This week is Coeliac Awareness Week. We had a chat with Ann, co-founder and director at PERK!ER.
Tell us a little about yourself…
I’m Ann, co-founder of PERK!ER with my partner Steve. Our brand name is a mash-up of our surnames Perkins and Turner! We live and work together - it’s a perky partnership!
What are you allergic to and when were you diagnosed?
I’m intolerant to both gluten and dairy; I was diagnosed with the gluten in July 2009 and diagnosed dairy intolerant at the end of 2014.
What was eating like before you realised you had a food allergy?
Looking back I was subconsciously reducing the gluten and dairy in my diet before diagnosis. I ate a lot more salad and vegetables than pasta and bread, for example. I was never really that keen on cheese, cream or milk either, even as a kid. However, I was eating some gluten and dairy pretty much every day. I might have had a splash of milk in my tea, a bit of chocolate, some bread or breakfast cereal, so they were constantly causing me health issues without me even realising. It took me a long time to work out they were the culprits!
What did you have to change; did you find this easy or difficult?
Before when I was eating a little bit of gluten and dairy, I had some health issues and often didn’t feel great, so I actually found it easy to avoid gluten and then dairy. It makes me feel so much better, I feel like myself on a good day every day! Because of this, I would never ever knowingly eat it again.
Finding food that tastes great, is good value and healthy has been challenging for me at times. Eating out is the hardest now - I don’t miss anything at home as I’ve changed my diet to be naturally gluten and dairy free and found new foods and recipes that both Steve and I love.
What was the positive impact to how you felt after diagnosis?
There have been a number of positive impacts for me since diagnosis. Firstly, energy - I feel so much more energized! Before diagnosis I used to get to the end of the week and feel so exhausted. I can now think more clearly, whereas before I had some times when I felt ‘foggy’. I also no longer suffer with severe abdominal pains, like knives going into your guts (yuk!) and headaches – it’s a huge relief.
What are the biggest challenges you face when food shopping?
The hardest time is when I’m on the go. I’m often travelling on business and want to grab a quick, fresh lunch. I find the choice in convenience stores and motorway services really poor, which means I need to carry food around with me most of the time… My bag is always full with plenty of PERK!ER Quinoa bars!
Another challenge is label checking. Every shopping trip I have to read the back of packets to make sure anything new is safe to eat and that the recipes of old favourite’s haven’t changed.
What are the biggest challenges when cooking at home? For example, does everyone in your household eat the same thing?
We pretty much are a dairy and gluten free household now. When we have family and friends over it is always completely gluten and dairy free, but they never notice. In fact, most of the time friends and family ask for the recipes!
How is eating out, where are the best places to go?
For a quick lunch Pod is brilliant. For a longer lunch or dinner my fave’s are Las Iguana’s & Wahaca, and there’s a great Indian and some nice country pubs near us too.
Are there any other day to day challenges that you have not already mentioned?
My family are brilliant - my niece is also gluten free so we all understand about allergen control, but sometimes it’s hard for some friends to cater for me. They want to know for sure they are providing food that’s gluten and dairy free, which can be stressful for them unfortunately. I find it is always worth offering to talk through any concerns they have, bring something to help or cooking a pudding to help take some of the stress away.
What are your go to products/brands that make life easier?
I have quite a few…
• Of course, PERK!ER! Delicious and super-healthy quinoa bars and sprouted bars are firm favourites.
• BFree pitta breads and chia seed wraps are utterly amazing!
• I love almond milk in my tea, so Alpro is a go to brand for me
• Amisa buckwheat crackers are great to take out or have with a salad to add a crunch
• Good Food Company for delicious gluten free and vegan falafels
• Ilumi Spicy Harira Soup
• Explore Asia do a fab range of black bean and edame bean noodles
• Cauldron for tofu, delish grilled with peri-peri spice!
• I love spice so I always have some Nando’s sauces and a cupboard of spices from peri-peri, chipotle, jerk, and herbs to add flavour to veg and protein
• We eat lots of veg and a couple of times a week I’ll roast courgettes, butternut squash, peppers and sweet potatoes with some herbs and spices and have them in the fridge to add to our lunches. Being organized as much as possible definitely helps!