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Free (from) and easy

If you’ve been told you are gluten or dairy intolerant you may wonder what you can eat. Luckily, your local health store is a great source of advice and information

Why eat free-from?

“A lot of our customers suffer from severe allergies or intolerances and have to be really careful about what they eat,” says Angela McGlanaghey at Simple Simon in Donegal town, “others may choose to avoid certain food groups for health, lifestyle or dietary reasons.”

“We get a lot of customers coming in and asking for free-from foods because they have a health issue,” says Margaret Guthrie-Nally, a nutritional therapist at Evergreen health stores. “They are usually avoiding sugar, dairy and gluten. We have also noticed an increase in those who are choosing free-from foods as a lifestyle choice and they often benefit from sleeping better, not getting sick as often and reduced bloating.”

“More and more people are looking for free-from products as we become increasingly aware of allergens contained within food which can exacerbate conditions such as eczema and psoriasis on the outside, and IBS on the inside,” says natural lifestyle expert Rebecca Goodyear. “There’s no doubt that in many instances we can be healthier by avoiding certain foodstuffs.”

“We cater for a lot of customers dealing with cancer who request sugar-free and alkalising foods,” says Oliver McCabe of Select Stores, Dalkey, Co Dublin. “The allergens they most want to avoid are gluten, milk and nuts. Sugar is not an allergen but it has caused much concern in today’s diet. There are also customers who are on a particular diet like the Ketogenic (high essential fat, average protein, low carbohydrate) or Paleo diets who don’t have sensitivities but require guidance with what food they can eat. When it comes to free-from food products customers prefer to ask for advice before they make a decision on what to purchase.”

“We have a steady stream of customers requesting free-from foods,” says Dorothy Browne of Nice and Natural, Cootehill, Co Carlow. “While some have allergies, most of them have just built up an intolerance. Generally our customers want to feel better and be more energised and better lifestyle choices are the way forward.”

Reading the label

“Remember when reading labels and looking for natural ingredients that the further down the list the ingredient is then the less there is of it,” says Margaret Guthrie-Nally.

“According to recent food safety guidelines allergens have to be stated in bold on the packaging so the customer is always aware,” says Angela McGlanaghey.

“Customers will always ask a member of the team for advice on allergens or free-from foods,” says Oliver McCabe. “On our deli and fresh food menus all allergens are clearly labelled, all of our products are always clearly labelled and a member of the team is always available for advice.”


If a person has a lactose intolerance they should avoid eating or drinking dairy products. Non-dairy alternatives now include yogurt, cream and cheese as well as milk. Most of these are soya based, with some rice and coconut alternatives. Dairy-free milks include those made from rice, oats, coconut, almonds, hazelnuts and hemp. However, sometimes even the alternatives can be problematic. Almond and hazelnut milk should be avoided if you have a nut allergy and hemp milk may not be ideal for anyone with a seed allergy.

“With a dairy intolerance customers are looking for an alternative to pour on cereal or to have with coffee or tea,” says Oliver McCabe. “So we offer oat, almond, rice, soya and coconut milks as well as a lot of fresh meals that are milk free from our kitchen and deli. Also soya, coconut or rice versions of ice cream and yoghurt are popular.”

“We sell dairy-free freshly baked bread and dairy-free chocolate,” says Angela McGlanaghey.

“Our dairy-free range of milk alternatives has taken off recently due to the smoothie revolution,” says Dorothy Browne.


In the past, being diagnosed as coeliac or gluten intolerant could really limit a person’s diet with a scarcity of gluten-free ingredients and products available to replace traditional breads and cereal. These days that has all changed and health stores are the ideal place to get a wide range of different types of bread made from gluten-free, rice, flax and tapioca flours among others. Ingredients such as gluten-free bread crumbs, xanthan gum, egg replacer, flour, baking powder and soda all make baking possible for the coeliac. Plus there’s no need to miss out on snacks and treats with gluten-free biscuits and crackers as well as breakfast cereals on health store shelves.

“Gluten-free would be one of our biggest sellers in the free-from ranges,” says Angela McGlanaghey. “We stock gluten-free breads, cakes and processed foods such as packet soups as well as biscuits and sauces.”

“We offer recipes and advice on how to eat and cook gluten-free wholefoods,” says Oliver McCabe. “Usually customers are looking for breads, pastas and cakes.”

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