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Finland: plenty of coeliac expertise, plenty of gluten-free enjoyment

The Embassy of Finland in Brussels hosted a coeliac/gluten-free event at the Ambassador’s Residence in April 2007.

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The Embassy of Finland in Brussels hosted a coeliac/gluten-free event at the Ambassador’s Residence in April 2007. The organising partners included the Finnish Coeliac Society, Sitra, the Finnish Innovation Fund, the Finnish Tourist Board Benelux, and a number of Finnish companies offering gluten-free and other health products. The event attracted some 20 people from local and Dutch coeliac societies and the representatives of the organising partners. 

Coeliac disease is an intolerance to gluten, a protein present in wheat, barley, and rye. The only treatment is a gluten-free diet, which has to be followed strictly. Gluten-free bread and pasta products are made with rice, maize, buckwheat, millet, potato flour and some other grains and grain substitutes. Also, wheat starch can be made gluten-free by undergoing a special process. Wheat is widely used as a binding agent in many food items, such as sauces, terrines, or puddings, and normal food can therefore be a real problem for a coeliac person. Even very small quantities of gluten are harmful. 

Programme  

  • Welcoming words, Ambassador Antti Sierla
  • The Coeliac Condition: Ms. Kirsi Mustalahti, Doctor of Medicine and Coeliac Disease (CD) researcher  
  • Living as a Coeliac in Finland: Ms. Marjo Jokinen, Product Specialist at the Finnish Coeliac Society 
  • Gluten-free Tourism in Finland: Mr. Jyrki Oksanen, Director of the Finnish Tourist Board Benelux  
  • Gluten-free and Other Healthy Products from Finland: a presentation by Finnish companies  
  • Buffet and networking 

In addition, a reliable rapid coeliac disease detection kit from Ani Biotech Oy, using a sample of fingertip blood, and which could be used at home or in a doctor’s surgery, was available for testing. More information about the Biocard Celiac Test is available at http://www.anibiotech.fi/new_products.html »

Gluten- and wheat-free bakery products (bread and muffins) as well as pizza and pasta served by Moilas GF (Gluten-Free) Ltd. Moilas has over 20 years of experience in gluten-free baking and today it is amongst the leading gluten-free bakeries in Europe. Its products do not contain any preservatives or any additives as they are frozen immediately after baking. More information is available on www.moilas.com »

UNESCO ranked #1 water and tasty GF food were served by the Health Package Group, consisting of Nord Premium drinking water with healthy berry juices (www.nordwater.fi) and InnoFOODS (www.innofoods.com) GF, low cholesterol, Omega 3 pie family, which have gained a lot of attention in the Middle East markets and catering, where the occurrence of coeliac disease is the highest in the world. 

Gluten-, milk-, sugar- and nut-free chocolates made by Chocolate Factory Dammenberg could also be sampled. More information is available at www.dammenberg.com »

Living as a Coeliac in Finland

Ms Marjo Jokinen, product specialist of the Finnish Coeliac Society spoke about the Society’s work, practical issues concerning the daily life of a coeliac patient and travel implications in Finland. 

The primary interest of the Society is to improve the well-being of Finnish coeliac patients in their daily life. There are 30 local associations, with nearly 18,000 members. In total, there are about 25,000 coeliacs in Finland today and around 2000 new diagnoses are made annually. 

Eating out is quite simple for a coeliac in Finland; for example, the words “gluten-free” or the gluten-free symbol appear on the menus of restaurants, even at fast-food restaurants and pizzerias. A list of local services around Finland is available on the Society’s website, www.keliakialiitto.fi, where translations for coeliac are also available in several languages. 

Gluten-free shopping in Finland is fairly easy since all supermarkets and grocery stores carry GF products. These products are mainly placed next to the corresponding “normal products” but may also be on a separate shelf. The Society assists its members for example by producing an annual catalogue of GF products available on the market. 

To improve the selection and availability of products and to ensure their safety, the Society actively cooperates with producers and importers of gluten-free products as well as other professionals in the food and catering and commercial sectors. 

The Finnish Coeliac Society will organise the Keliakia2007 Fair to be held on 30 November – 1 December 2007 in Tampere. This will be the second Gluten-free Products and Services Fair in Finland. The target group of the Fair are the 25,000 coeliacs in Finland, their families and friends, people with other special dietary needs, and professionals from the food and catering and health-care sectors. The Fair serves as a meeting point for all of the above and for gluten-free food producers, wholesalers, retailers and service producers. Keliakia2007 offers exhibitors a targeted, selected group of customers interested in gluten-free products and services. In addition to a large exhibition area, there will be high-level specialist lectures on coeliac disease, gluten-free diet and psychological adjustment to coeliac disease. More information is available in English at www.keliakialiitto.fi/view/categories.asp?koodi=eng » 

The Coeliac Condition

Coeliac disease, its symptoms and prevalence were described in detail by Dr Kirsi Mustalahti. An abstract of her presentation is attached below and more information is available at www.celiacresearch.eu/cdstud »

Coeliac disease is a multifaceted disease caused by gluten – a protein contained in wheat, rye and barley. The disease is characterised by malabsorption and the typical histological small-bowel lesion with villous atrophy and crypt hyperplasia. 

In Europe, the prevalence (frequency) of coeliac disease has recently been estimated to be more than one in 100 (1%) although considerable variation exists between different countries. In the Netherlands, the prevalence is 0.5%, in Italy 1.4%, in Northern Ireland 1.0%, in Finland 2.5%, in Saharawi children even up to 5.6% and in Germany only 0.5%. Since one-third of coeliac disease patients are symptomless, the prevalence of the disease is highly underestimated in many countries. The genetic susceptibility to coeliac disease is obvious and the most important genetic risk factor has been identified. Up to 10% of the first-degree relatives of coeliac patients suffer from the disease. 

The diagnosis of coeliac disease is based on positive blood tests (endomysial and tissue transglutaminase antibody tests) and on the typical small-bowel mucosal biopsy finding. Nowadays, a new easily administered point-of-care test is available for first-step screening of the disease. 

The main symptoms of the disease are abdominal discomfort, iron-deficiency anaemia or lactose intolerance and short stature in children. Untreated coeliac disease causes many complications, such as osteoporosis and bone fractures, infertility and unfavourable outcome of pregnancy, nervous system involvement, tooth defects, liver disorders and even malignancies. 

The only known treatment so far is a lifelong gluten-free diet. Once a gluten-free diet is followed, the symptoms disappear in most cases in about one year. That means that the gut heals and the auto-antibodies in the blood disappear. The risk of long-term effects is diminished by an appropriate diet. However, the diet has to be strict – even small amounts of gluten may cause harmful effects and activation of the disease. It has been shown in several studies that oats is well tolerated by most coeliac disease patients. Also, a diet containing wheat starch seems to be as well tolerated as the naturally gluten-free diet. The compliance of coeliac disease patients to the gluten-free diet is dependent on the availability of sufficient supplies. 

In Finland, internationally regarded research groups offer new up-to-date information on the disease and its treatment. The cooperation between researchers and the Finnish Coeliac Society is effective. The Society also works with health-care personnel and the food industry to make the disease better known and to help coeliac disease patients to deal with their diet. Current care guidelines (standardised treatment practices www.duodecim.fi/kaypahoito) are helpful in diagnosing the disease and in recognising the associated conditions and complications. Dietary counselling is of a high standard in Finland and is part of the standard treatment. All gluten-free products are specifically labelled and the quality of the products is carefully tested. The selection and availability of gluten-free products is excellent. Finland is a paradise for a coeliac patient.

Further information

Mikola Markku, Project Manager, phone + 358 9 6189 9235

Theme

Food and nutrition

Smart food is tasty, healthy and sustainable. The Food and Nutrition Programme (ERA) 2005–2008 boosted the momentum of smart food through research, education and joint projects with industry players.

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