Gluten Free UAE

Hoping to be of help to all those living gluten free in the United Arab Emirates – نأمل أن نكون عوناً لكل من يعيش حياته خالية من الجلوتين في دولة الإمارات العربية المتحدة



My name is Reem Alali, I’m turning 18 next month and I was diagnosed with Coeliac disease in February 2012.

My 11 year old sister Hessa was diagnosed in 2011 so I had some background information about Coeliac and the gluten free diet.

On the second of February, I went to the health care with my dad to get the results of the blood test that I took a week ago.  I was informed that I might have the disease (Coeliac), but that they won’t be sure until I do the biopsy. It was a shock since I’m a food-holic. I went straight home and ate pasta for dinner, the next day hot dog in IKEA and the day after it I ordered cupcakes, chicken nuggets and pizza.
I wanted to eat as much as I could since it was going to be the last time, I think that I gained a lot of weight in that period. I didn’t stop until the day I had the biopsy. Its then when I realized the huge change that’s going to happen in my life.

At my first appointment with the doctor, Dr.Ahmed pulled my medical file, and he started asking me why I haven’t got tested before, I didn’t notice how many times I came to the hospital for my stomach pain until he mentioned it. He was like: “November 2004 abdominal pain, April 2005 abdominal pain, October 2005 abdominal pain, January 2006 abdominal pain ” and he kept going. Most of my visits to the clinics were because of my stomach pain. I had it since I was 11 but never knew what was the cause. Now I know.

At first I hated it, every thing that was gluten free tasted horrible. I was craving gluten all the time, and I didn’t eat much cause of that, but day after day my taste buds started to adjust with the food and I think our chef’s baking skills has improved 🙂
All that time I kept googling and looking for companies and support group, it is then that I found Gluten free UAE and Coeliac UK and contacted both of them, and they were really helpful.

The gluten free diet is harder than you think, its not just the food you need to cut out but also dishes and baking pans, toothpaste and last I heard makeup too!

Gluten free products were hard to find at first but then we stared asking groceries and supermarkets that are near our house to get more gluten free items and set sections for the dietary foods so they’ll be easy to find. They were very cooperative and responded to our request.
So the first problem was solved but then there were the restaurants issue. I downloaded the Coeliac Card on my IPod and every time I go to a restaurant I would show it to the waitress before I order and the same mistake happens over and over. When I order Kebab I end up with bread underneath it and when I order soup there’s bread floating in it, and worst of all that when I ask them to change it they just remove the bread from the plate.

I have realised now that I should always talk to the manager, its safer that way.

Here is a funny story that happened with my grandma, I told her about the allergy and I don’t think she understood me very well, but I also mention to her that gluten is also in the chicken cubes, ‘since they add it in almost everything’. The next day she called and ask me to have dinner at their house she made me pasta. And when I arrived she came to me and said: “Reem I asked the maid to make pasta especially for you without adding the chicken cubes *winks* “ (she used gluten pasta by the way) it was so sweet and funny.

Ramadan this years was difficult, we didn’t have a lot of options for Iftar, as you all know most of our traditional Emirate dishes contain flour, so we had to take our gluten free meals to all the family gatherings.

Seeing everyone eating Hrees and Geymat “my favorite emirate dishes” was heartbreaking. I wanted to eat them so bad, but I wouldn’t risk it. I don’t mind being cut of from all those meals but live a healthy life. I can sense the difference. I’m healthier, I got my strength back, I don’t suffer from stomach pain any more and I feel great. And I won’t trade that for a cupcake.

This summer I went to Saudi Arabia, Makah in Ramadan to do “Omra” and Turkey for a vacation. I struggled in both countries. Before traveling I asked our chef to bake loafs, bread and muffins to take with me, plus a bag full of snacks so I don’t starve there.

There wasn’t much awareness there so in the buffets I used to tell the chefs about my condition and explain to them everything but I doubt they understood me. I stuck to eating safe things like rice and salads and sometimes steaks and fish. But that didn’t stop the stomach pain and all the symptoms were back. Guess the chefs weren’t really sure.

In turkey they were more understanding. I use to show them the Coeliac card and they’d asked the chef. My Mum always carried two spoons, forks and knifes in her purse, everywhere, literally. She makes sure that my sister and I use them while eating. And she’s been caught many times by the mall security for carrying them!

I believe that the disease I have is my destiny and I have full faith in Allah and his mercy I will live with it. Now for me its not a disease it’s a different way of living and I learned how to adapt to it.


2 comments on “Reem

  1. Pingback: My Story | Living gluten free

  2. Najat

    Dear reem,

    Thank you for sharing your story!
    It’s very well written, well done.
    I would like to let you know that I have found a fantastic glutinfree cafe in motor city.
    It’s called the cycle hub!

    They do fantastic breakfast and call themselves the paleo cafe.
    I got the same problem, unfortunately.
    Fasting is indeed a pain this way.

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