I recently interviewed Kim from the Netherlands. I love to travel and I'm always excited to learn what it is like to live with Celiac disease in other countries.
Kim was just 9 years old when she learned she had celiac disease. "Before then (the diagnosis) I had horrible stomach aches and I was always tired. After many trips to the doctor, they diagnosed me with celiac."
Do any of your family members have Celiac? "I was told by the doctor that one of my parents must have the gene as it is hereditary but they have been tested and it has not been expressed in them. My brother doesn't (have celiac) either."
What do you find to be the hardest part of living with Celiac?
Kim explains that when she was first diagnosed with celiac disease was not well known and there were few choices in gluten-free products. "I have now found my way in my own country. Now there is plenty of choices of gluten-free products and eating out is generally always good. I find social situations the most difficult" Kim explains that it is hard when you are the only one that can't participate or eat what everyone else is eating. She also says that it is hard when they have to go to a specific restaurant just for her. "In addition, I find it difficult abroad, on holiday. Often it was there, that a mistake was made, and I got sick and that is of course not what you want on holiday! That is also the reason I started my website, to exchange information with other people with celiac disease."
Are there any positives that you feel came from your diagnosis?
"I feel a lot better since my tummy aches are gone."
Do you know anyone else with celiac? "Yes. I have a friend who's also celiac. And I have met other people with celiac disease through my website and Instagram."
Eating out in the Netherlands
How knowledgeable is the food industry in regard to Celiac disease? "They know what gluten-free food means in almost every restaurant in the Netherlands. Chefs get it in their training so they almost always know about it. The waiters sometimes do not but in general the knowledge is good. It almost never happens that I have to explain what the gluten-free diet means. Cross-contamination is something that you should inquire about carefully since the deep fryer is used a lot in the Netherlands. That is something that not every cook automatically takes into account."
Are the menus clearly marked for allergens and gluten-free food? "This differs per restaurant. Most restaurants don't have this. Often vegetarian options are on the menu, but unfortunately not gluten-free. Certainly, in the larger cities, there are restaurants that have a separate gluten-free menu. But usually, you have to inquire about which dishes can be made gluten-free. Restaurants that are well acquainted with it can make almost any dish gluten-free if desired." Do restaurants usually have something you can eat safely? "In my experience, yes. But I also always do proper research before I eat somewhere. In my own living environment, I have a number of regular restaurants that I like to visit. When I go to a foreign city, I first look for information, reviews, and call in advance. If I don't trust their knowledge or options then I'll call the next one."
"Many dishes in the Netherlands consist of fries, meat, and vegetables. That is of course perfectly possible to make gluten-free. The only pitfall is that the fries are fried. Most larger restaurants do this separately from the snacks, but certainly, the smaller ones sometimes want to do this together. Then the options suddenly become a lot more limited, but sometimes they can offer you baked potatoes."
What is the easiest/hardest about eating out?
"What I personally find the most difficult is that you always have to ask. What I find the easiest is that almost everyone in the Netherlands knows what gluten is. Abroad, I often ran into the fact that they didn't even know what it meant. You hardly ever have to explain that in the Netherlands, it is more about the cross-contamination that you have to keep an eye on when eating out."
I wish it was this way in the United States! It's wonderful that people are so well-educated about gluten-free and take it seriously in the Netherlands.
How common are Celiac/gluten-free dietary restrictions in the Netherlands?
"As I said earlier, almost everyone knows what gluten-free food is. They don't always know the name celiac disease, but often they do. It has been a 'hype' for a while, something you are probably also familiar with from America. That's why I always try to explain that it's for medical reasons and I'm not doing it for fun."
Buying Gluten-Free food Is it easy for you to find gluten-free options at the grocery store? Yes, most supermarkets have a separate shelf with gluten-free products. The Albert Heijn, Jumbo, Dirk and Plus all have a wide range. Only Lidle does not!"
Are foods clearly marked gluten-free?
"Yes. Albert Heijn often even has a sign on the normal products if it is gluten-free so that you do not have to read the entire packaging." What would you say is your biggest struggle eating gluten-free in the Netherlands? "The costs and the fact that the ready-made gluten-free products are usually not that healthy." Is eating gluten-free more expensive in the Netherlands? "YES!! It's so expensive... that's not funny anymore. I try to buy as many products as possible that are naturally gluten-free"
We can certainly relate to this in the United States!
Does the government help with the expense of gluten-free food? "A little bit, I can declare it as a deduction on my tax return. It helps a bit but unfortunately does not outweigh the expensive products." Medication Do you have to worry about gluten in your over-the-counter or prescribed medication? "Luckily not." Travel in the Netherlands If someone was coming to the Netherlands for the first time, what would you say are the “must-see” spots? "Of course, you have the larger cities such as Amsterdam and Rotterdam, which is an experience in itself. But I would certainly also go on a nice bike ride through the countryside and look at the windmills. The Netherlands is of course known for how flat it is and how much cycling is done. Other tips are the Keukenhof, if you like flowers, and Madurodam, where all kinds of buildings have been recreated in miniature."
The Netherlands is another country I have added to my list! I love that the Netherlands has educated the food industry on gluten-free food. I believe everyone in the food industry should be educated about gluten-free/celiac disease as well as food allergies. It's also great to know that many items on the menu in the Netherlands can be made gluten-free. The United States isn't there yet. Some of our restaurants are exceptional but it is not the norm.
The idea of riding through the countryside in the Netherlands on a bike sounds wonderful! This would be an amazing vacation. What a great way to see all the sites. Thank you Kim for sharing your experience with Celiac disease in the Netherlands with us. You can learn more about Kim on her social media @glutenfreejourneys.