Living with food sensitivities – by Anna Jacobs



Mistress of Grey LadiesYou may know Anna as Anna Jacobs, author or nearly 70 novels including The Trader's Dream, The Trader's Gift, Yew Tree Gardens, Heir to Greyladies. Modern stories: Winds of Change, A Place of Hope, In Search of Hope.

Read about them and catch up with Anna's latest news at Then read about her food sensitivities.....


Come and take a stroll with me through the minefield of food intolerances. Put simply, you can’t live without eating, and you have to eat several times a day, so people like me have to be careful of every single mouthful we put into our bodies.
I’m always on the alert when it comes to food, especially if I haven’t prepared it. Always.
Food sensitivities also give you health, financial and social problems, which I’ll talk about later. Such a nuisance.


People ask what the problem foods do to me. Well, take wheat . . . it makes my heart go crazy (atrial fibrillation), gives me a thumping headache, makes me sleepy and then leaves me with a 24 hour ‘hangover’. It also destroys the villi in my intestines, the little bumps that help digest food – which means you get steadily worse if you don’t eliminate the problem food from your diet.

My niece recently asked if I ever cheated on my ‘diet’ and that’s typical of many people’s attitude. They equate food intolerance problems to trying to lose weight, or ‘being picky’. Don’t I wish! It’s not at all the same.

Some people have such a strong allergic reaction to certain foods; they can die from eating the wrong things. I’m not that bad, thank goodness. My doctor doesn’t think I’m a coeliac. I’m probably a non-coeliac gluten sensitive.

Think about the main impact:
Because I can’t eat wheat, maize, oats, rye, barley, that means no bread, pasta, breakfast cereals, cakes, biscuits – unless they’re speciality foods.
It also means I have to read the list of ingredients on the packets of every single processed food I buy at the shops, and re-read these lists regularly, because contents change and the manufacturers don’t tell you about it: they just do it.

Try it.
Read the ingredients on every single packet you buy. It’ll take you longer to shop and you’ll find wheat and maize in nearly everything (as well as sugar, but that’s another story). With some foods it’s obvious they’ll have wheat and so on in them; with others you will be astonished eg many frozen chips have wheat on or in them to make them crispy.

I bought a packet of grated cheese recently, a brand new to me, and even after 20 years with intolerance problems I didn’t think to check its contents. I mean, it said grated cheese on the packet. I’m OK with cheese. I buy grated cheese regularly, and why would anyone put wheat or maize in that?

Then I got the foggy brain, pounding heart and sore stomach, so I knew something had slipped past me. Yes, that grated, reduced fat cheese had maize in it.

The maize factor
Shops are trying to stock ‘free from’ foods but sadly, most of these products contain maize/cornflour, because it used to be thought that people with wheat problems could eat that. However, research has moved on and it’s now known that there is a much bigger problem with reactions to maize/cornflour than previously thought. The stores and manufacturers haven’t caught up with that research yet.

So for me, most shops provide very little in the way of convenience foods. I would like to spend more money, but I can’t find many things it’s safe to buy.

As I hunt the shelves of supermarkets, I sometimes stand there with tears in my eyes when the rare products that I can eat are withdrawn or changed.

Bread, the staff of life.
Bread is the staff of life, but the gluten free bread has maize in it. I can’t buy any bread in Australia, my main home. In Britain, where we spend the summers, there is one sort, but it looks and tastes like greyish cardboard and costs almost £1 a slice. British citizens get this expensive bread free on prescription if they’ve been proved to be coeliac. In order to prove to be coeliac I’d have to eat wheat for 6 weeks before being tested – long before then I’d be dead of atrial fibrillation.

Any bread I bake would make good house bricks. I have no baking gene. So my lovely husband bakes me a sort of bread which it’s taken him years to perfect. Well, he had to invent the recipe first and he’s an economist not a baker. There wasn’t one single recipe for gluten-free bread available that didn’t use maize or several eggs (to which I’m also slightly sensitive). What a hero he is!

The warfarin factor
I have to take warfarin. The only sort available contains maize. In Australia I can pay privately to have warfarin compounded without maize, but I only found out how hyper-sensitive I’ve become after we arrived in England. Till I get back to Australia and see my doctor there, I have to take one tiny warfarin tablet just before I go to sleep. If I take it earlier I fall asleep in front of the TV.

Well . . . I could go on, but your eyes are probably glazing over, so let’s move on finally to two problems you might not have considered part of having food intolerances.


Apparently it costs more to leave ingredients out than to put them in. So ‘free from’ foods or special items cost more – and the servings are smaller, far smaller. If you can find them in the shops at all, that is. Mostly you have to buy them on line and then that adds postage costs.

I recently found that my maize intolerance had zoomed up to extreme and it took a while to trace all the problem items. I didn’t eat maize directly, but I didn’t realise it’s in most of the vitamin supplements I take, and I need these to make up for limited intake of some foods. So I had to find new stockers of specialist vitamins without maize – and of course, pay a lot more for them, plus the postage.


The biggest social cost is to my husband, whose life is limited by my problems. He’s a wonderful man, who never complains.

I can’t go on touring holidays, too risky. He has to go on his own – or not go.

I can’t go to some sorts of restaurants. Fish/seafood specialists, for example, would be far too risky. Others don’t offer dishes I can eat. In England, where we live for half the year, I can go to a pub for a meal because they usually have ‘jackets’ ie jacket potatoes with a variety of toppings. It’s harder to find somewhere safe to eat out in Australia.

Some people don’t want to invite me round for a meal, because I’m too difficult to cater for. How do I know why they don’t invite me round? They’ve told me this to my face, sometimes after eating a meal at our house. They seem to think that won’t upset me. I lost a lot of so-called friends when I first discovered my intolerances – luckily, I also lost my poor health, which more than made up for it!

Even more luckily I still have some very good friends and a daughter who is a superb cook, so you don’t need to feel sorry for me. But I do regret the impact on my husband.


I hope this has given you a taste (pun intended) of what it’s like to have food sensitivities.
Please don’t think that I have a miserable life. I definitely don’t. Finding those food intolerances gave me my health back and I feel great. I continue to write novels readers seem to enjoy – my 67th was published this month. That’s not affected by my food problems, thank goodness!

August 2014

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