HPS Lamba (CEO, Wheafree) in conversation with Annika Dhariwal (Founder GlutenFreeJio)
You are a celiac, when and how were you diagnosed?
I was diagnosed with Celiac disease when I was 8 years old. It was not an extremely straightforward experience. Initially, I fell sick with a fever and temperature every few months and was extremely weak and short for my age. I did not realize this at the time but it was because I was immunocompromised due to celiac disease. I never had the classic symptoms that usually affect the digestive system. I was constantly misdiagnosed in India with other diseases which the doctors had assumed based on how weak I was. I was finally diagnosed in the US when my pediatrician decided to run a TTG test. My TTG number was extremely high but to confirm that I had celiac disease I had a biopsy. Straight after the biopsy, it was confirmed I had celiac disease and I have been on a 100% gluten-free diet ever since.
You had been in India and UK (and many other countries) so what difference have you noted in relation to the availability of gluten free food in the market?
I was diagnosed 10 years ago and back then the availability of gluten free grocery items at stores in India was extremely limited. I usually carried most things back from the US and my mum made gluten free atta at home using a chakki. When I went to boarding school in the UK at 11 I realized how easily available gluten free items were in all supermarkets. Similar to the supermarket’s restaurants in India barely had knowledge of how to cater for someone with celiac whereas many restaurants in the UK had GF items clearly marked. Over the past 10 years, it has been exciting to see how the levels of awareness have increased and restaurants and supermarkets have adapted to this.
How did you come up with the idea of Glutenfreejio app and how is this serving the celiac community? Please share what this app is all about with our readers.
Whenever I visited other countries on holiday, I realized that most countries had an app that can easily help locate restaurants with gluten free menu’s. I realized that the Indian celiac community really needed something like this. Hence, I decided to create an app that can help locate gluten free restaurants near you once you put in your location. I felt that more features could be incorporated into the app so I decided to add a function where users can also locate grocery stores selling gluten free items near them. Further, the app also has all the resources that are available on the gluten free jio website. I hope this app helps anyone living with celiac disease in India as well as foreigners when they are on holiday in India.
What changes would you like to see in the Indian scenario regarding Celiac/ gluten intolerance and gluten free food?
Firstly, I hope that there is an increase in awareness and that the misconceptions regarding celiac disease are cleared up. I feel that sometimes people don’t take Celiac Disease seriously as they don’t understand the effects that it has on people who are suffering from it, so I hope this changes in the future. Secondly, I hope that more restaurants that are celiac-friendly start to appear.
Is the Indian govt /FSSAI sensitised about the gravity of the situation and problems being faced by gluten intolerant? What changes would you like to bring?
Over the past few years, FSSAI has stated that any product that has less than 20ppm mg per kg can be labelled as gluten free. However, there is no way to check that food item labelled as gluten free are actually gluten free. The reason it cannot be 100% trusted is that there is no specific penalty for these regulations not being followed. For eg. sometimes items I have come across at the grocery store say Gluten Free but when I read the other information on the label it says that it is processed in a factory handling wheat etc. therefore it is not 100% GF. Such things need to be taken into account when companies are producing their food labels. The government is not particularly involved in rules and regulations regarding Celiac Disease. I think a step forward would be the government actually recognising the severity of food allergies in general and spending funding on awareness campaigns.
You are nominated as an Ambassador for Beyond Celiac .. how do you feel and what is your role being an ambassador?
It is extremely exciting to be an ambassador for beyond celiac. I have been working with them to develop Gluten Free Starter kits for people who are newly diagnosed with celiac disease. The idea with these kits is that once someone is diagnosed the hospital can give them the kit to help them transition to a gluten free lifestyle easily. These Kits contain an information pack which I wrote using material provided by beyond celiac. It also has some Gluten free goodies that are from Wheafree.
Wheafree is associated with you and your project for a long time, can you tell us more about this special relationship?
It has been extremely enjoyable working with the Wheafree team over the past few years. Initially, when I learnt about Wheafree I was really happy to discover that there was provisioning for gluten free Indian Sweets. I am looking forward to visiting Wheafree’s 100% gluten free factory and blogging about it on gluten free Jio’s social media pages.
CEO – Gluten Free Jio
I am an 18-year-old girl, called Annika Dhariwal, who was diagnosed with Celiac disease at the age of 9. As someone who attends Cheltenham Ladies College, a boarding school overseas in the U.K., and has traveled to over forty countries, I hope to encourage and inspire other children and adults on a gluten free diet to dream big. Having a serious restrictive diet is no reason to mope at home and hide from the world. Through my blog and website, Gluten Free Jio which I started in 2018 when I was 14 years old, my goal is to share some personal experiences of being a gluten free teen in a boarding school abroad, and tips in leading a gluten free lifestyle while at home in India. Gluten Free Jio is a platform, where you can seek help and find a community for yourself or your loved ones, get comprehensive knowledge about being gluten free in India and abroad, and find comfort in knowing that you are not alone.