x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Guidance to the world of gluten-free

Linda Forster, founder of Gluten Free UAE, has turned her family's struggle into an awareness campaign.

Linda Forster, founder of Gluten Free UAE, has turned her family's struggle into an awareness campaign.

When her daughter Aili was born prematurely in 2009, she was a very difficult child.

"She was never happy. She was always screaming, always sick, always frustrated," says Linda, a Dubai resident from Sweden.

After two years of tests and constant visits to doctors, her family discovered that Aili had coeliac disease.

If a sufferer of coeliac disease eats gluten - a protein found in wheat, barley and rye - it causes an immune reaction that damages their intestines and impairs their ability to absorb nutrients.

"We took her off gluten and within three or four days she started changing, and just became quiet and happy and content," says Linda, 37, who also has another child.

The weeks after the diagnosis were not easy, as she tried to purge wheat from her family's diet without any guidance. Even a stray crumb can cause painful consequences for Aili, who is now almost 4.

But soon after the diagnosis, Linda started Gluten Free UAE, a Facebook page for people in similar situations. It grew into a full support group.

She also started a Gluten Free UAE website full of information, recipes, meet-up events and personal stories. Today she receives hundreds of emails a month from people seeking advice.

"You can wallow in self-pity and feel bad that you lost out on two years, or you can try to change things," Linda says. "I decided that anyone around me was not going to go through what we did."

vnereim@thenational.ae