I recently interviewed Norhan, from Egypt. She was diagnosed two years ago at the age of 28. She was diagnosed after being very sick for two weeks. She had constant diarrhea and could not leave the house to go to the doctor. The doctor had to come to her home. She explains "I was put on Oral Rehydration therapy for a week. And none of the treatments the doctors gave me at first worked on stopping diarrhea. Then one doctor asked me to run the lab tests IgG &IgA and the results came as expected: Celiac."
Norhan does not have any family members that have celiac but her mother does another autoimmune disease. However, she has met some people with celiac in Egypt. She finds the hardest part of having celiac is the "adaptation, lack of gluten-free goods, and the cost of GF products."
Are there any positives that you feel came from your diagnosis?
"The fact that boating disappeared from my life is something I don't take lightly. I still don't believe that I can eat and not be bloated right after the meal. I am starting to accept my body now."
Eating out in Egypt
How knowledgeable is the food industry in Egypt regarding celiac?
Norhan explained that there is very limited knowledge. "People are not yet aware of celiac, even if they understand gluten-free, they don't understand that it has to be celiac-safe. Only a couple of spots that are 100% celiac-safe are the ones that I deal with. Hotels are different though, chefs are on international rating so they understand the challenge."
Are the menus clearly marked for allergens and gluten-free food?
Some places have that but they would be limited. Norhan explains "even if they are labeled, celiac patients have to do the effort of going through the conversation with the waiters/chefs to guarantee it's not cross-contaminated." She also explained that she stopped eating at restaurants a year ago because she doesn't feel safe. There is one restaurant that has take-out that she feels she can order from safely.
What is hardest about eating out?
"The conversation that I have to go through every time I go out, and explain that it's not a luxury, it's a necessity," Norhan explained that she has stopped eating out because it has become a hassle. Trying to ensure her food is not only gluten-free but also not cross-contaminated.
How common is celiac in Egypt?
"It's starting to get some attention, but not that common yet.
Buying gluten-free food
Is it easy for you to find gluten-free options at the grocery store?
"There are stores dedicated to selling gluten-free products/baked goods." She explains that you can find gluten-free items in the grocery store as well. "However, some of the Egyptian gluten-free products in the supermarket are not celiac safe, so I go for imported goods."
Are foods clearly marked gluten-free?
"Marked yes, but not all of them are 100% safe. Again, only a few shops are safe for celiac patients."
What would you say is your biggest struggle eating gluten-free in Egypt?
The understanding of celiac and gluten-free diet. As I mentioned I was mainly depending on imported goods, but they are currently unavailable because of inflation. So for example, I can't find gluten-free & celiac-safe pasta because Schar & Barilla are not available now, so I have to wait for my friends who are traveling abroad to get me a couple of packets."
Is eating gluten-free more expensive in Egypt?
"Yes, 3 or 4 times higher than regular food."
Does the government help with the expense of gluten-free food?
"Not that I am aware of.
Do you have to worry about gluten in your over-the-counter or prescribed medication?
"Yes, label reading and researching are a must for me if I am on Egyptian-made medication."
Keep watching for more about living with celiac in Egypt. Sign up for my newsletter so you don't miss out! In the next part of my interview, we will hear from Norhan about some of her favorite places in Egypt to visit!