority parking area, near the entrance. On balance, The Hub decided it would have been worth it, as it would have saved queuing to get in and a certain person's little legs at the end of the day. It was too late, by the time he realised this!

It's also worth knowing that you can pay for your parking before the end of the day at Guest Services, near the entrance. We did this, to avoid queuing for the ticket machines at the end of the day! 

3) Lockers
There's nothing worse on a a day-out than having to lug stuff about or go back to the car to fetch things. You could take a trolley of some kind, but bear in mind that one of your party will then have to guard it, whilst the others are on rides. Alternatively, Legoland have a number of lockers near the entrance, which could save you the trouble. They cost £1 a locker, which sounds reasonable enough, but it is non-returnable - so only open your locker if you have to - if you want to shut it again, you'll need another £1.

4) Queue jumping
Not very British, I know, but unless it's a week day in term time, Legoland gets very busy. There's the potential to spend a whole lot of time queuing, and not a lot of time doing very much. To make the most of your day (especially if you've travelled a long way to be there), you could spend the money you saved (by using Club Card vouchers) to take advantage of the 'Q-Bot reservation device'. 

It's basically a mobile app that allows you to join a virtual queue for a ride (only one ride at a time) - so you can do other things whilst you wait. When you choose a ride, it tells you what time to turn up and you get priority boarding. This doesn't mean you instantly get on a ride the moment you arrive (it's just a shorter queue), but on some rides, it looked a bit hit and miss as to whether we actually managed to beat the queues or not! There didn't seem to be a system in place regarding quotas, so it looked as though it was up to the discretion of the staff on the gate. In order to save more time, The Hub found that it was best to book your next ride, as soon as you had got on one.

Queue jumping?? There's an app for that!

5) Finding your way around
For the old-fashioned among us, there's plenty of maps and signs installed around the grounds, but there's also an app you can use to help you make the most of your time - it can give you updates on queue times on the rides and show times. It's completely free to download, but as we were using Q-bot, we didn't use this app quite so much. 

If your mobile starts to lose power due to overuse, I did spot a mobile charging unit, in the gift shop, in the Knight's castle, but at £10 a throw, it seemed a bit pricey to me!

6) Getting around
There's a little train that can take you down the hill to the bottom of the park, and back up again. However, if you have a little one and want to leave your push chair at home, you can hire one on site, from a shop near the entrance of the park - there are single and double buggies available. They are also quite handy for transporting all your gear! 

Legoland pushcahirs. These are very popular on site!

7) You actually NEED waterproofs
..or one of the Legoland ponchos! Floor length if possible, or at least covering your bum! Yes, you really do!! These cost £3.50 and come in two sizes - Adult and Child. Some of the rides involve a LOT of water - this is something I learned to my cost, when I got a very wet bum! Why did no one warn me of this?? On a hot day, this is probably not such a problem, but on a cold day - BRRR!! There are a few people driers in strategic places, but these cost £2 a go and won't dry you completely within one go. 

8) Drinks!
Drinks are pricey so you may want to take your own, although there is a scheme whereby you can buy a refillable bottle and fill it up as much as you like. There are refreshment booths all over the place, so it's fairly easy to do. The branded bottles cost £7.50 or £12 for two.

9) Food!
Food is quite pricey, so again, you may wish to take your own! We did, but more because we couldn't be completely sure whether we would find something suitable to eat, than to save money. You can find their allergy information online, but this doesn't give the full picture. The good news is that the restaurants all had the information on the walls too, but not the smaller refreshment cabins, so far as I could see.

If you have food allergies, please remember to keep your wits about you - on their website there is a disclaimer about cross-contamination, so make sure you ask the right questions about how food is prepared/served etc.

Allergy information is available, like so!
To be on the safe side, we decided to stick to our own food, and to avoid lugging a cool box around, we stuck to peanut butter in 'Baby's' and The Hub's sandwiches and almond butter in mine. To be honest, they weren't the most appetising sandwiches I'd ever eaten, 'Baby' would have preferred something like ham, but at least we knew we were safe and the added advantage was that the sandwiches stayed stuck together!

We knew these were safe, 'cos I made them!

The good news is that there are plenty of places you can stop and eat your own food, although not many of them are under cover. The alternative, as suggested by some friends of ours, is to save time by eating whilst you're waiting in queues!

The only departure we did make from our own food was the famous Lego brick chips!

Ta da!

We had to search all over for them, but eventually found only one place that sold them - the Hill Top Cafe, which is situated right next to the 'BIG' shop, near the entrance. It looked like we would have to buy the fish fingers too, which we didn't want, as they contained milk, but we found that you could buy a separate portion of fries for £2.95. As they were cooked in a separate fryer, we decided to take the chance and were fine!

This cafe also had soya milk available, but as it was located practically under the spout of the cow's milk dispenser (which was in constant use) I wouldn't recommend asking for it, if you are particularly sensitive to cow's milk protein - there's too much of a cross-contamination risk!

Other suggestions of good places to eat were the Knight's Table Rotisserie and the Fried Chicken Company. The only reason we didn't try these was due to the lack of Lego brick fries!

10) Snacks and treats
This was the nearest I got to finding dairy free ice cream:

I wouldn't suggest eating these, dairy free or not ;)

... and yes, it's made of Lego! They do sell Calippos, which I know is okay for some folks, but I understand that these may contain milk, so I've always avoided them, like the plague! There are also Slushes for sale, in many of the drink booths.

I saw some popcorn and candyfloss tubs, which I'd have liked to checked out, as these were okay at Disneyland Paris, but I didn't quite manage it! There were also various places that sold sweets, but mindful of 'Baby's' teeth, I gave those a miss!

11) Toilets and baby-changing
If, like me, you NEED to know where the nearest toilets are, they are quite spread out around the grounds. I thought they could have done with a few more! If you've got a little one who's desperate, they can't always hold it in too well!

The cubicles were generously-sized though (handy when you have to take your little one in with you), and had wash basins at kiddy level, which was great! Some of them also had flushes and taps which operated by sensors, which really appealed to me with my OCD nature. The toilet blocks all had baby-change facilities, except the one by the ticket office. There was an additional Mother and Baby facility in Heartland, I noticed, by the toilets right behind the ice cream parlour.

12) Loads for little 'uns
I was super impressed by how much there was to do for the smaller family members. The Duplo section was fab and included changing rooms and places to buy swim equipment if you needed it. Of course, by bringing your own stuff, you can save yourself some money!

The only thing is though, if you go in a group with kids of varying ages, you may need to split your party up, so that everyone gets to do something suitable for them. Oh, and don't think you'll be able to sneak your little ones onto rides that aren't suitable - the staff wield impressive looking measuring sticks and are very rigorous when it comes to checking!

13) Don't save your shopping to the end
The BIG shop near the entrance is rather hectic at the end of the day! Everyone leaves it to the last minute. I'd suggest going earlier and using their pick-up points, or stashing your purchases in a locker, if you can find one! There are some near the top and more in the Duplo area.

14) Plan and prioritise
There's so much to fit in, I don't think there's any way you can do it all in one day. Get to know which rides you'd like to do and go to those first, is the general consensus. Most people mention the Driving Academy, Atlantis and the Viking's River Splash. I'd say the Pirate Falls Treasure Chest is worth it too. I'd also recommend the Pirate stunt show, which was really entertaining. It's based in Heartland. Get there early to get a seat, but beware of getting wet, if you sit too close to the front!

15) With that in mind...
Finally, you may find the following link handy - it's to a website that describes itself as the 'Unofficial Guide to Legoland'. The Hub found it before we went, if you want the lowdown on everything Legolandish, it's definitely a great place to start! Their tip to approach the theme park from the south, to avoid traffic worked for us!

In Addendum:
I can't finish this post without saying a BIG 'THANK YOU' to all those who contributed their hints or tips, whether via Facebook or Twitter. You were a great help to me, and I appreciate your efforts. David (@DavidJ_GF on Twitter) was particularly informative - mind you, I gather he's been there a lot! 

If you have already been to Legoland and can think of anything which you think I've missed, please leave your hints and tips in the comments below!

The Allergy and Free From Show - to Infinity and Beyond!

Huzzah and hurrah!

The Allergy and Free From Show have recently announced that they are expanding again!

Just a few years ago, when I first discovered that there was such a thing existed, I was excited beyond belief and couldn't help sharing about my experiences at the Allergy and Free From Show in London.

It was such a wonderful experience to be able to visit a show that opened me up to a wider range of Free From products, and where it was possible to hear from allergy professionals and chat with representatives from charities like Allergy UK. And as for the Show bargains... well my cup ranneth over! I brought back a fair haul, I can tell you!!

I have to admit, my joy was tempered somewhat, when various folks expressed disappointment that it only took place in London and wished that there might be an Allergy Show near them. 

I felt their pain!

So, I was really happy when the Allergy and Free From Show decided to exhibit 'Up North' in Liverpool, and then announced they would exhibit in Germany too. Now, it seems Scotland is to share the joy - they're going to exhibit in Glasgow's SECC, as from next year (2016)!

Free From Scots rejoice!

I sincerely hope that the same range of exhibitors and speakers will travel the distance, as the range at the Liverpool show was somewhat more limited in it's inaugural year. However, I gather it was much better last year and hopefully the Glasgow show will get the same level of support. If it does, who knows where it could go?

If you haven't heard of the Allergy and Free From Show, you might like to check out these previous posts:

Fancy a date... at the Allergy Show 2014??

My Allergy Show 2014

The Allergy Show - Mission Accomplished (2013)

And if you'd like free tickets to this year's show in London (which takes place in July, from the 3rd to the 5th), click this link, which will take you to their ticket registration page. Registering in advance, online, will save you £10 at the door! Bargainous eh??

Maybe I'll see you there! 

Oh, and if you have children, make sure you check out Allergy Adventures - she just gets better and better!

Please note changes this year:

  • The Allergy Show is sharing the space this year with two other shows - the 'Just V Show' and 'Love Natural Love Organic'. 
  • There are no Spotlight Sessions this year, the format has changed slightly. Instead there's a 'Schar Learning Center' and all the sessions will be free! Click here, to find out more. 
  • To find out who is exhibiting this year, click here. I'm particularly looking forward to checking out the free from chocolate ;)

Friday, 15 May 2015

Want my advice? DON'T give up the gluten!

I've heard that giving up gluten is trendy. I've heard that people are giving up gluten to be 'healthy,' I've heard that people are giving up unnecessarily. In fact I've heard all kinds of things about gluten, but one thing I KNOW is that it doesn't like me! And yet the one piece of advice I'd give anyone who's thinking of ditching it is... DON'T - not yet anyway - not until you've seen the Doctor! 

If gluten truly doesn't agree with you, it could (but might not) be down to a condition called Coeliac. This isn't an allergy or an intolerance but an autoimmune disease. If you have Coeliac Disease you need to know - it's not just about cutting down gluten or even cutting out gluten, it's about adopting a totally different way of life - one CRUMB containing gluten a week is one crumb too much. An individual with Coeliac Disease needs to find out, because if not, if it's left to itself, it could do you a lot of harm in the longer term. Osteoporosis and a rare form of bowel cancer are just two of the medical conditions to which it could lead.

Personally, I wouldn't give up the gluten anyway... if I could possibly help it, I love fresh bread, baguettes, cake, doughnuts, pastry... however, nowadays, even a trace of it can have a disastrous effect on my body which I'd much rather avoid. BUT it wasn't always this way...

Good job you can get some great gluten free alternatives, but it'll cost ya!
Once upon a time, I could eat gluten fine enough - until I caught a tummy bug, or so it seemed. However, oddly enough the 'tummy bug' didn't go away. So I went to see my (then) Doctor. He, advised me to cut out the gluten and see if it helped - he said it could be a temporary intolerance resulting from the tummy bug (this much is true, this can happen). Having had some horrific dizzy spells, caught short moments (complete with soiled garments) and tummy pain, I was happy to oblige - particularly when my body improved quite quickly after cutting out the gluten. 

Unfortunately for me, my Doctor was not au fait with procedures. It was only after I'd given up gluten that he sent me for a blood test! What I didn't know then, but do now, was that it should have been the other way around. I should have had the blood test first, as otherwise, without the gluten actually in my body, the Coeliac blood test wouldn't work. Doh! Another one of those things which I wish I knew when I was younger!

In fact to register a proper result in the blood test, you have to have been eating gluten everyday for around six weeks!!

'Simple!' you might say, 'just go back to eating the gluten for the six weeks then...'

Hmmm! Not so simple! Not unless I want to be permanently glued to my toilet seat. This is not really possible when you have a five year old daughter to look after, get to school etc. and a home to run! 

The problem with giving up gluten altogether, when I did, is that my body seems to have become more sensitive to it than ever it was before - cue worse reactions!! From the way my body responds when there is a slip-up, I can only guess at how it would respond to full exposure. See my problem? The only way I can see myself operating as normal, under these conditions, would be to walk around with a portable commode strapped to my behind - a comedy  moment maybe, but NOT a good look! :(

At some stage, I know I need to have 'the test,' I will have to face the gluten - just so I can get the confirmation (or maybe not - some people appear to suffer the same symptoms without the disease, but that's another story) 'cos then I can get access to the right monitoring etc. but I think that it's just going to have to wait, remain in limbo, 'til 'Baby' is older and can fend for herself a bit more. 

If this rings a bell with you, please do as I say, and get the test first. 

Don't do as I did... you'd only regret it!


To find out more about Coeliac Disease, take a look at NHS Choices or Coeliac UK's website

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Is breastfeeding the dairy free 'Baby' finally over?

BIG disclaimer: 
Sorry but I feel the need to state this at the outset, because breastfeeding is oft controversial: This post is neither a 'for' or 'against' breastfeeding post! It is what it is - a description of my own experiences which may or may not help anyone else in similar circumstances!!

Well that's it then... I think! 

I cautiously say I think I can safely say my days of breastfeeding the dairy free 'Baby' are finally over, but with 'Baby'* you never know! She was sniffing at my boobs again this morning, but I laughed and gently nudged her away. She didn't protest.

Over the last few months, the odd times she has tried (just to see if there's been anything there for her) her efforts haven't been met with any success. That said, she hasn't tried that hard and I've not encouraged her - half suspecting that if she persisted she might get somewhere!

You might be wondering what on earth I'm on about - especially if you've done the sums and worked out her age - I mean she's five and at school now. You may well be thinking:

'She can't still be breastfeeding, surely??'

Well to be honest, it's not been proper breastfeeding for some time now - just the odd suckle or two first thing in the morning whilst she's still 'coming round' from sleep. A few quick draws on the boob and she's been done! And then maybe the odd jump on my lap, when she's been tired or hurt herself and needed comfort or something like that. 

I could perhaps have got tough and stopped her earlier, but I let it drift - in the end partly as an experiment - because I was curious as to how long she would take over the process and partly because, as a hang-over from the last vestiges of her separation anxiety days. I didn't want her to feel as though she's been pushed away - that always seemed to make her anxiety worse and her behaviour more needy. These days, no-one would ever know she was ever anxious about anything - she seems so confident and sure of herself when she's out and about!! But the last vestiges still remain. If she wakes, in the middle of the night, she hates to find herself alone and creeps back into our bed!

I have to say, if you had told me that I was going to breastfeed this long a few years ago, particularly at the time I was struggling to feed my little one, I would have thought you were talking utter rubbish. Breastfeeding this long is certainly NOT what I originally intended, but then I'm not sure I ever really worked out when it was you were supposed to finish - they didn't touch on this subject, not even once at breastfeeding school!!

It's okay... I know now - it's whenever you/your little one feel ready, but why didn't they make that clear at the outset?? Where was the guidance for that?

Some of you may well think we're strange... abnormal even. You may have given up breastfeeding at three, six, nine or possibly twelve months with nary a backwards glance. Or maybe when your little one was days or even hours old. I used to think that too, before that extended breast feeder was me!!

Truth is, 'round the world, in various civilizations, breastfeeding for the first few years is actually the norm! We in the UK are the ones who are strange! And having dropped it, I kind of feel like we've lost the 'knowledge' of what to do in various situations.

Initially, when I was desperate to be able to breastfeed, it was a real struggle.

We had problems latching on, breastfeeding dairy free, there were painful infected cracks in my nipples that soon became craters. There was also a tongue tie to snip, a touch of mastitis and poor milk supply. Once all these problems were 'sorted' and I'd settled in to feeding my little one... oh, and got over the agony of needing-to-avoid-dairy, it became a normal part of life. She needed sustenance, warmth, comfort and I gave it to her. 

Later on, during weaning, when 'Baby' refused to take the alternative,(Nutramigen AA hypo-allergenic formula) I continued to breast feed, not having any idea that various ways around this problem might exist. All I knew was that she needed calcium and that my milk could provide it for her, but I also knew that milk was a great safety net when she fell ill. Usually, when she could eat nothing else, my milk got her through and no doubt (filled with antibodies), helped her get well.

'Baby' was a hungry baby. In fact she was such a hungry baby, that I ended up switching to breastfeeding on demand to keep up my supply. And, demand she certainly did - day or night. Lack of sleep became a bit of an issue. There's no doubt that those night time feeds were a killer. She DID need them beyond six months, whatever my HV told me to the contrary. AND woe betide me, if I failed to supply! Ear splitting screaming would follow and living in a flat above a woman who had complained about the noise, before I'd even had a baby, well... I didn't like to argue the toss! 

Of course there were points where I got fed up and never thought I'd see the day where 'Baby' would come to an end! However, over time, as she needed me less, she'd ask less and I stopped offering it up so readily - especially as she got older and could have things explained. I made excuses, or said, 'Not now!' when previously (certainly when she was tiny) I'd have dropped all for a feed. 

More recently, I've had little chats with her now and then - about the fact she's such a big girl and doesn't really need it anymore. 'But I love it Mummy!' It's so yummy!' has been her protest. I still didn't push, let it lie, gave her time to absorb the information, think, decide.

Fortunately for me, The Hub has been very understanding and let me do as I thought best, and if family/friends thought it all a bit strange, at least they didn't say so to my face!

I have seen comments (usually from men) which accuse people like me of getting a cheap abnormal thrill from breastfeeding. This couldn't have been further from the truth. Although I had read that it was possible to get a 'pleasurable' feeling from breastfeeding, certainly in the early days it was anything but - I was in agony! And later on, it was just routine - what 'Baby' needed, 'Baby' got. There was nothing sexual in it for me; just the emotional pleasure that I got from being able to nurture my baby and give her what she needed.

I have seen other comments (usually from women) accusing people like me of being needy - of needing to be needed. I honestly don't think this was true either. As she got older and I realised that she really didn't need my milk any more (by this time she was happily drinking the junior version of Alpro soya milk) she just seemed to need my milk as a way to connect back with me, keep me anchored down all to herself. And I was content to let her, if she felt the need, although I didn't make any more offers.

Some deride extended breast feeding, thinking it will make the poor child needy and over-dependent on their mother, or cause them to be laughed at. Well for one thing, I've never been one for feeding in public (witness the lack of breast feeding photo here), unless I have to, and regarding the other, well, it's true that 'Baby' often prefers me when it comes to giving comfort. However, as I have been her major care-giver throughout her life so far, I don't think this is abnormal. She seems happy and well-adjusted enough - often dismissing me at the school gates, so she can go on her own little independent way. This, when some of her classmates have been clinging on to their mothers and crying! And I refuse to let it show, if I feel brushed off somewhat - it's time to let my little bird fly.

I used to worry a lot about what people would say - in case I was written off as some Earth mother hippy type (I am not, but who cares if I am). I have to say, I no longer worry about what people think. I just do what I think is best for 'Baby' and me! I think that's one advantage of having to work and even fight my way through the process of motherhood and being dairy free - I've learned to trust my instincts and stand my ground a whole lot more. 

And curiously, not being sure how I would feel, once breastfeeding was over, I find that I feel no regret, no hand wringing, no sighing for times past. I find instead that I am content that things are as they should be... 

And now that I no longer need to be dairy free for the purposes of breastfeeding, now what, for me?

Well avoiding dairy has never been about conscience or of seeking to live a 'healthier' life-style - that is a luxury for other people to consider as far as I'm concerned. I might still use almond milk and eat Coyo coconut yoghurt, as I really like them, but on the whole I've had enough of limiting my diet. I certainly would like to be able to reintroduce cow's milk back into my diet - if only to widen my choices again and not be worrying about traces. However, I have heard of mothers who have breastfed for a while finding themselves unable to tolerate cow's milk any more. I am curious to see what the end result for me will be. I think I will begin slowly, with the milk ladder, spread my wings, take my chances and see...

My only hesitations concern whether having more milk, cheese etc. in the house will lead to cross-contamination slip ups. With 'Baby' still being dairy free we don't want that! Also, up until now, it's always been her and me dairy free against the world together. I don't want her to feel stranded and on her own  - like I fear she often does at school. Maybe I'll have to be a secret dairy consumer - you know, late at night, or whilst she's at school! But really, I'm just hoping that it won't be long before she'll join me - on the other side and be able to enjoy it herself! After all, there have been some promising indications recently... and five is the age that they said it might happen!

Here's hoping!!

If you've been through the same and have any tips for me, I would love to hear from you!

* 'Baby' is clearly not a baby anymore and hasn't been for some while. She only remains 'Baby' for the purposes of this blog, where she has been known as 'Baby' from the beginning!

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Monday, 4 May 2015

Cutting the cost of Free From at Costco

It's no secret that shopping for Free From food can be rather expensive!

Like many, we watch eagerly for offers and head for the shops with the best deals on dairy free milk and other Free From products... and then we buy in bulk!! We stock up and store away, as much as we can - which actually isn't as much as we'd like, due to lack of cupboard space, but we do our best! Then we let others know via Face Book and Twitter!

Buying in bulk is usually the best way of getting a good deal and warehouse shops like Costco can be really helpful - as long as you keep an eye on your local supermarkets and the offers they have on - 'cos it doesn't always work out cheaper!

I don't know how many of you have ever heard of Costco, or how many of you live near a Costco (there's 26 across the UK and you can find your nearest by using this locator) but we've been fans and members for at least five years now and I think it's served us well, particularly so, now that like the stores in the US, the UK stores have started to stock more in the way of Free From goods.

Costco sells, food, home appliances, furniture, gardening and sports equipment, clothing and all sorts of other things. We've found that it particularity comes in handy when you have a party to plan! Please be aware that the prices shown in the pictures are prices before VAT - VAT is added on at the till. Not all products will have VAT added, but some will, so there's always this to consider when you are looking at a product.

Unfortunately, to shop there, you need to be a 'Member' and this is only open to certain professions (see here for more details about memebership). Once you are a member, however, you can always take a friend in with you.

A membership card is a must! It will carry your photo, so make sure you've done your make-up before your first visit!

These days, you can buy dairy free milk, not a large range, it is true, but I have spotted both 'fresh' and ambient/long life by well known brands like Alpro and Almond Breeze and Costco's own brand - Kirkland.

Kirkland Long Life Soya Milk

Fresh Alpro Soya Original
They also sell dairy free Smooze ice lollies. These too are ambient - you take them home and freeze them yourself.

Mixed packets of all four flavours

I've spotted bulk packets of gluten free pasta and gluten free bread...

There's four packets in each bundle!

...but there are also products that have become popular among so-called 'healthy' eaters who are using flours that are also useful for those of us who are dairy or gluten free.

You can buy trays of cans of coconut milk and large jars of coconut oil, as well as great big tubs of Meridian nut butters. Then there's these HUGE bags of almond flour that are actually labelled 'GF'.

And these of Coconut flour (also labelled GF):

Much bigger packets than what you'll find in your local health food store!

There's Quinoa too:

Worth buying in bulk!

You can even pick up a Free From baking magazine, with 20% off the normal price:

Free From magazine at a more affordable price!

Today, I even spotted a machine that you can use to turn fruit into dairy free ice cream - I'm still debating buying one!

I've heard they're good but don't want more any appliances in my kitchen!

There are lots of products that aren't specifically Free From, but are suitable for Vegans etc. Here are some I've spotted recently:

Fruit snacks for lunchboxes

I loved these granola bars before I had to go gluten free

These packs look handy!

They're not specifically gluten free.

These crisps are dairy free, and soya free NGCI

Vegan but look carefully at the label, in the next pic!

NOT suitable for Coeliacs or those sensitive to gluten!

These look great for baking!

Look! No dairy!
I love Great Food bites. Costco also sell their Sweet Potato Pakoras! Yum! And great for picnics!

If this has whetted your appetite, go and check out their website here!

Please note: This blog post is not an advertisement, nor have I been sponsored or rewarded for this post by Costco (or anyone else) in any way. I am simply sharing my own genuine experience for the benefit of fellow free fromers! Oh yes! And if you are a Free Fromer, don't forget to always check ingredient labels as recipes and labelling may change!

Related Post:

Monday, 20 April 2015

The 'May Contain' Thing... an attempt at explanation!

I don't know about your little ones, but 'Baby' is a sucker for fancy drinking cups - the wackier the better! she especially loves curly wurly straws - an absolute no-no for me! Despite my protestations, she is gradually gathering a small collection of them!

I can't stand the fact that I can't clean them out properly - all the way though - none of them can go through the dishwasher and just you try posting a bottle, or even a smaller brush down the straw. It just can't be done! The best you can do, is to flush with warm soapy water, rinse, and hope for the best. Thankfully (from my point of view) 'Baby' tends to drink water - fab! It's not sticky (unlike milk),  and it's easy to clean!

Where am I going with this? Well it's that thorny old issue of 'may contains' summed up for me recently by Chun Han Chan's pithy comment on Twitter (whilst speaking on the subject of 'may contains') asking whether anyone had ever tried cleaning chocolate from a straw! 

'Exactemente!' thought I! 

'Geronimo!! Precisely THAT!'

'May contains' is a frequent topic of discussion on allergy forums. What on earth does it mean? It may not always be specifically expressed as 'may contain,' it might be, 'not suitable for allergy sufferers' or something along similar lines! 

Newcomers to allergy life are quite rightly bewildered about what to do with this information and in a sense quite rightly so, for the following reasons:

1) May contain on an ingredients label is not a legally recognised term, within the EU. 

Because of this, manufacturers are not required to use it, even if there is a risk of cross-contamination. If the 'May contain' statement is there at all, it's because the company don't want to run the risk (in the event of a reaction following the consumption of their product) of being sued because they haven't disclosed enough information - the onus is on the sufferer themselves to make the right call. However, that doesn't really help bewildered allergic customers (except in the case of Unilever, who have stringent allergen testing - according to Dietitian Julia Marriott, if they say 'May contain', it should be taken seriously), because... 

2) May contain can mean various things!

It might be added because the product has been made in the same factory, or on the same equipment as the allergen, or because although the factory itself might not use the allergen, it cannot be sure about what their raw ingredients were exposed to, before they reached their premises. This is particularly true in the case of nuts - if you are only allergic to almonds, you might have to avoid other nuts as they may have been which may be processed alongside them. The same is also true of grain products like oats and wheat. These products produce dust particles than can rise into the air and remain there for some hours - and from there settle into other products made in the same space. Milk needs to be considered slightly differently. The problem with milk is that the proteins are quite sticky and can be hard to clean out of fiddly places - as I will try to demonstrate later.

3) May contain might not affect every allergic person!

Everyone's threshold* of tolerance of an allergen (like milk) is individual to them - what affects one, who might be quite sensitive to tiny traces, may not affect another who needs much more than a trace to spark a reaction. Moreover, thresholds can be affected by how processed that allergen has been (as processing/baking can cause allergens to be better tolerated by some - apparently they need to have been heated up to 180C for about 40 minutes) and also the individual's current state of health (reactions tend to be worse if you're ill). In addition, for some people it may take a slow build up of a trace amount to lead to a reaction...

4) The may contain risk may vary each time you eat the same product.

In terms of products containing milk, at certain stages of production, there is likely to be more risk than others. If you have just started a new batch of 'milk free' chocolate or yogurt, having just made some that does contain milk, even if the equipment has been cleaned, some traces may remain and become absorbed into the new mixture. You will never know at which stage of production the product is made, so you are kind of playing Russian Roulette.

BOO! You see the problem? Which is why, it is so difficult to frame in law - although I believe the powers that be are continuing to work on this. 

For us personally, we have tended to avoid the majority of 'May contain' products, because 'Baby' has been so sensitive in the past. For us, 'May' has often translated into 'Does', even when the companies involved don't think so, and tell us that their equipment has been thoroughly cleaned! 

Now, I don't have a problem with certain food preparation equipment like knives, spoons, plates etc. being bunged in a dishwasher and cleaned, it's the products made on more fiddly machinery that presents more difficulty for me. Think back to cleaning that straw containing chocolate - some machinery has parts that with the best will in the world just can't be reached, can't be scrubbed, will just be sluiced - hey presto... cross contamination risk!!

By way of illustration, take, for example, this home appliance - The Hub's beloved coffee machine. Et voila:

Exhibit 1

Looks smart, huh? BUT I have a complete love/hate relationship with this thing!

I love the fact that it makes gorgeous cups of coffee for The Hub and guests to drink... but I absolutely HATE cleaning the milk frothing compartment! This hatred is based on the fact that it has hard to reach places (like my little one's cups with straws) that cannot be placed in the dishwasher!!

Here's the lid - see the rubber seal? Milk can get stuck behind that, if you overload the frothing chamber and it's pretty tricky trying to clean it off, once it gets stuck there!

Exhibit 2

And here's the frothing device! Just you try cleaning every nook, cranny and coil on that!

Exhibit 3

Then there's the fact that you can't immerse the actual chamber in which the frothing takes place, in order to wash it thoroughly - it's an electrical appliance! 

Exhibit 4

The previous coffee machine also had its problems! See here:

Exhibit 5

See that milk frothing spout on the front (just like those you see in coffee bars) it was great for frothing milk, but impossible to clean, and is constructed very much like the aforementioned straw! I really thought I was cleaning it - I'd wipe the outside, and 'froth' into clean water (which, by the way, would then go 'milky'). I would then froth my dairy free milk and wonder why my, at that time, much younger 'Baby' (who was frequently being breastfed), was suffering reactions! At that stage, I hadn't yet twigged that milk proteins are quite sticky and can cling in all kinds of places!

Fortunately, for 'Baby', it didn't take me too long to make the connection! Hence, for her, or any other allergy sufferer with a severe milk allergy, frothy soya milk in normal cafes is quite out of the question - unless they keep one machine totally devoted to dairy free milk! 

Again, we  had to learn from bitter experience! Doh!

Now extrapolate what we've learned from appliances in the home up to machinery in factories... different size/shape, but same set of problems - fiddly bits that can be hard to reach. Disinfectant solutions are insufficient - they might kills germs, but not allergen proteins! That said, I discovered (through conversation via Twitter with Adrian Rodgers - @ad_rogers, on Twitter) there are, apparently, some solutions which can neutralize proteins, but even these are insufficient if something has just been sluiced through - apparently a good soak is what's really required - just like when you clean the teats on your little one's formula milk bottles. You're advised to sterilize teats, because milk proteins cling where you can't reach and where milk proteins cling, bacteria can form. Of course, sterilization will kill the bacteria, but not the protein!

So where does all this leave us?

Well there has been a fair amount of research into the subject, which may help guide allergic consumers as to what risks can reasonably be taken. The FSA surveyed a range of 'may contain' products and concluded that on the whole controls were good, but that gluten and milk cross-contamination was a lot harder to control than that of most other allergens. Staggeringly, milk was detectable in over 80% of the 'May contain' products they examined, although official advice, from the FSA (see here) is that it was not in sufficient quantity to cause a problem. (For the whole report, see here.)

However, that said, interestingly enough, research has been conducted which suggests loose products sold in bakeries as 'milk free' may not be as milk free as one might wish (see here). Apparently, although staff in these shops felt they were knowledgeable about their products, nearly half of the products tested contained detectable amounts of cow's milk.


One piece of research says this, another that. No wonder that even Healthcare Professionals (Allergy Consultants/Dietitians) do not always agree on this subject. At the end of the day, it all comes down to individual circumstances and personal risk assessment. The only way to be entirely sure is to avoid all 'May contains' and stick to products that are specifically labelled as 'dairy free'. Mind you, having said that, even THAT isn't quite as clear cut as one might suppose... you actually need to look for products that are not just labelled but guaranteed to be 'dairy free'... 

More on that, another time!

In the meantime, see below, for further posts, on this subject!

Further Reading:

Why Vegan is not always Dairy Free: Part II - Health Journo Alex Gazzola investigates

Is there a threshold dose for Cow's Milk Allergy? - Foodsmatter interview with Dr Janice Joneja